HARLINGEN — Avianna Ayala wants everyone to know that women can fight fire just as well as men.

“It’s a male dominated field and I like to prove people wrong,” said Avianna, 16.

She and several other students recently took the physical endurance and agility test to enter the new Firefighters Academy which the Harlingen school district plans to open this fall.

The academy is a two-year curriculum which begins in the 11th grade.

All students taking the agility test will begin their junior year this fall.

At the end of their senior year, after they’ve turned 18 years of age, they’ll be able to take a state exam to become firefighters.

“We want to mimic what they’d be required to do if they applied to a firefighter’s agency,” said Raul Alvarez, director of the career and technical education department.

“When they get ready to apply to a firefighting agency, the agencies in the area are going to have them do different kinds of skills,” Alvarez said. “So we want to see growth essentially by the time they finish with the academy.”

Alvarez said the students taking the agility test have performed well.

“These skills that we are asking them to do are based on what future firefighters are expected to do,” Alvarez said. “They performed these skills very effectively, very efficiently.”

The agility test consists of five skills students must perform effectively as firefighters, but it’s not a pass or fail.

“It’s a measurement to see where they’re at,” Alvarez said. “The goal is that by the time they graduate from high school they’ll be able to perform all five of these in a timed session with proficiency.”

Running, climbing towers, lifting heavy hoses and ladders present a challenge to anyone. As young healthy 15 and 16 year olds with a hunger for arduous tasks, it was a beautiful and painful challenge they seemed to have enjoyed.

“It was kind of easy,” said Felix Sanchez, 16. “The only thing was the stamina. I was out of shape.”

The broad range of activities piqued the imagination of Alfredo Guijarro, 16.

“It was great, all the different tests,” Alfredo said.

Andrea Cortez, 16, is looking forward to the third, and last, agility test this summer before the fall semester starts.

“I want to be involved with public service,” she said.

Perhaps in some not-so-distant future it will be these very same firefighters who will guide people from the terrors of a house in flames.

AGILITY TEST

* Run 1 1/2 miles in 14 minutes

* Lift and carry a 60-pound ladder

* Climb a 12-foot ladder

* Perform a stairway climb

* Drag a 125-pound dummy while wearing firefighter protective gear