Preparing students for wildland firefighting

Zac Carlow wants to be a firefighter. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy for its emphasis on fire training and yearned to be in the profession "ever since I could talk," he said.

The senior at South Tahoe High School dropped an environment class to join the schools fire science class, the newest offering in the school's Regional Occupational Program.

The class, taught by Ralph Thomas, a reservist with the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, teaches the fundamentals of firefighting and medical aid.

Thomas has taught first aid and outdoor education at the community college level, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to teach at South Tahoe High School.

He started with roughly 40 students, but attrition lowered it to 23 students in two periods.

The lesson Wednesday was basic first aid. During one demonstration, Thomas advised students they could use a blanket between a person's legs to stabilize a burned leg and wrap cloth at the ankles.

Past lessons have included trips to firehouses and ride-alongs with paramedics.

Senior Chris Child comes from a family of firefighters and doctors and medical personnel. Ingrained in him at an early age, Child said he still has a shirt he made in preschool that has a fire truck emblazoned on the front.

"It runs through the family, and I want to keep it in the family," he said.

Students who complete the job-training class are eligible for entry-level positions with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service wildland fire crews, Thomas said.

"If they want to, the opportunity exists for them," Thomas said.

Assistant Principal Jack Stafford got the idea a few years ago for a ROP fire science class from a Kern County school. And although enrollment is only 13 students for next year, Stafford has high hopes for the class.

"I see this program just getting bigger and bigger," he said.

n E-mail William Ferchland at


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