Fire Academy ignites aspirations
Seventeen-year-old Lauren Burnham is following in the footsteps of her stepfather, a firefighter in the Marcellus Fire Department.
At 14, Burnham decided she wanted to become a firefighter in a major city like Chicago or Los Angeles.
The 5’4 teenager said her stepdad’s colleagues laughed when she told them her aspirations.
“I like to prove them wrong,” Burnham, of Edwardsburg, said.
Soaking wet, the students played a game of waterball with hoses Tuesday morning at the Dowagiac Fire Department as part of the weeklong academy.
Burnham has been participating in the academy since its inception three years ago. She will be attending SMC in the fall to study fire science.
“I want to help people,” Burnham said. “I can’t think of a better way.”
Later in the week, students will extinguish fires in two cars donated to the department.
“It’s a little bit scary at first being that close to a fire,” Burnham said. “It’s a nice way to get practice without somebody’s life being in danger.”
Like Burnham, more female students have enrolled in the academy than males, according to ETS Director Amy Anderson.
Although firefighting tends to be a male-dominated occupation, Anderson said, all but one of the students in this year’s academy are females.
“They are jumping at the chance to do it,” Anderson said.
And they are learning real-life firefighting services.
“It’s not a water-downed version,” Anderson said. “It’s the real deal.”
Anderson said students will be wearing full equipment when they extinguish the car fires.
“That’s an extra 30 pounds of weight these kids are going to be carrying,” Anderson said.
Capt. Mike Mattix, of the Dowagiac Fire Department, said the week is a recruitment tool for aspiring firefighters.
Mattix, the main instructor of the academy, said the career span of local firefighters averages about 5 years.