COTTONWOOD, AZ — With the fight against wildfires becoming a year-long battle in Arizona, some first responders are training future firefighters that haven't even graduated high school yet.
Training is ongoing at the Verde Fire Training Center in Cottonwood, where more than a dozen high schoolers representing Camp Verde High School, Mingus Union High Schools, and others in the Verde Valley, are being shown the ropes by Lead Instructor Jarrett Tarver of Sedona Fire.
"Someday these guys could be on the truck next to me and know that I've had a hand in part of their life and growing their careers and it's always the reward out. That's why we do this. We want to give them the foundation to succeed," Tarver stated.
He's battled fires, big and small, throughout Arizona for 20 years.
Now, Captain Tarver is teaching the cadets of this class to do the same.
"Some of these guys will go on and be full-time firemen. This is our future. It's a really good chance to hopefully grab our youth, teach them the basics, and get them the skills they need to become full-time firemen and take my spot when I move down the road," he said.
It's part of Yavapai College's "Valley Academy for Career and Technology Education" Fire Science program, which provides a path for high schoolers in the Verde Valley to earn college credit, become industry-certified, and gain valuable hands-on experience before graduating high school.
One of the students is Madison Mathis, a senior a Mingus Union High School. She wants to be a hotshot after she's done with the program.
She is the only girl in the class, and while it does have its challenges, Mathis says it's all in the family.
"I definitely didn't have the best bond with males before and then I got to this class. I had no choice because they have to become my brothers and I have to become their sister for us to be a solid firefighter crew," she explained.
While Mathis' aspirations would keep her closer to home, fellow cadet Michael Magenot of Camp Verde High School will use what he's learned here, while serving our country in the U.S. Navy.
"Everyone on the boat is pretty much a firefighter and if I already know most of the steps it won't be as hard for me when I get to boot camp," Magenot says.
No matter the path they take, Capt. Tarver and fellow instructors know that Arizonans will be in good hands, once the cadets graduate.
Most of the cadets that participate in the program tend to go toward the wildland firefighting route, but this program helps them become certified in most aspects of firefighting, including EMT certification. In rural Arizona, it's common to see fire crews wear multiple hats.
To learn more about the program, click here.