Wadena's new firefighters hit the books
Students shuffled into a Wadena classroom with their textbooks in hand Jan. 31. For a chemistry demonstration, their teacher had placed a lit candle and a melting clump of snow near each seat. One of the students cracked a joke; something about how the candles meant they were in for a romantic evening.
All jokes aside, it was no ordinary class, which was held inside the Wadena fire station. The candles and snow were there to demonstrate the difference between exothermic and endothermic heat reactions, and the students were there to learn how to battle life-threatening blazes more efficiently.
Among the group of about 15 men and women from around the county hoping to become volunteer firefighters were three trainees destined to join the Wadena squad after they complete their 140 hours of instruction this spring. All three have a relative who served as a firefighter before they did.
Evan Lachowitzer, the newest man to be hired by the city, has an uncle who was an assistant chief in Perham. Warren Boen, who has been on for seven months, has a grandfather who was on the Sebeka Fire Department for 24 years. Zach Haman's father is an assistant chief for the WFD.
Besides a firefighting heritage, the recruits also have something else in common: they're all willing to put themselves in danger to help out their friends and neighbors.
"You want to help out the community; you want to be part of something," Boen said.
Their teacher, Dave Schliek of the Minnesota Fire Service Certification Board, has seen about 30 years' worth of recruits become firefighters.
These days, training and testing costs about $1,400 per firefighter.
However, Schliek said that cost is entirely covered by grants from the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education. The grants originate in part from fees people pay on their homeowner's insurance, and the money goes toward making sure trainees are ready to deal with the modern challenges that a firefighter might face, such as terrorism and hazmat exposure. In addition to those new threats, Schliek said the fires themselves are more dangerous than in years past because of manufacturers' wider use of petroleum-based chemicals in things like home furnishings.
"Everything's got petroleum," Schliek said. "It just burns so much faster and so much hotter."
The new trainees have been witnesses to that danger firsthand, going along as observers on recent calls. One of the first calls Boen went on was a structure fire in the early morning hours. The calls, he said, give him a unique opportunity to learn.
"You can talk about it as much as you want until you actually get out there next to the burning building with other firefighters to see what happens," Boen said.
Lachowitzer showed the importance of his training when he gave examples of the goals he wanted to achieve as a firefighter.
"Be safe, do things right and know as much as I can going into it," he said.