By Mickey Schommer
HOWARD-SUAMICO – The Howard and Suamico Fire Departments, in tandem with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), are helping to empower young students to become firefighters through the high school program, Building Up Future Firefighters (BUFF).
The Suamico Fire Department first attended the Bay Port High School career fair two years ago with little hopes of finding many students willing to participate in a firefighting internship.
However, the opposite proved to be true.
“The interest that we had was alarming,” said Suamico Fire Department Fire Chief Joe Bertler.
After realizing their success at the career fair, the fire department applied for a grant that would allow students to complete a “Firefighter 1” certification program at Bay Port.
The grant awarded the fire departments and NWTC $25,000, which allowed for the purchase of textbooks and equipment to get the BUFF program started.
Sixteen students signed up for the program during its first year.
Bertler said one of the most amazing things is that students are able to connect with other students about fire safety.
“[Fire safety habits] are not coming from an adult who’s telling you, ‘Hey, fire isn’t safe.’ It’s their friends who are saying, ‘That’s dangerous. You shouldn’t be doing that.’ That’s where we’ve seen [the BUFF students] shine,” he said.
Last summer, Rylie Dickie, a BUFF program student and Bay Port senior, took a trip with her family where she witnessed a forest fire first hand.
This sparked her initial interest in firefighting.
When Bay Port hosted a career fair and Dickie was approached by the fire department for an internship, she said it was a short time before she started the BUFF program.
As a part of the program, Dickie trains at NWTC, studies and works out.
Through her internship (which is separate from the program), she is a paid on-call firefighter.
“I’ve learned how rewarding all of it is – physically or mentally,” said Dickie. “You can do hard things. At the beginning of the year, if you had asked me, ‘Could you take this person down the ladder by yourself?,’ I would have said ‘Oh my god, no! That’s so scary.’ But, after the practice and training, you realize that you can do it.
“It’s very rewarding.
“We had ladder evolutions where we would have to throw a ladder up on a roof and then carry another ladder [as we ascended] the first ladder. I really struggled with it because it’s a very physically demanding task and I kept failing and failing and failing. I got so tired but I didn’t give up and I kept asking the professors and my peers for techniques and finally I was able to get it. It was such a good feeling.
“The people in my group in the BUFF program build me up, too. It’s so cool how we build each other up. They’d tell me, ‘You got this, Rylie! Keep on trying! Don’t give up!’ and we just empower each other.”
Through the BUFF program, young students are empowered to take their interests from ideas to action.