Advanced Manufacturing students at Lake Mary High put their metal mills to good use to help local firefighters.
It started as a prank gone wrong.
It ended with an innovative and rewarding relationship between some Lake Mary High School students and the City of Lake Mary’s Fire Department.
It also ended with three students knowing their autographs are floating in space (but more on that later)...
Late last school year, firefighters responded to a second-floor fire alarm at Lake Mary High after some students ignited a fire in a trash can that sent smoke everywhere.
One floor below, J. Paul Wahnish, lead instructor of the school’s Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Academy, noticed firefighters using small metal wedges – looking very much like high-tech door stops – to prop doors open as they cleared the smoke.
Paul’s Advanced Manufacturing students mill a number of similar products out of metal, some of which are used by NASA. He asked Fire Department Lieutenant Shawn Anastasia how much the department pays for the wedges. The answer surprised him: A hefty $22 each.
“This seemed like an awfully expensive way to keep a door open,” Paul says. “I thought, ‘We can make these.’”
He approached Lt. Anastasia, a 1993 graduate of Lake Mary High, with an idea.
“Paul asked me how many we needed,” Lt. Anastasia recalls. “I replied, ‘How many can you make?’ I was extremely intrigued.”
Paul gathered instructor Theodore Kliszczewicz and three of their students to figure out how to replicate the wedges in-house. The team started with two big blocks of aluminum that resembled cheese wheels.
The crew eventually milled 36 wedges, which were all given to the fire department at no charge during a recent ceremony at Lake Mary High. In turn, fire department leaders presented certificates of appreciation to Paul, Theodore, senior Tarum Kumaravel, senior Patrick Kelly, and junior Chris Driscoll.
The wedges look simple, but Lt. Anastasia explains that they are an essential part of every firefighter’s gear. Combined with a forcible entry tool called a Halligan bar, the wedges are used to pry open locked doors in non-emergency situations. It prevents the need to destroy the doors with an axe.
Mayor David Mealor of Lake Mary told the audience at the ceremony that the students should be proud of themselves. Not only did they apply their skills to solve a very real-world problem, but they saved the City a cool $800 in the bargain.
Tarum, Patrick, and Chris are among 160 students taking part this year in the LMHS Advanced Manufacturing program, which began four years ago.
Theodore says the program provides the students a unique educational opportunity to build components for robotics systems, digital control applications, and all sorts of machinery.
“Who wouldn’t want to come in this place and play with all this stuff?” he asks. “The students can think it, draw it, and make it happen.”
Occupying Lake Mary High’s old auto shop, the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Academy is a model program with some of the best equipment and facilities in the region, if not the country.
“I would say we have the best facility like this in Central Florida,” Patrick says.
Adds his friend, Chris: “The machinery here is better than at most colleges.”
For these students, the program is a natural extension of a lifetime of problem-solving. Tarum, Patrick, and Chris all recall being fascinated by how things work even as kids.
“I always wanted to know how toys were made,” Tarum says. “I was always taking things apart."
And should any of their friends remark that this is just a 21st-century version of shop class, the three students can take pride in the fact that they are on a path to six-figure incomes, and they will graduate with professional credentials that are highly coveted by area employers.
They can also take pride in another recent project: the Advanced Manufacturing program was asked by NASA to make components for storage compartments that are now aboard the International Space Station. Tarum, Patrick, and Chris even put their autographs on one of the compartments.
“The signatures of all three of us are in space,” Patrick says with delight.
With the wedges project complete, the Advanced Manufacturing students are now researching other tools used by first responders to see if there’s another way they can help.
It’s amazing what can come from a random trash-can fire.
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