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Local teens get taste of firefighting

BY MAX FREUND | NOVEMBER 19, 2010 7:20 AM

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Tyler Cooling crawled in the darkness, his gloved hand running along a thick, gray water hose. A mask obscured his vision as he crashed against the rough plywood doorway, the rhythmic bursts of his air tank adding to the din. He passed a white couch and dirt-smeared television, finally reaching the end of the hose. With a grunt he straightened up, and removed the mask — his face was dripping with sweat.

Cooling is a firefighter in training — for the day.

And for the junior from Clear Creek-Amana High School, being a firefighter is a family tradition.

Five of his family members are firefighters — two aunts, his mother, his brother, and his brother-in-law.

On Thursday, six area high-school students participated in a firefighter job-shadowing opportunity at the Iowa City Fire Department. Organized by Workplace Learning Connection, the six young men studied what it takes to fight fires.

"I didn't want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life," said City High senior Dan Minchk, sweat beading on his forehead from crawling through the plywood gauntlet.

Minchk — who plays center for the City High football team — is no stranger to exercise, but the firefighter trainers made sure the students got a taste of how hard the work can be.



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"I think it is good to have an idea of what the physical part of the job is," said Branden Sobaski, an Iowa City firefighter. "Understanding the job is physical and puts you in some interesting situations."

One of those situations included plunging into a tangle of cords.

Slithering forward on their backs, the students attempted to push through the mess.

"What you have to learn is if you get yourself in a condition where you may have wires come down on you, you may get tangled up," said 18-year Iowa City veteran Lt. Denny Hansen. "So you have to learn techniques of not panicking."

The path was only a few feet long, but frustrating for some students.

"It was tough. Once you get something on you tight, you have to fight your instincts to keep pushing through," Minchk said. "Your instincts tell you that if you push, it will break, but it won't."

And while some portions of the day were exhausting, firefighters say job-shadowing experiences are beneficial.

"Going through a job shadow is a great idea," said University of Iowa freshman Sean Ryan, who has been battling flames since he was 16. "I myself am actually in the process of becoming a full-time firefighter in Iowa City. I have gone through job-shadow training, and I found myself at an advantage."

While Ryan and the six students are all in their teens, the 16 to 19 age group made up only 3 percent of the estimated 1,148,100 firefighters in the United States in 2009, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

For Prairie High senior Tyler Zacek, his grandfather inspired his interest in the job shadowing.

"When I was 10, my grandpa passed away," said Zacek. "I didn't know he was an officer until he got a plaque for it, and then they were telling me all the amazing stories of things he had done, and I was like, 'Wow, that sounds pretty cool.' "


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