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Bethel camp gives kids a chance to try out public safety careers

From April 4 to April 8, a group of students participated in a public safety camp in Bethel. The camp gave the students hands-on training in a range of public safety careers. They learned real-life skills that camp directors hope they can carry with them for a long time.

At about 10:30 a.m. on April 7, a group of high schoolers were dragging a 180 pound dummy around the Bethel firehouse. Firefighters use this exercise to practice dragging bodies from burning buildings.

The 13 high school students came from schools across the Lower Kuskokwim School District: Tuntutuliak, Newtok, Atmautluak, Mertarvik, Nunapitchuk and Tununak. They attended a week-long camp put on by the school district and the Alaska State Troopers with a focus on public safety.

Prior to the firefighting session, they learned about Crime Scene Investigation. The first day they learned how to do CPR. Later in the week they learned about the U.S. Coast Guard and search and rescue skills.

One goal of the camp is to teach students about career opportunities. Most of the careers they’re learning about are careers that they could start right after high school. Bethel Firefighter Lt. Toby Monroe is a role model for that.

“I'm 25 years old, and I've been doing this since I was 18,” said Monroe.

Like the students, Monroe is also from rural Alaska. He’s from Kotzebue. Monroe said that he feels extremely lucky that he found a great career right after high school. He said that he hopes this program gives the students a similar chance.

“I think this is extremely important for kids that are their age because they're getting molded into who they want to be, and they can see all different types of vocational training. Different types of, you know, just anything in that way. They have an opportunity when they graduate,” said Monroe.

The students like the change of pace from the classroom, and the exposure to public safety careers. Here’s 9th grader Chandra Stone from Tuntutuliak explaining why she likes this camp better than normal school.

“Because we can defend ourselves and learn about career stuff. I learned how to CPR. I can use that if somebody's dying,” said Stone.

Stone thinks that being a firefighter could be a good backup career. She wants to be able to help save lives. But Stone’s even more excited for the session with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“My dream was to become a Coast Guard,” said Stone.

Stone said that before her father died last year, he encouraged her to join the Coast Guard. He bought her a Hollywood movie about the Coast Guard called "The Guardian," which they watched together. Now she’ll get to learn more about what it’s like in real life.

Camp Director Steve Arlow said that learning about public safety careers in real life is the point of the program. He is a retired Alaska State Trooper, and sees the need for increased public safety in rural Alaska.

Arlow said that this camp for village students was started 13 years ago by former Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety Joe Masters. Masters is Iñupiat and from Unalakleet. Under his leadership, rural public safety programs flourished. Since, some have been diminished. Under Masters there were 113 VPSOs in the state. Now there are 52.

Although the camp has lofty ambitions to fill this public safety need, Arlow said that much of it is just about building the students’ confidence to enter these fields.

Olivia Ebertz is a News Reporter for KYUK. She also works as a documentary filmmaker. She enjoys learning languages, making carbs, and watching movies.
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