Out on snow-covered pastures of Liberty Road east of Joseph, about 18 students stand near the sizzling remains of a house owned by Dale and Marla Dotson. No one attempts to put out the fire on the upper end of Liberty Road.
That’s because this is a job for Joseph Charter School’s fire science class taught by Olan Fulfer. Specifically, this is a senior project for class member, Ronnie Morello. The JCS senior has a keen interest in firefighting, which he comes by honestly.
“My father and sister worked at both ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry) and federal firefighting,” Morello said. “I have a cousin that was a Hotshot for awhile, and they were a huge influence.”
The teacher said that Marla Dotson, a retired JCS teacher, asked if the class would be interested in burning down the structure.
“We usually do field fires, but with Ronnie’s interest in structure fires, this being a house, it was something we couldn’t pass up,” Fulfer said.
Morello is the youngest member of the Joseph Fire Department. He is also on the list for at least a summer firefighting job with the ODF, courtesy of Fulfer, who fights fires with the agency every summer.
“He (Morello) hasn’t gotten it yet, but I will definitely get him a job this summer,” Fulfer said. “Most likely with ODF. It’s his to lose.”
As a Joseph firefighter, Morello’s first fire was the Joseph gym fire in January. After all the students and staff were accounted for, he suited up with the rest of the firefighters.
“I was able to go back up and help out with the hoses and whatnot,” he said. “It was a great learning experience.”
Fulfer said that along with the house burning, Morello’s fire department stint is part of his senior project.
“We’re doing awareness and trying to recruit people on there,” he said.
This includes taking younger students on a tour through the department and showing the students how the department works.
The senior is looking forward to furthering his firefighting education with training.
“I definitely plan on attending any training that ODF is willing to give me,” he said. “I want to learn more about wildland (firefighting) because fires are only getting worse, so it’s important that more people know.”
Morello ultimately wants to become a smoke jumper or rapeller.
“Hopefully, I can do some real good,” he said. Good is what he wants from being a firefighter. “I also want to do it because people who work in fire have a really good work ethic, and I want to model my life after that because that’s what leads to more success.”