Character Academy teaches kids what it's like to be a first responder

It's the 13th year Roanoke County Fire and Rescue has held the camp

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Local kids are getting the chance to experience what it's like to be a first responder as part of Roanoke County Fire and Rescue's 13th annual Character Academy.

Eleven-year-old Will Barnett started learning about first responders at a young age. His dad is a paramedic.

"He helps save lives and there's a bunch of scenarios where he comes back home and tells me about what he's done and I’m like 'whoa, that's so awesome," Character Academy participant Will Barnett said.

Will wants to follow in his footsteps.

"I want to be a paramedic just like my dad," Will said.

That's why Will is going to Character Academy this week.  He's one of nearly 30 kids learning what it's like to be a first responder by climbing in a ladder truck, hooking a water hose up to a fire hydrant, and of course, trying on the gear.

The camp is about more than just learning what first responders do and how they do it. It's also about building character and confidence

"One person can't hold a fire hose. It takes several people to hold a fire hose or to hook up a fire hydrant. It takes teamwork and so they're already beginning to pick up on that," Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Community Outreach Coordinator Brian Clingenpeel said.

"Work together, that's a big one. Teamwork is a big one," Character Academy participant Reagan Elliott said.

It's 13-year-old Reagan Elliott's third year at the camp.

"Last year I learned how to use an AED machine and that is very helpful," Elliott said.

That knowledge is inspiring her.

"I want to keep coming back until I’m actually a paramedic doing this," Elliott said.

Future first responders, like Reagan and Will, say they just want to grow up to make a difference.

"All these different things that I’m learning are going to really help me," Elliott said.

"Our community wouldn't be as good if we didn't have all these nice firefighters to protect us and keep us safe," Barnett said.

The kids will learn CPR on Thursday. The academy wraps up with a graduation on Friday.

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