Just weeks before completing their final year of secondary school in Sweden, 27 students completed a 21-day journey across North America to learn from firefighters in Canada and the U.S.
The students, who attend Bobergsgymnasiet Ange -- the equivalent of a high school that's focused on fire, search and rescue, and medicine -- learned forest firefighting in British Columbia, rode in Montana, trained in Minneapolis and learned about aircraft firefighting in Chicago. The trip culminated with a visit to the World Trade Center site in New York City before flying home.
This is the first time this group has traveled to North America to learn about the fire service here. The second-year students have made various trips to Estonia to learn about forest firefighting work and to Stockholm, Sweden's largest city. Next year the third year students will again return to North America.
"All of these kids are pioneers," said Curt Malmsten, associate professor and the head trainer at the school. "We've had programs for firefighting and emergency medicine, but we want them to go abroad to learn another language, learn another terminology and learn about the other technologies available to rescuers."
Malmsten, who is a medical doctor, also served 15 years as a firefighter with the Stockholm Fire Department. He left the department as a senior officer to head up the Bobersggymnasiet school in Ange, about 300 miles from Stockholm.
The students are part of AWARE International (Ange, Wilderness, Advanced Rescue Education), which is run by Doctus. About 100 students enroll each year and learn about a variety of first responder, advanced rescue and emergency medicine and firefighting skills. Entry into the school is tough and Malmsten said students have to have high grades and a strong work ethic.
Malmsten had hoped to broaden the students' education before their graduation. Last year he started reaching out to various departments and personnel. Last summer he visited the locations to size up their opportunities to learn. "I think it will really give them something to think about," Malmsten said. "We want them to be the ambassadors of the program here (in the U.S.) and back home. They can meet the citizens, provide them with education about smoke detectors and safety."
Malmsten said that 25 percent of their schooling is spent on firefighting, emergency medicine, helicopter operations, search and rescue and other similar disciplines. The students conduct hands-on training at an old school building on campus using two pumpers. The campus also has several ambulances for students to immerse themselves in emergency medicine. "The training is comparable to that of which the volunteer firefighters undergo in Sweden."
They landed in Vancouver, British Colombia on April 11 and spent six days with retired forestry firefighter and consultant Doug Richardson, learning about forest firefighting operations, helicopters, communications and the history of Canada. The education was both hands-on and classroom-based at the McQueen Lake Environment Centre near Kamloops.
From there they took a bus to Montana where they spent five days riding with Great Falls Fire/Rescue. "This stop paralleled with the training that they have already received," Malmsten said. They slept in the departments' stations and worked hand-in-hand on more than 80 runs with Great Falls crews. "We felt it was best that they stayed in the firehouse to get a better sense of the way they work here," he said.
Their responses included several medical emergencies, a vehicle crash and a camper fire. "I think it's fun to see the differences in the U.S.," said student Robin Svensson. "There are just some small differences, like the hose connections."
Great Falls Fire Marshal Doug Bennyhoff said the Doctus program paid for their overtime costs to have 12 firefighters stay back and teach the students. The kids spent time in four stations and eight hours each day focused on EMS, vehicle extrication, low angle rescue and hazardous materials.