Forged by fire (fighting)

For four Mac seniors in the LBJ Fire Academy, live propane exercise stressful, exhilarating and a test of their teamwork


Kennedy Weatherby

Senior members of the LBJ Fire Academy line up to put out the propane fire at their first live fire skill day of the school year. Each person in the line has a specialized job, first in line holds the nozzle of the hose, the second and third are backup and the fourth person is the hose wrangler, making sure they have enough hose left to turn. “We just had to learn every single job, and that was stressful,” senior and LBJ Fire Academy member Michael Valentino said. “Every person has their job and they have to do it, and if you don’t do it it’s gonna go bad.” Caption by Kennedy Weatherby.

Kennedy Weatherby, photo editor

Bright colors shine upon his face and smoldering heat covers his body as 13-year-old Michael Valentino admires the 30-foot-tall blazing propane fire while his older brother, Chris Valentino, works to put it out with his fellow LBJ Fire Academy members. It was at that moment that young Valentino knew he wanted to join the Academy once he reached his junior year.

I’m 18 now, and I’ve technically fought a fire, which is pretty cool; not many people my age get to say that.

— senior Michael Valentino

“I was in seventh grade when he was in it,” Valentino said. “ It fascinated me and I went to the propane fire and I was like, ‘That was really cool,’ so whenever I came of age, I joined.”

Valentino is one of four seniors at Mac who are a part of the LBJ Fire Academy; the others are Ethan Holmes, Nolan Russell and Grant Shackelford. All have been a part of the program since the start of their junior year.

“[It’s] just really good life experience,” Holmes said. “It’s physical, it helps build a good work ethic, and the instructors are excellent at what they do.”

Like many core classes, the Fire Academy has a textbook from which the students learn different skills including forceful entry, occupancy types, different types of fire extinguishers and much more. Once a month, the Academy will have a 10-hour-long Saturday skill day where they put everything they’ve learned to the test.

“The skill days at first I was like, ‘Dang, I have to go out on a Saturday to do training,’” Russell said, “but it turned out to be really fun, and I know everybody now, so it’s just like hanging out with a bunch of friends.”

Senior Michael Valentino participated in the LBJ Fire Academy’s live fire skill day that was held on Sep. 25. After a full year of learning about fires, extinguishers, equipment and how to use it, Valentino and the three other seniors a part of the academy put out their first live fires. “It was so cool,” Valentino said. “I ended up doing the nozzle, which is the first person in line, which was super cool, I really wanted to do that.” Caption and photo by Kennedy Weatherby.

For the four seniors in the Academy, the start of this year meant entering a new stage of the Fire Academy. On Sept. 25, the senior Fire Academy members participated in their first live fire-skill day, where they worked together in groups to put out a live propane fire.

“In the first skill days, they’re really basic skills,” Shackelford said, “just trying to get you used to how it’s gonna work for the next few years. Sept. 25 was my sixth presentation. We prepared in the same way, skills, and chapter work, various forms of special training. Sept. 25 was our first live fire-skill day.”

“What can happen if [the propane tank] heats up too much, it can explode, and so as a safety line base, you try to cool the tank down

— senior Grant Shackelford

To fight the fire, the Academy members made up lines of four, and each of them had a specific role. The first person in line held the nozzle of the hose, the next two were backup for the first and the last person was the hose wrangler, who made sure there was always enough room on the hose for movement.

“In our situation, it’s a pressurized tank,” Shackelford said. “What can happen if it heats up too much, it can explode, and so as a safety line base, you try to cool the tank down, and the attack line is advancing to the tank to turn off the valve.”

Even after weeks of training, the skill day was stressful for Valentino because of all the pressure that comes with your first live fire event.

“It was both stressful and exciting, because it’s not easy,” Valentino said. “Every person has their job, and they have to do it, and if you don’t do it it’s gonna go bad. We just had to learn every single one, and that was stressful.”

Despite the levels of stress Valentino felt fighting the fire, he was delighted and grateful to finally experience the live fire-skill day.

The people honestly are the best part. They’re all super friendly and kind, and we all work together.

— senior Michael Valentino

“It was so cool, because the whole year built up to finally being able to do it,” Valentino said. “I’m 18 now, and I’ve technically fought a fire, which is pretty cool; not many people my age get to say that.”

After the Sept. 25 live fire-skill day, the Academy had another live fire-skill day the next week that wrapped up the class, and they are now moving into an entirely new section of the Academy.

“We usually start a new unit, but that was the end of the class, so now we’re moving on to EMT,” Russell said. “So for the rest of the year, we’re gonna be training for EMT stuff, like ambulances and stretchers.”

As the four seniors approach their last semester of their high school career, they are grateful not just for the skills they’ve acquired, but the relationships they’ve formed through the Academy.

“The people honestly are the best part,” Valentino said. “They’re all super friendly and kind, and we all work together. You can’t be a lone wolf and think you’re gonna get through it, because you’re not. You need to have those social skills to interact with people because that’s really all firefighting and EMT is: talking with people and helping them through their problems.”

LBJ Fire Academy members talk and work together to put out the blazing propane fire at the live fire skill day on Sep. 25. Senior Nolan Russell is one of McCallum’s four students a part of the LBJ Fire Academy. Russel and his classmates had been preparing for weeks during the Fire Academy class before the live fire on Sep. 25. “Every fifth and sixth period we go and train,” Russell said. “Sometimes it means tests and written stuff, but sometimes we go out and get on our gear. [The live fire] was personally not a challenge because we had trained for weeks before.” Caption and photo by Kennedy Weatherby.