Colorado bootcamp teaches risks, rewards of fighting wildfires

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SALIDA, Colo. -- Fighting wildfires is a dangerous and even deadly profession. But that risk isn't enough to keep away hundreds of students every year who converge on this central Colorado town to learn the risks and rewards of fighting wildland fires.

Colorado Firecamp is a three-day bootcamp for wannabe firefighters who want to be face-to-face with flames.

Some are right out of high school while others are local firefighters from departments across the United States and around the world.

"And some who just want to serve their community in some capacity and are looking for the next challenge," Kent Maxwell, the founder of Colorado Firecamp, told FOX31.

Every year, about 800 people take part in the training. One especially tough task involves carrying a 45-pound backpack for 3 miles in less than 45 minutes. The exercise is designed to replicate the weight of the gear wildland firefighters have to carry and the distance they often have to travel to fight a fire.

"Well, I'm trying to start a career in some type of field in the firefighting arena, so I thought this would be a good place to start," said Peter Pilipauskas, who left his family in Illinois to attend Colorado Firecamp.

Like everyone at the bootcamp, he wants to be on the front lines of a fire.

"I mean, there is a lot of possibilities to die and stuff, but I think if you know that and plan for that, you can avoid that for the most part," Pilipauskas said.

Some want to prove wrong those who said they're not "men enough" for a job like firefighting.

"I kind of assumed I'd be the only female because that's the way it is on my fire departments back home and stuff," said Samantha "Sammy" Silverstein, who came to camp from Wayne, Pennsylvania.

"I want people to know, especially being a woman in this field -- only 10 percent are woman -- and just say, 'You know, you can do it'," said Hilary Hastings, course coordinator at Colorado Firecamp.

After three days sharpening their skills, the participants are more ready than ever to face the flames.

"I'd rather run toward (the fire) than away from it," said Jackson Koepke, who took part in the training.

"You have to be a little crazy to run toward fire and be where you can potentially be killed, but if you have the drive, nothing really scares you," he said.

To learn more about Colorado Firecamp, and to see a calendar of their upcoming wildland firefighter bootcamps, click here.

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