Todd Nichols has his finger on the pulse of Canaan, Vermont. He truly wants to “stoke the fire” of fitness among the youth for personal and community-related gains. In the mornings Nichols serves as the preK-12 physical education instructor. In the afternoons he leads the Fire and Emergency Sciences career and technical education course for juniors and seniors interested in becoming professional firefighters, at the Beecher Falls station. In the late afternoons, he heads back to Canaan school to lift weights with students. “I’m a regular guy who likes to stay in shape, a career athlete,” said Nichols.
Perspective students were visiting the Beecher Falls fire station when we arrived. Nichols didn’t hesitate to lay out his expectations. “You need to stay in shape,” he said as he passed around a 40 pound oxygen tank. “If you and your family need to be rescued, you don’t want a jelly donut firefighter. In this class you will sweat a lot and be in pain a lot. I’m going to push you to be in shape. The better shape you are in, the faster you will recover as a firefighter,” he said. “I will ask you do each activity again and again, we have to do it until we can’t get it wrong.”
Nichols guided his students through what he called a training grinder exercise. Equipped with tanks, helmets, gloves, boots and fireproof jackets and slacks, they practiced squeezing between ladder rungs, crawling through wires, lifting and carrying heavy tires, climbing up and down a fire ladder and sliding face first. “This course is a labor of love,” Nichols said.
“Nichols is a role model to the students and was integral to the creation of the firefighting course,” said Debby Lynch, Canaan school’s principal. Myra Ellingwood, a former teacher said, “Nichols can be counted on to always have a smile and a ready helping hand as needed. He has had great impact on our students here.”