VAIL ” Class was in session in East Vail.
The students lined up in black and yellow firefighting gear as the sun beat down on them.
Firefighter John Lofaro was at a podium, of sorts, teaching the day’s lesson. This podium was a fake roof that was attached to the back of the Vail Fire Department’s East Vail station.
Smoke ” actually more of a fog ” created by a machine poured from under the sides of the roof.
Lofaro was revving up a chainsaw, showing the students how to cut a hole in the roof to allow smoke to escape. The ventilation procedure can increase visibility, reduce heat, and slow the spread of a fire.
The five students ” nodding as the procedure was explained to them ” were part of the Vail Fire Department’s student resident firefighter training program, which brings aspiring firefighters to Vail each year.
The men gave a yearlong commitment to the department, and start the program with a six-week, intensive academy that teaches them the basics of firefighting, whether it’s handling a ladder, handling a water hose, conducting rescues or tying knots.
“We encompass everything an engine company would do,” said Vail Fire Department Engineer Scott Bridges, lead instructor for the program.
That morning, the residents were in a classroom. In the afternoon, it was time for hands-on drills. After Lofaro had explained the ventilation procedure, it was the students’ turn to try.
John Alley climbed up a ladder on the roof, banging it with an ax to make sure it was solid. Steve Manning stood behind him as Alley used the chainsaw to cut a square hole in the roof, allowing the smoke to escape.
Alley, 21, of Littleton had worked for a volunteer department on the Front Range as well as in Antarctica before he signed up for the Vail program.
“Vail is just very highly respected,” he said. “A great-to-work-for, very knowledgeable department.”
Alley and the other student firefighters start their training each day at 6 a.m. with an hour of physical training, whether it’s cardiovascular or weights. Other training continues all day.
“It’s tough, but being a firefighter in general is tough,” he said.
The residents live together in dorms either in the main Vail and East Vail fire stations, cooking, eating and hanging out together.
“It’s like your second family,” Alley said.
Waiting for a job
Admission to the program is competitive. This year’s five residents were selected from about 60 to 70 applicants.
Edwards native Peter Hinmon, 26, another student resident, was selected for the program after serving on Vail Ski Patrol for the last three winters.
He was looking for a job that is yearround, but still included using medical skills and helping people.
“Firefighting fit the bill,” he said.
Hinmon said he hopes to become a full-time firefighter in the Vail Valley.
After the six-month intensive academy, the residents will work shifts alongside full-time firefighters ” usually one shift a week.
Many stay longer than a year, waiting for a full-time position to open up in Vail or elsewhere. Vail instructors say the program will give the new firefighters a leg up in finding a job.
“It gives these guys the hands-on experience they need to find full-time positions,” Bridges said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.