Lily and Isabella Turner-Burrell, students in the Public Safety and Criminal Justice program at Stafford Technical Center, watched carefully last Tuesday afternoon as firefighter David Webinski tied a figure-eight knot behind the Rutland City Fire Station. The Turner-Burrell twins, along with five of their classmates, have spent the past two days at the station learning practical skills that firefighters use on the job.
Lily, who along with her sister just graduated from West Rutland High School, said her interest in the Public Safety program stems from her desire to help people.
“I have always loved helping people, and ever since I was young I’ve wanted to do something with the law enforcement and health careers,” she said.
The fire station was the last stop in a busy year, during which students visited the Vermont Air National Guard, participated in the statewide SkillsUSA competition, earned four FEMA certifications and received three community college course credits.
Also, students had the chance to explore a variety of career options from entry-level public service jobs to professional opportunities they might pursue after college.
Rodney Kenyon, a firefighter at the station and an alumnus of Stafford Technical Center’s Health Careers program, said he hopes that students will go on to pursue careers in firefighting.
“I want to show these kids, ‘Hey, this is what fire departments can do, this could be a career for you in the future, come see us, hang out with us, and if you like it, here’s how you can come do it,’” he said.
Kenyon serves on the Public Safety program’s advisory board, and said he enjoys helping train students from his alma mater.
“That’s why I got into the service in the first place — to help out,” he said.
Rutland City Fire Chief James Larsen said in the long term he hopes to recruit students out of the program.
“The recruitment and retention of firefighters in Vermont is an issue that a lot of departments are facing right now,” he said. “Stafford has great success with many other career fields out of that facility, why can’t firefighting be one of them?”
Debora Perkins, the teacher who has headed the program for the past six years, said that part of her motivation in bringing the students to the station is that in the past the program has graduated more police officers than firefighters.
“We’re hoping to even that out and get more students interested in firefighting,” she said. “We’re hoping that this might help spark an interest in students. There are so many volunteer departments, and everyone can do something.”
While Lily and Isabella are not currently planning to go into firefighting, they do credit the Public Safety program with leading them to their current shared career goal: to become forensic medical examiners.
“At the beginning of this year, I was very unsure what I wanted to do,” Lily said. “Ms. Perkins has helped us tremendously in deciding our dream goals in life, and has helped us figure out the steps to take along our path.”
The sisters will attend Curry College in Massachusetts next year to continue their training, and Bella said she has learned leadership skills through the Public Safety program that will help her during her next step.
“I’ve definitely learned how to communicate,” she said. “Before this year, I’d actually never taught anyone, and almost every single day I’ve taught someone something new.”
“We’ve really gotten a feel for what being a leader and being more responsible, being a helpful person, is like,” she said, adding that this has made her want to go into public service even more.
Bella added that she hopes to use some of the other skills she has learned this year to serve her community.
“I definitely know that I want to work with the paramedics and the ambulance,” she said. “I definitely know that I want to do volunteer work for the fire department sometime in the future. This has helped me solidify my interest in that.”