Several years ago, Steve Hurvitz helped launch The Learning Jet program at the St. Paul Downtown Airport to inspire young people to seek careers in aviation. Thousands have answered the call, learning about air flight careers from pilots to mechanics.

In 2022, he figured, why not use the same idea to entice teens to consider careers as first responders?

"We need them," Hurvitz said of the emergency personnel who answer the call every day. "I thought, 'Why not show the kinds of great thing they do every day?'"

The 2024 First Responders Camp will run June 24-28, based at the Learning Jet's renovated hangar classroom at the St. Paul airport. But this is not a classroom camp. The 24 students will see demonstrations by firefighters, SWAT team members, crisis negotiators, water rescue squads and air rescue units. Each participant in the free camp will even get a chance to go airborne.

Lt. Craig Benz is chief pilot with the Minnesota State Patrol flight section. He jumped at a chance to participate in the camp, he said.

"It's important for the younger generation to see what first responders are all about and the career opportunities that are out there," he said. "Often, they see only what movies show, or what's in the news media."

Benz, who has worked in the flight section for 14 years, has participated in a range of community events for seven or eight years, with the idea of fostering better understanding of what goes into what he considers a dream job.

"To mix law enforcement with aviation is a blessing," he said.

Last year, Hurvitz said, officials canceled the camp because too few students signed up. He blames not getting the word out early enough. "This year, we attacked it pretty hard," he said. Eighteen students are already registered. If enough students are interested, Hurvitz said, the camp rolls could increase from 24 to 30.

Students may apply to the camp through their high school counselor or the Boy Scouts Explorers program, he said. Or they can contact the Learning Jet online at Applications must be submitted by May 31.

According to its Facebook page, "The Learning Jet is the first of its kind in the nation for engaging students in STEAM subjects and activities by incorporating hands-on activities in the classroom, cultivating enthusiasm for learning, relating it to real life experiences and fostering a long-term interest in continued learning in science, technology, engineering and math."

Dean Gale is a believer in building student interest in careers through experiential learning. The business manager for St. Paul Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 34 was part of a crew of trade union volunteers who renovated an airport hangar into the Learning Jet's classroom several years ago. He's on the Learning Jet board.

"This is about renewing interest in people serving our communities," Gale said.