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Fun, learning for campers at Fire Academy

LAKEWOOD RANCH — It was Carina Coronado’s turn with the hose, and she was ready to do what the boys on her team could not.

Knock over the traffic cones.

“When I say ‘Open,’” Lt. Dana Tindall said, eyeing the 7-year-old. “OK, open it up.”

The little girl flipped the lever on the nozzle and — whoosh! — down went the first traffic cone.

“Awesome!” Tindall said, clapping.

“That was fun,” Carina said, uttering one of the bywords repeated Tuesday as 30 youngsters from the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County visited Manatee Technical Institute’s East Campus Fire Academy.

There was 6-year-old Giselle Frank styling in kids-sized firefighter’s gear.

There was 9-year-old Willie Edwards hitting a fire truck siren.

There was 60-year-old Carl Weeks wearing bunker gear and taking a turn at the hose.

“I feel like a 6-year-old seeing these kids do these things,” said the longtime Boys & Girls Clubs executive director. “I love it.”

Not just because it was fun, either.

“This is definitely not traditional, like daily crafts and kickball,” Weeks said. “But it’s a wonderful experience for our children, an interactive event to learn about firefighting.”

Kids took turns exploring the fire truck, crawling through the smoke maze, and climbing the fire tower.

“It was like we were a real firefighter,” said 8-year-old Austin Mills.

Jacob Fulghum felt like one, tugging on a kids-sized firefighter’s helmet.

“When a fire is burning, stuff can fall down and hit your head,” the 8-year-old said.

Firefighter Mike Fitzgerald remembered being young when he was drawn to firefighting.

“I think all children have a natural attraction to this profession,” said the 22-year veteran. “They can relate, seeing a fire truck going down the street.”

Hearing one, too.

They enjoyed blowing the fire truck’s siren, all right.

“Oh, they love to hear that sound,” joked Lt. Melvin Barnes, as onlookers covered their ears.

One was Mary Cantrell.

“Yes, they are 6, 7 and 8 years old, but ... we’re planting the seed,” said MTI’s director. “What a great thing for the future. Even this young lady, she needs to know she can do this, too.”

She meant Carina Coronado.

Tindall felt strongly on that point.

“There are not many women firefighters, so I take a special interest in that,” said the 13-year veteran firefighter. “I love teaching, so when I see a young woman, it’s awesome.”

Then Tindall got another group ready.

“OK,” she said, clapping. “Let’s check out the fire hose!”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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