Firefighters in the making

Sublette County Unified Fire’s newest cadets, Pinedale High School junior Dominik Klingler, left, and senior Sydney Ruckman, stand in front of one of the engines at the Pinedale Fire Battalion station on Monday.

Local high school students serve as cadets with SCUF

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

firefighter.

“(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

test.

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.”

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