“If I have an EMS call right now, how long do I have to get out of the station?

Kilgore FD Capt. Michael Stanley didn’t have to wait long for an answer. In the time it takes to get a healthy lungful of air, 19 young voices were shouting the number at him:

“45 SECONDS!”

As Kilgore firefighters put a new crop of campers through their paces this week in their third annual Fire Camp, the emergency responders, too, were getting a workout – and an education in childcare.

“I learned a couple of things for sure,” KFD Asst. Chief Mark Henderson joked.

This year’s group of pint-sized fire personnel included 19 charges, ranging in age from 9 to 13, tackling all the myriad aspects of being a firefighter.

With their own miniaturized uniforms, from Monday through Friday the firefighters-in-training experienced  everything from riding around in fire engines to search and rescue, climbing fire ladders, using thermal imagers and handling the Jaws of Life – “destroying a car” was a favorite activity among several campers.

Champion EMS paid a visit, Henderson said, and the group also got a primer in how emergency responders use SCBA gear – Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus – to protect their lungs. Each camper left with a crash-course in how to put on the myriad pieces of bunker gear that protect KFD personnel.

“Speed is essential,” Henderson reminded the students Friday, “but not too fast. We’ve got to be thorough as well.”

KFD Firefighter Bryan McLaughlin was glad for the chance for his daughter, Katy, to get a glimpse behind the scenes.

In addition to a boost in confidence, “She kinda gets an understanding of what we do on a daily basis,” he said. Fire Camp means a new group of youngsters will grow into somewhat-wiser adults: “There’s a big disconnect on what folks think we do on a daily basis and what we actually accomplish.”

Firefighting’s in Andrew Wood’s blood – his great-grandfather, Ray Wood, was one of Kilgore’s fire chiefs – and the 11-year-old dove into the weeks challenges with gusto.

“He’s always wanted to be a firefighter since he was young,” mother Amanda Wood said Friday as the group wrapped up their week with a visit from a life-flight crew. “He’s had a fascination ever since he was little.

“This has been a dream come true for a kid his age.”

Henderson spent part of Friday recapping the week for the campers families and exhorting the children to hold on to the week’s lessons.

“It’s just learning about what we do and how you can keep yourself safe and make our job easier,” Henderson told the group, reminding them to keep their cool in the midst of an emergency, especially during a fire. “Hiding in the closet does not help us.”

With the fire campers’ parents, grandparents and siblings on hand for graduation Friday, Henderson urged them all to put together home escape plans before an emergency strikes.

“Always have a meeting spot,” he added. “That’s the most important thing when there’s a structure fire – kids know where to go, parents know where to find their kids.”

As for the firefighters, they’re hoping the entire group – campers and adults – went home with a key lesson in keeping others safe.

“Mostly, it’s just how you can help,” Henderson said. “We’re here to help you and get you out.”

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