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Kids enjoy summer fire program
Forsyth County Fire Department Lt. Kevin OConnell, right, watches as participants in the 2013 Junior Fire Academy work together to use a hose just as firefighters do when putting out fires. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Ryan Kraynick folded long sections of white hose into a compartment on the side of a Forsyth County fire truck.

“Now, you’re not being careful enough. You’re not holding up your end of the job,” scolded firefighter Chris Black playfully.

Kraynick slowed down a bit, layering the fabric neatly into its designated area as Black fed it to him.

“Now you got it,” the fireman reassured.

Kraynick was one of a number of rising seventh- and eighth-graders who got to experience what it’s like to be a firefighter during this week’s Junior Fire Academy, put on by the local department.

Rising sixth-graders took part in Fire Camp, also put on by the department, June 10-14.

The students got to work with about a dozen firefighters who volunteered to lead the programs.

Lt. Greg Chapman was one of the main organizers. He said the students, decked out in bright red T-shirts labeled with “RECRUIT” in black letters, got a little taste of what that’s really like.

Through the programs, he said, the students got to ride on fire engines, man water hoses and even search dark mazes for people, just as firefighters often do in real-life situations.

Other activities included a tour of fire and emergency management services headquarters, ropes and obstacle courses and several classes such as first aid and CPR, fire science and history of fire services in the county.

Chapman said the campers began each morning with physical training, or PT.

“It’s a lot of fun for the kids,” he said. “They enjoy it.”

Firefighter Zach Baldwin said this is the third year the department has offered the camp programs.

“We already see kids coming back, so they definitely look forward to it,” he said. “We also usually have the same [firefighters] come back every year to volunteer. It’s a lot of fun for us, too.”

Chapman said the program has grown quite a bit over the three years.

“We’ve normally had 25 [kids] and we have 40 in this one,” he said, noting the previous camp for younger kids saw similar numbers.

Only a few of the campers were the children of firefighters. Matthew Wilbanks was one of them.

“My dad’s a firefighter and his dad was a firefighter and his dad was a firefighter, so it runs in the family,” he said while taking a break from manning a water hose Tuesday.

Wilbanks, who plans to continue the family’s tradition when he grows up, said operating the hoses was one of his favorite parts of the experience. Another was the search and rescue portion.

“That tower over there is full of wooden mazes and you have to search and rescue for dummies and that’s really fun.”

Fellow camper Logan Surles, who isn’t the child of a firefighter but did decide to return to the camp after first taking part last year, said search and rescue was also his favorite activity.

“I liked going up in the tower over there and trying to find your way around in the dark. That was fun,” he said.

The firefighters enjoy sharing what they do with the campers as much as they enjoy learning about it.

“A good thing about this is they can actually see a little bit of how our job actually is as opposed to what they see on TV,” said firefighter Tyler Smith. “They can see what we really do and how it actually is. We don’t want them to believe in a fairy tale.”

The campers also learn to take responsibility for fire safety in their own homes, Baldwin said.

“My daughter held me accountable last night on our home fire escape plan,” he said. “She now knows how to get out of her room and where all the smoke detectors are in the house … she’s just more aware, and awareness is what we try to teach.”

He said it’s also a positive experience for many of the youngsters because it gives them opportunities to try experiences they otherwise may not get to.

“They’re able to push their abilities,” he said. “They can push themselves further than they think they can.

“For example, some of them are afraid to do a zip line, but then they face their fears and it really helps them out.”