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Keremeos student firefighter program going strong after over 20 years

Highschool program ‘a huge bonus’ for department, says Chief Bosscha
At 17, Aleena Harrell is the latest to join the Keremeos Fire Department as a student firefighter. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)

Since the late ‘90s, the Keremeos Fire Department has been working with the Similkameen Elementary Secondary School to introduce and train students in firefighting.

Seventeen-year-old Aleena Harrell is the latest student to join the program, having joined after she left the Air Cadets and was looking for something else that she could do.

“After Air Cadets I got really bored, and I knew the fire department was looking for people, and I’ve been really enjoying it so far,” said Harrell.

She’s been working with the department for over a year, after one of her friends encouraged her to sign up.

“It’s definitely an experience I never thought I would ever have,” said Harrell.

READ MORE: There is no ‘too old or young’ with the Keremeos Fire Department

Once students in the program like Harrell are fully trained, and have their driver’s license, they are given the same pager every other firefighter has. The students go through full firefighter training and practice, usually taking a year-and-a-half before they able to get their pager.

“Things are really heavy, and I’m really small, so some things are really difficult to do by myself,” said Harrell. “Some of it was difficult, some of it was easy for me.”

The fire department is one more way that Harrell stays active, alongside hiking, horseback riding and all kinds of other outdoor activities.

Although Harrell finished her training and received her pager yet, and she is looking forward to being out there with the rest of the firefighters. Beyond that, she has some big goals and hopes of her own while she’s with them.

“I’d like to help people who might not have had a chance to get help before, or helping someone get a second chance at life,” said Harrell.

Once she’s out of school, she hasn’t quite decided what she’s going to be doing, but she said she’d like to either pursue firefighting, or heavy mechanics where she can work on the trucks instead of riding them out to a call.

The senior firefighters direct the students when they do join in responding to a call, and make sure that they aren’t put into any dangerous situation.

“They’re still on-scene, they’re still there and helping out,” said Keremeos Fire Chief Jordy Bosscha. “It’s been a huge bonus for us, because during the day and during the week we’re a little shy at times and with the students as long they’re not writing exams, the school will let them come down and help us.”

The first student to go through the program back in the 90s is now a full-time firefighter Bosscha said. In fact, the student who helped start the program is now also training officer with the Justice Institue of B.C. he added.

Although Harrell is currently the only student in the program, usually the program aims to have four students at a time, with two starting from Grade 10 and cycling through from year to year.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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