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Future firefighters train by running into burning buildings

CHAMPAIGN -- This weekend, the Illinois Fire Training Institute is being taken over by young people hoping to get their start as firefighters.
CHAMPAIGN – This weekend the Illinois Fire Training Institute is being taken over by young people hoping to get their start as firefighters. WCIA-3’s Lindsey Gordon has the story.

These kids actually pay to get this experience. They could be spending this hot weekend by the pool or in the air-conditioned mall. Instead they’re putting on 60 pounds of gear and walking into burning buildings.

"Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?" said Doug Mitchell, a recent high school grad and a student training this weekend.

That’s the question the Explorer Cadet Fire School is supposed to answer. Nearly 220 kids between 15 - 20 years old will spend the next few days doing intense live fire training.

Mitchell says he wants to fight fires for two reasons: he wants to help people and be part of a team.

"We just work hard together and just like to help people and aid the community," he said.

This is his second year and he says he appreciates how the instructors try to keep the training fresh.

"You're learning the same concepts, but in different ways,” he said.

Shelby Saunders, visiting from O’Fallon, Missouri, would agree.

“Trainings changes, the equipment changes, you definitely have to keep up on it."

This will be Saunders’ fourth year as an Explorer Cadet.

"I get all the training I can get. I know it's the best training that I can get anywhere and taking that home makes me a better firefighter," she said.

Her dad is the fire chief in O’Fallon and she wants to take his job some day.

"Well I like a challenge and firefighting is definitely a challenge," she said.

She says it’s not challenging that she’s a girl in a mostly all-boy field.

"You definitely get a lot of the guys making fun of you and thinking you can't do it as well as they have, but I definitely have shown them up a lot,” she said.

Guys like Mitchell know how hard it is to get paid to be a firefighter. He’s going to college for a 4-year degree in fire protection administration.

"To give me kind of a leg up, because it's very, very competitive," he said.

The director at the Fire Service Institute, Royal Mortenson, says he trained more than 65,000 firefighters in some way last year. He’s encouraged to see such dedicated young men and women ready to take on the job.

"These are young people that are out here, you know, they're not hanging out in the mall. They're out here working really hard and they're doing something they're passionate about and it's inspiring to be around them," said Mortenson.
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