"It was hot, and it was dark. I couldn't see anything," young Winfree, a senior at the Toledo Maritime Academy, said after a lesson at the U.S. Maritime Administration's Fire Training Center on South Eber Road in Monclova Township. "I want to do firefighting, and if I can do it on a ship, that's good."
The Toledoan was one of five Toledo Maritime seniors who on Friday became the first from their school to train at the Maritime Administration center as part of the basic safety course, and their class happened to coincide with a visit by David Matsuda, the U.S. Department of Transportation's maritime administrator, based in Washington.
"When I was in high school, I had no idea there was this kind of industry, or these kinds of jobs," Mr. Matsuda said before he spoke to the students. "We're pleased to be able to offer this kind of training."
While there are maritime fire training facilities operated by others, the Monclova Township center, established in the early 1980s, is the Maritime Administration's only such facility in the country.
Several of the academy seniors said they hope to join the Navy or Coast Guard after graduation this spring.
"I'm going to try to join the Coast Guard, like my father and brother before me," said Melaine Hileman of Toledo, explaining that her brother was stationed in California recently, and her father once worked for the Coast Guard in Alaska.
Along with the academy students, Friday's firefighting class included 10 adults from a cruise-ship training class under way this week and next by the Maritime Academy of Toledo Foundation at the downtown Toledo academy.
Fire training is not just about lifting and aiming a firehose, Mr. Matsuda told the group during a lunchtime presentation. "It's about teamwork and communication."
Seafaring offers "stable job opportunities for people to earn a good living," Mr. Matsuda said.
Having a capable merchant marine is vital to national security, he said, and allows the United States to respond in times of need, as it did with the disastrous earthquake in Haiti two years ago.
"This is all part of an active, vibrant merchant marine in America," Mr. Matsuda said. "This is a great industry, and there are good opportunities."
After visiting the fire-training site, the maritime administrator toured the maritime academy Friday afternoon. His day in Toledo began Friday morning with a tour of the Port of Toledo led by Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials.