Senior gets dressed up and fired up for graduation project

Vying for state titles in three different sports is behind him, but Ethan Blatchley still has to blaze a trail to finish his senior project before he graduates.

And though training and competing in cross country, wrestling and basketball might have been challenging, he faces his biggest challenge yet: Dressing up like a dalmatian and teaching fire safety to kids. There is no medal for this kind of bravery.

Blatchley will aid the Wrangell Fire Department in its annual safety training for elementary school students while wearing the Sparky the Dog costume. Sparky is the mascot for the National Fire Protection Association. He got the idea for the project from his mom, Fire Capt. Dorianne Sprehe.

The safety presentation is usually held in October, but due to Blatchley's busy sports schedule and the travel involved, Sprehe said they are waiting until April.

"Historically, the kiddos will come up to the fire hall for a presentation, and we'll walk through what the fire department is about," she said. "Then we talk about how to keep themselves and their family safe."

Kids will learn about things like stop, drop and roll, checking doors to see if they are hot, having an exit route and meeting place, and what to say when calling 911, among other things.

A safety trailer is used to simulate a house fire that kids can escape from, adding a practical application on what they've learned.

"You have to get real low and cover your mouth with these clothes that they have in there, then escape through a window," Blatchley said, remembering when he was an elementary student and went through the safety class.

Along with being Sparky and demonstrating what the kids have to do, he will be charged with calling the school and scheduling each class for their fire department field trip. Whereas younger grades learn all the basics, fourth and fifth grade students will also learn about the use of fire extinguishers and cooking safety.

Each safety course for the kids will take about an hour and 15 minutes, Sprehe said, but her son will also have to complete the training course that will allow him to present the material. It will add up to the 20 hours he needs to fulfill the senior project time requirement.

Sprehe has been running the safety course for many years, long enough that Blatchley isn't her first child to help her out. In the middle of a group, she had to leave on an emergency call. Her older son was dressed as Sparky, but couldn't speak - one of the rules when playing the mascot.

"(Ethan's) older brother actually took over for me (one year)," she said. "He was here, volunteering to be Sparky. He did the rest of the presentation with his hands and did a phenomenal job."

Blatchley hasn't tried on the Sparky costume yet, so he's unsure of how hot the task might be, but he has tried on the head of Wolfie, Wrangell High School's mascot.

After he graduates, he plans on attending Western Welding Academy in Gillette, Wyoming, to become a certified welder. He will practice that trade for a year or so, then he plans to become a certified electrician.

"Last year I was in welding class and I always thought stick welding is fun and the electrician thing is good to know," Blatchley said.

He will miss the friends he's seen almost every day for the past 18 years, and playing the sports he loves.

"That's going to be different ... going from three sports a year down to nothing," he said. "I'll go up to the basketball court every once in a while to mess around, but that's about it."

What won't he miss about school?

"Having to ask to go to the bathroom," he said.

 

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