December 2, 2021

Learning the ropes

Firefighter camp introduces kids to career

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Dustin Contri, Cortland County deputy fire coordinator, trains Daisy Tohoma, 10, foreground, and Kendra Griffin, 8, of Truxton water rescue techniques Wednesday during the Firefighter for a Day Camp at Suggett Park in Cortland.

When 11-year-old Shannon Ryan of Cincinnatus stepped in the bucket at the end of the fire truck’s ladder, fear was painted all over her.

She was stiff, keeping her head down. Then the ladder rose.

Ten feet.

Fifty feet.

No change in her expression.

Eighty feet.

She looked up and out into the rising view.

The ladder stopped about 100 feet in the air. The more she looked around, the more you could see the fear melt away.

She looked down over the edge and waved. “Hi, mom!” she yelled.

“This is fun,” Ryan said. “I was scared at first, but now it is fun.”

She and about 90 other kids — ages 8 to 14 — got to experience a variety of firefighter-related activities during the fourth annual Firefighter for a Day Camp on Wednesday at Suggett Park.

About 125 more — ages 3 to 7 — will get to do the same today.

Six activities are stationed throughout the park including fire truck rides, an obstacle course, smoke house simulation, performing a water rescue, experiencing the job of an emergency medical technician and simulating having to deal with hazardous materials.

The camp started in 2014 when the city Fire Department contacted the Cortland Youth Bureau after seeing a similar but smaller camp online.

Cortland Youth Bureau Recreation Supervisor Andrea Piedigrossi said the activities are a fun way for kids to learn safety information.

With the simulated smoke house, kids get to see what firefighters see when they go into a burning house.

With low visibility, it shows kids that if they are in a house on fire that they need to try to get to a visible spot to make it easier for firefighters to find them.

New this year, the kids got to watch firefighters rappel off the ladder truck, and to perform a simulated water rescue.

An excess of water in Dry Creek at the park meant the fire department could bring an inflatable raft and place it in the creek.

Blocking off a section at the east end of the creek, a plastic dummy was placed downstream. A group of kids got to go in the raft, paddle down the stream, save the dummy and paddle back — all under the supervision of firefighters.

While each activity provides an unusual way for kids to learn about what firefighters deal with on a yearly basis, fire Capt. Carl Grantham said it is really just a fun day for kids.

“We let kids play with the trucks because that is what we would want to do when we were kids,” Grantham said. “We love doing it.”

Eleven-year-olds Peter Verfuss and Nicollette Viviano, both of Cortland, have participated in the event every year, so far.

“It is definitely really fun, especially when you know everyone,” Verfuss said.

Viviano added that even now they have learned everything, and done the activities before, it is still fun.

“You get to do stuff you won’t get to do at other camps,” Viviano said.

“I wish it was all week long,” Verfuss said.