Cadet Sydney Ruckman
rode up to White Pine Ski Area in one of
the last trucks to arrive at the scene of the
fire. It was 2 a.m., and flames leapt from
the building. This was Ruckman’s first real
emergency call as a cadet.
“I grew up with White Pine,” Ruckman
said. “I worked there as a ski instructor. I
was crying as we drove up to the lodge (that
night). It was really stressful.”
Fellow Cadet Dominik Klingler responded
to the fatal house fire in Pinedale
on the night of July 10. This was his second
structural fire, yet his first experience did not
involve fatalities and injuries.
“It was pretty crazy, pretty intense,” he
said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Flames, smoke, sirens flashing in the
darkness, firemen rushing around, grieving
property owners. This was not a drill or
practice run. This was the real thing – literally
a trial by fire for the cadets.
The cadets’ training kicked in, and despite
the initial confusion and apprehension, they
stepped up and did their jobs to support the
firefighters on the scene. Ruckman stayed on
at White Pine helping with the hoses until
11:30 that morning.
“It was exhausting,” she said.
Klingler left the house fire sometime in
the early hours of the morning and didn’t get
home until 3 a.m. It was a late night for a
young man working a summer day job with
the parks and recreation department for the
Town of Pinedale.
Both Ruckman and Klingler feel more
confident after their first experiences and are
ready for the next call.
“You feel the rush of going on calls and
being involved, being out there and working
on a building that’s on fire,” Klingler said.
What is a cadet?
To become a fully certified volunteer firefighter
with Sublette County Unified Fire,
applicants are required to be at least 18 years
old. Younger high school students between
the ages of 16 and 18, however, have the opportunity
to serve as cadets.
Cadet programs exist across the country,
and some are decades old. SCUF’s cadet
program is in its fourth year, Fire Chief
Shad Cooper said, although variations existed
with the local departments before unification.
The program is a good way for potential
recruits to learn about what it takes to be a
“(In the cadet program) you get introduced
to a lot of stuff before you become a
fireman,” Klingler said. “Cadets go through
the same process recruits go through, but
with limitations. We can’t respond to car accidents
or wildland fires.”
SCUF averages around two or three cadets
per year, Cooper said. Cadets must be
16 years old, be Sublette County residents,
complete an annual medical exam and maintain
passing grades in all subjects in school.
Chief Cooper takes the school requirement
very seriously, Ruckman said. She was
behind on some tests at school and Cooper
told her to take a month off from the Recruit
Academy. Ruckman had to double up her efforts
to catch up with her fellow recruits, but
she managed to finish on time.
Cadets are allowed to respond to certain
calls and they attend the six-month Recruit
Academy that their older peers have to go
through to become fully certified firefighters.
There are certain situations, like car
accidents or medical emergencies, to which
cadets are not allowed to respond.
On calls, cadets are only permitted to remain
in support positions and cannot enter
a burning building. They can be on the fire
hose, just not at the front, Ruckman explained.
She added that cadets are required
to have red and blue stripes on their helmets
so other firefighters can recognize them in
dangerous or dark situations.
The Recruit Academy starts in January
each year and culminates with graduation
in July. Because cadets are prohibited from
training in live fire situations, they don’t officially
graduate until they turn 18.
Hard work and new experiences
Becoming a cadet is not an easy task.
For six months, Ruckman and Klingler basically
gave up their weekends preparing
to become firefighters. They attended the
hands-on training with the other recruits in
Marbleton that take up part of Friday and
most of Saturday and Sunday.
Then there is all the book learning. Cadets
and recruits are assigned a rigorous
reading regimen and study for weekly
tests, Klingler explained. The workload is
heavier than some college courses.
“The book we’re assigned is about 1,000
pages,” Klingler said.
“We went through about 20 chapters
with tests and around 90 pages of reading
a week,” Ruckman said.
Somehow, the high school students
managed to find time for all their assignments
between schoolwork and other activities
– teaching skiing at White Pine,
volunteering with the Lions’ Club and 4-H
for Ruckman and spring and fall golf for
Klingler. They both spent any free time
they had cramming for their weekly firefighting
Klingler said the hands-on, practical
learning was his favorite part of the training
experience, versus “finding time to
read the book.”
Ruckman agreed, adding that the
hands-on experiences exposed her to new
experiences. Cadets have to gear up like all
the other recruits and this includes wearing
a self-contained breathing apparatus, or
SCBA. Ruckman has claustrophobia and
said that putting the mask on for the first
time was “terryfying.” Now, she is an old
hand at wearing one and puts it on like any
other piece of equipment.
When it was time to get the saws out to
practice ventilation on a building, Ruckman
did not hesitate.
“Cutting a roof open with a saw was
sick,” she said. “Sick” is the new slang adjective
that means good, amazing or cool.
Both of the cadets plan to become fully
certified volunteer firefighters to serve and
protect their community when they turn 18.
They were inspired to become cadets
because their fathers are firefighters.
Klingler”s father, Randy Klingler, has
served with SCUF since the family moved
from Evanston three years ago. Ruckman’s
father, Ron Ruckman, is a 20-year veteran
with the organization.
Klingler and Ruckman agreed that
while the experience was challenging and
at times overwhelming, the rewards were
worth it. Ruckman added that she hopes
other young people enter the cadet program,
but only if “they’re willing to work
hard and want to help people.”