By Katherine Knott, Fort Knox News Contributing WriterFebruary 1, 2018
Dominick Lopez, a senior at Fort Knox High School, crawled around the floor of a room at Fort Knox Fire Station Three as part of a drill.
Lopez and his teammate, Senior Julian Gillens, were looking for survivors during a search and rescue drill.
"You good?" Lopez asked Gillens as they crawled into the hallway.
Lopez, Gillens and two other seniors from Fort Knox High School are training at the Fort Knox Fire Department this semester. The search and rescue drill was the first of many the students will complete as they learn about firefighting.
The training is part of a year-long career practicum course at the high school that allows students to see "what the world of work is really like," said Kip Rambo, a career and technical educator at Fort Knox.
This year marks the fourth time the school and fire department have teamed up to give students real-world experience.
Rambo said the practicum is a capstone course, as many will take it at the end of their pathways. The class is not required.
Rambo said students in the class take assessments and then he places them at job sites according to their interests.
Julian Gillens said he worked with a sports psychologist during the first semester, but he likes firefighting more.
"I've learned more in two weeks," he said, than in his previous placement.
Gillens, who teamed with Lopez, said he wants to be a nurse after high school.
Rambo said the fire department gives students a start on a firefighting career.
"The fire department has done an outstanding job," he said. "They train them up."
Captain Jacob Geer oversees the training program. He said the four students this year are the most so far -- he typically has only one or two.
He builds the training schedule, which starts with the basics. Students work with the fire department five days a week during a class period.
Geer said the students do everything, except interior firefighting.
"They get the real deal," he said. "When they graduate, they'll know what to expect."
Geer said students experience growth during the course of the training, going from not being able to climb a ladder to confidently rappelling off of buildings.
Before their first search and rescue drill Monday, firefighter Scotty May spoke with the students about search patterns and key rules to follow.
"The big thing is communication," May told them.
To simulate a smoky environment, students had hoods over their masks so they couldn't see well. They then had to use their hands to navigate during the drill.
"Never break a team," Geer told the students. "Never lose your lifeline."
Students wore full turnout gear to include boots, gloves, masks and air tanks as they searched the living quarters of the station, where two dummies awaited rescue.
"If you get in there and get panicky and need a break, just tell us," Geer told the students. "We'll be back there with you guys."
Geer and other firefighters helped the teams as they tried to find their way through the different rooms. After about 10 minutes, the teams pushed their dummies out of the living quarters.
Lopez said his knees hurt and others felt as if they had crawled through the whole station. They went about 50 feet.
Lopez said the hardest part was not being able to see. The others agreed.
He said overall the class was not that bad. "I would enjoy it more if I didn't have to go back to school all sweaty."