Fayette County

Lexington Citizen's Fire Academy introduces civilians to firefighters' work

Lieutenant Nathan Vanderhoof guided students with the hose as they put out a fire in an aircraft simulator. One student said it is much tougher and more intense than it looks.
Lieutenant Nathan Vanderhoof guided students with the hose as they put out a fire in an aircraft simulator. One student said it is much tougher and more intense than it looks. Herald-Leader

The night sky had a bright orange glow as 30 people in firefighting gear sprayed water Thursday on what looked like a charred airplane near Blue Grass Airport.

But those working the fire hoses weren't firefighters — they were civilians getting a taste of what the Lexington Fire Department does each day.

The department's Citizen's Fire Academy is a 10-week program that teaches people in the community what it means to be a firefighter. The classes are held on Thursdays.

Members of the 27th class of the academy put on oxygen masks and helmets Thursday night before groups of three went into a scale model of a Boeing 737 amid flames. (The model is usually used to keep about 50 firefighters trained in aircraft recovery firefighting.)

Kim Myatt and Amanda Gerton, whose husbands are both firefighters, and Nanette Lewis, an E-911 dispatcher for the department, entered the burning plane together.

"It was so unpredictable. We planned it out, but things changed," Lewis said of the experience inside.

The plane was pitch-black inside, and the only thing visible was fire. The heat was breathtaking and fogged up students' masks.

"This has made me more patient (while dispatching)," Lewis said. "It's very different to hear it than it is to actually do it."

The program takes students through a variety of scenarios, including performing CPR, dousing fires and breaking into vehicles with the jaws of life.

"Who doesn't want to bust the windows of a car and tear the roof off?" Gerton asked.

James Ishmael, a Fayette Circuit Court judge, took the program because his son Ben is a Lexington firefighter and paramedic.

"It's much, much tougher and more intense than I thought," Ishmael said. "I don't know how they do it."

"You learn a new-found respect for what firefighters do," Gerton said. "My husband has been doing this for 16 years, and I had no idea."

There are classroom-type components for some of the classes, but rather than learn from textbook, students hear from firefighters about real experiences that pertain to the week's lesson, student Lisa Gilliam said.

During the aircraft class Thursday, firefighters told the students about arriving at the crash site of Flight 5191 and played the dispatch call they'd received before responding.

"Different people came in and talked to us each week," student Holly Shepard said. "It’s had me looking forward to Thursdays."

People taking the program are expected to complete only the tasks they are comfortable with, Gerton said.

The next program will begin in February, firefighter Kyle Branham said. To sign up, call 859-231-5618. The free program used to be available only to those living in Fayette County, but it is now open to all.

  Comments