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Giving Props to Local Firefighters

SkillsUSA Kentucky carpentry students donate their skills to support some of their community’s most valued protectors.
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Photo provided by Holmes High School.

No firefighter wants to do his or her training in a real-life situation. That’s why many fire departments rely on a variety of props to help them simulate realistic environments that mimic danger without actually providing it. The problem is, these props can sometimes be more expensive than some fire department budgets will allow. That’s why carpentry students from Covington (Ky.) Holmes High School’s Chapman Career and Technical Education Center (CCTEC) decided to use their skills to build two needed training props for the local Covington Fire Department as a community service project.

The students designed the props based in part on suggestions from the firefighters themselves. One prop simulates a floor collapse, while the second allows fire crews to run window rescue operations.

Both wooden props were built under the guidance of carpentry instructor Eric Breetz. “The students decided to reach out to connect with the fire department to find a way we could work with them,” says Breetz. “Earlier this year, we had planned to build walls for them at their training facility, but they ended up selling that facility, so together we came up with a plan to build the props for their new facility.”

The students delivered the pieces of the props to the firehouse, where they assembled them and participated with the firefighters in training drills.

During the training drill demonstration at the fire station, Lt. Jimmy Adams used the breakaway floor prop to demonstrate the proper landing technique if a firefighter falls through a weak floor. Using the window-entrance prop, Adams demonstrated how to enter a building through a window and how to rescue a person using a fire ladder. The fire department finished off their demonstrations by allowing the students to dress up in full firefighter gear and weave their way through an obstacle course. The demonstrations provided the students with the satisfaction of seeing firsthand how their props held up in a real-world training scenario.

“Not only was building the props beneficial for the students to hone their craftsmanship, but they really help the fire department,” says Corey Deye, assistant chief of training for the Covington Fire Department. “I think it’s been an awesome experience for the kids not only to work with their hands to build these props, but also to learn a little bit about the fire service. Hopefully this demonstration sparks an interest in doing this as a career.”

Donovan Starr, a senior carpentry student who helped build the props, is interested in becoming a firefighter after he graduates from CCTEC/Holmes. Starr believes having similar events for younger people will also help the fire department gain recruits. “We put a lot of hard work into building these props,” says Starr. “We were happy to see the fire department put them to good use.”

Junior Josh Mitchell says, “I really enjoyed helping the fire department by building these props. I’m glad they are useful for them.” Senior Solomon Hanks chimed in, “This was a cool project to use our skills to help out our community.”

The demonstration was attended by teachers, administrators, and SkillsUSA members, and it was covered by the LOCAL 12 television station. A story also appeared in the local LINK newspaper.

The project culminated with the community service team of Starr, Mitchell and Hanks documenting their efforts and submitting them to the SkillsUSA Kentucky State Leadership & Skills Conference, held April 13-16 in Louisville. The result? A gold medal in the Community Service career competition and a trip to Atlanta to compete in the SkillsUSA Championships in June.

“SkillsUSA students became involved with this project to apply their technical skills and knowledge in service of their community,” says Breetz. “We felt that this was a great opportunity to give back to Covington.”

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