Story by Haylee Hedrick
From the moment that water started spurting out of the firehose, Gabi Knittle’s face exploded with uncontrollable joy and excitement. Knittle, who is a member of Angela Kern’s Careers Exploration class, accompanies a handful of classmates as they take a field trip to see their buddy, Sergeant Justin Ames, every Friday at the firehouse.
This weekly field trip is made possible through the C.H.O.I.C.E program, which is an acronym that stands for ‘Community Helping Our Youth In Career Education.’ In this case, the youth is a group of eight special needs students known as the D-crew. (The Fire Department is split into A, B, and C crews.)
Special education teacher Angela Kern loves the program, especially Sergeant Ames’ connection with the students.
“I love that Sergeant Ames communicates with every kid,” Kern said. She said that Ames makes sure that the students are comfortable when they’re at the firehouse, and teaches them about communicating and working with others around the community.
“The activities that he does with the students help teach them soft skills they will need for later in life,” Kern said.
Before each lesson, Ames takes note of what the students are learning in the classroom so he can further apply it in their D-crew activities.
“He (Sergeant Ames) takes as much pride in this program as we do,” Kern said.
At the firehouse, the D-crew does a variety of activities, with one in particular called “Rescuing Randy.” During the activity, two students wrap ropes around a dummy (nicknamed Randy) and work together to maneuver him to safety. The activity teaches the students about the importance of teamwork.
“Without one, then the other cannot do their job,” Ames tells the class.
Ames also lets the students spray the fire hose. Two students hold the hose in place as one works the nozzle. This also allows students to work together, as they alternate roles so that each member of D-Crew gets a chance to spray.
“They love using the hose,” Kern said. “Some of them get crazy when it comes to the spraying part, though.”
During these activities, the students get to learn valuable lessons, whether they realize it or not.
“We’re proud to be involved in this great program, which allows us to help (the students) be successful later in life,” Ames said.
When asked what their favorite part of the trip is, the D-crew students’ responses were joyfilled: “The hose!” Justin Keith and TreVeon Polk said.
Sergeant Ames attempts to connect with all of the crew, even Deija Franklin, who is deaf. He signs her name to her to get her attention.
When asked what she thinks of Ames, she responded with a smile.
“He signs to me and helps me,” Deija signed.