"A thousand firefighters won't be able to extinguish me!" The lyrics of that iconic Israeli song took on a special meaning last week as the students of the first-ever graduating class of the WIZO Nachlat Yehuda Youth Village Fire & Rescue Cadets Program received their completion certificates at a special ceremony at Rishon LeZion's Regional Fire Station.
The 26 proud graduates, both boys and girls, completed a three year training program, the only one of its kind in Israel, which empowers these teenagers from at-risk families and gives then the opportunity to grow and develop into responsible young adults.
At the ceremony, the cadets demonstrated their firefighting skills by quickly and efficiently extinguishing a fire set ablaze in an old abandoned vehicle.
More Than Just Fighting Fires
The unique program, which was established in 2015 and currently has over 70 students from grades 10-12 participating in it, does much more than just train students to be the next generation of firefighters and rescue workers. “The program instills in these young people confidence and pride, which is so critical for these young people, especially considering that many of them come from very difficult family situations,” Doron Shabi, who heads the program, explained.
Doron Shabi, head of the program (Photo credit: Y. Sredni)
Seen as Heroes” by Younger Kids
A highlight for the students in the program came on the eve of the holiday of Lag B’omer, when they accompanied Israel’s professional firefighters as they went out on bonfire patrol.
"It was exciting to walk around in uniform among the bonfires," Sarah, a 17 year-old student in the program said. "We brought the fire truck from the youth village and with it we extinguished bonfires together with the school children. Because I now have the knowledge, I can do real-time actions that can calm the scene and make it easier for the professional firefighters.”
Doron Shabi and his Fire Cadets at Nachlat Yehuda (Photo Credit: Kfir Sivan)
"In the program we teach our students how to fight fire and protect the environment,” Shabi said. “But on Lag B’omer, when the Nachlat Yehuda firefighting students arrived in their uniforms and explained fire safety to the elementary school kids, something very special happened. The Nachlat students were much more effective at getting the fire safety message across because they speak the young kid’s language - at eye level. They are perceived by the younger children as heroes.”
Generously Sponsored by WIZO Federations
“This amazing program would not exist if it were not for the support of WIZO Federations around the world,” Dr. Carmela Dekel, Chairperson of World WIZO’s Education Division, said at the ceremony. “WIZO Switzerland has generously funded this program from its inception three years ago and recently WIZO USA has joined forces with them. We so appreciate their unwavering support of WIZO Nachlat Yehuda and this program in particular. We invite more WIZO Federations and donors to join them in supporting this important program so that it may continue for years to come.”
Opening New Horizons
Part of an environmental studies track, which enables the students to receive a full matriculation certificate, the Fire & Rescue Cadets Program includes theoretical study: studying flammability, operating fire extinguishing equipment, treating the injured and more.
The Fire & Rescue course does not replace the regular schedule of studies for the students, as they are required to put in extra hours dedicated to firefighting studies. These hours include theoretical classes in the classroom as well as in the field, including practical hands-on training with the fire engines and equipment at the Rishon LeZion Regional Fire Station.
“The Fire & Rescue Program enriches the school's curriculum and gives students an opportunity to reinforce and highlight skills that are not reflected in the regular subjects of study and opens a new career horizon for them,” Dr. Dekel said.
"This track combines theoretical and matriculation studies with an attractive profession as a fire fighter, a role that has a mission and a national need," Pnina Gefen, Director of WIZO Nachlat Yehuda said. “On an individual level, the content related to firefighting and rescue, is actually a path to personal empowerment for our students."
Most of the students in the track say that they intend to continue to work in the field in the army and in the firefighting system. In addition, many of the students, inspired by their community work as part of the Fire & Rescue program, choose to postpone their mandatory army service for a year in order to do a year of national volunteering, a decision which requires a personal interview as part of the selection process.
Two of the program's graduates (Photo Credit: Y. Sredni)
“I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the students of the first graduating class of WIZO Nachlat Yehdua’s Fire & Rescue Cadets Program,” World WIZO Chairperson Prof. Rivka Lazovsky said. “You are not only young firefighters, but you each have a fire, a passion which burns within you. You are role models to young children everywhere and I salute you.”
Video Credit: Monique Asher