Lakeland's latest firefighter training graduates overcame more than a tough course load as they worked to keep each other safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The start date delays, health and safety protocols and uncertainty just made them more determined to work together to succeed.
Ashlea Suderman grew up wanting to be a firefighter. She didn’t see a lot of female firefighters in her hometown of Redcliff, Alta., but when she moved to a larger city and began to see more women in that role, she realized it could be a career option for her as well.
“When it came time to choose a school, I’d heard really good things about Lakeland,” Suderman explains. “I have friends who’ve come to Lakeland for agriculture or other programs, including the fire program
, and they’ve only had good things to say about it. When I was looking to get my training, it seemed the best place to go.”
Classmate Eric Bogart, from London, Ont., was drawn to Lakeland after hearing similarly positive things from Emergency Training Centre
“I heard from people who had taken it and they said it was top notch training,” he says. “I really couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.”
Bogart was drawn to a career in firefighting after earning his bachelor degree in biochemistry and working in hospitals like many of his family members did. He’d always thought he’d end up in the same field, but found it didn’t have the team atmosphere he was looking for.
“Being an athlete myself, I’ve always been involved in team sports,” Bogart explains. “My friends who were firefighters said it doesn’t get any closer to a team sport than firefighting. It’s relying on the person next to you while they rely on you too.”
He chose the 12-week on campus option specifically to have more hands-on experience.
“I figured more time on campus would mean jumping in with both feet and fully immersing myself in the whole experience,” Bogart says. “I learn best hands-on and the experience was awesome. They treated us like professionals. We have freedom but also expectations that we stay on task. I don’t have enough good things to say about it.”
The hands-on aspect of a Lakeland education also appealed to Suderman. Without any previous firefighting experience, she felt it was essential to graduate with skills that can only be learned in the field.
“The instructors are great and super informative,” Suderman says. “And the facilities at Lakeland are amazing. We actually got to train with fire, which allowed us to apply the theory of what we were learning to the field. That was my favourite part of being at Lakeland.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the delayed start of the program, the risk of losing access to that essential hands-on learning component was especially worrisome to Bogart and Suderman.
According to Suderman though, this only served to make them more determined to take the health and safety protocols seriously when they were allowed on campus.
“Lakeland did a good job of keeping us safe,” she says. “My classmates and I were really aware of how important it was to keep each other safe. None of us were willing to take any risks that might mean cutting our experience short.”
Bogart agrees, saying, “It’s a huge testament to everyone here that during a pandemic, we were able to persevere through it, come out here and get the job done. We were able to keep everyone safe and have a really good time doing it.”
The experience served to bring the students closer together.
“I feel like I’ll be good friends with some of the people I went through this program with for a long time. We’re always going to check up on each other throughout our careers,” Suderman says.
For Bogart, he found exactly what he was looking for at Lakeland.
“When you’re on the field fighting fires, you feel a sense of purpose. This is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.”
(Photos: Top - Students Ashlea Suderman and Eric Bogart go beyond the classroom as they join their classmates for hands-on industrial firefighting. Middle - Ashlea Suderman in her firefighting gear. Bottom - Eric Bogart prepares for the exercise.)