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HARLINGEN — The fire roiling from the dumpster gropes the air and the sky.
“Whoosh!” The water explodes from the hose where students from the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District’s Firefighter Academy demonstrate their skills.
“Raise your hands, show me the right hand,” says an instructor to the students in their heavy protective gear and their tanks and their masks and their helmets.
“The more curtain that we have the more it’s going to protect us all around,” the instructor says, and the water blasting from the hose smashes against the dumpster and into the dumpster and clouds of thick dirty smoke roll into the air.
The young firefighters have spent this week demonstrating their skills at the Harlingen Emergency Operations Center at 24500 FM 509.
“Today the students are conducting live fire evolutions as part of their requirements from the Texas Commission on Fire Protection,” says Kris Armstrong, coordinator for the HCISD Fire Academy and captain in the Harlingen Fire Department.
“They have to do live fire evolutions as part of their curriculum for their certification to be certified fire fighters,” he says.
The students began demonstrating various skills on Tuesday and continued the following day. On this Thursday morning they are conducting three different burns: a dumpster burn, a car fire, and one involving an LPG – liquid propane gas – pressure cylinder.
“They are getting their self-contained breathing apparatus, and that allows them to breathe clean air when we are in a dirty air environment,” he says, looking on as other students lift their packs onto their shoulders.
The students move around with a swiftness that appears disproportionate to the jackets and the tanks and the heavy boots and the gloves; their movements also reveal a focus admirable for these students who understand very well the significance of their work and its danger.
“It could be really simple but at the same time you never know what people are throwing in there,” says David Olivares, 18, as he nods at the dumpster.
The hideous smoke seems to linger in a half daze.
“It could be something toxic, it could be extremely flammable,” says the Harlingen High School South senior.
They all seem intimately familiar with their gear and the purposes of their gear. One firefighter apprentice calls out to Aryana Claudio, 17, to keep moving so that her PASS alarm will not shut off.
“If you’re not moving for 30 seconds it goes off,’ says Aryana, a senior at Harlingen South, moving in her thick gear to keep the PASS on. PASS stands for Personal Alert Safety System. It is used to alert other firefighters that one of them is in distress.
This highlights a crucial element in firefighting: the importance of teamwork.
Says Olivares: “You want to make sure that when you go in with somebody that you come out with them as well because you don’t want anyone dying.”
Armstrong reflected early that while some students plan to pursue the firefighting profession as a career, others will take the valuable skills learned here with them through other aspects of life. On former student, he says, is attending university in Arkansas and is also working as a volunteer firefighter.
Olivares definitely wants to be a firefighter after high school as does Aryana.
She’s enjoying the day’s events.
“It’s amazing because you learn a lot because it’s our first time doing this,” Aryana says. “Our instructors help us with what we need to do to take out that fire.”