Blue Ridge Early College students enrolled the Fire Academy Program were geared up on Friday and worked as a team to put out pallets set ablaze for training.
“The students were doing practical training associated with the Hose, Nozzles, Fire Streams and Appliances class using an 1-1/2 inch attack line and a variable setting fog nozzle to extinguish fires set with pallets, hay and a small amount of class B combustible liquid,” said Academy Fire Chief Lee Sudia, a retired Fire Chief with over 30-years of experience and leads the BREC Fire Academy Program training future firefighters.
Sometimes you just need a little class B combustible to get things going, then a little more, and there we go:
The Fire Academy Program at BREC officially began in the 2018-19 school year, said Sudia. It’s the same certification class that’s taught by the North Carolina Department of Community Colleges and is one of 42 high school fire academies across the state.
“We haven’t graduated any students yet, it is still too early in the program,” said Sudia. “However, we have three students at Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department as Junior Firefighters and two at Sylva Fire Department as Juniors, and one with a department in Georgia.”
The Fire Academy Program began as a cooperative project between the NC Department of Public Instruction, Jackson County School Board, and NC Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Students at Blue Ridge were polled in 2016 on what type of classes they would like to take, and a fire academy was one of the classes mentioned, said Sudia.
“North Carolina is experiencing a reduction in the numbers of volunteers and so is the rest of the nation,” he said. “This program helps with this shortage as well as developing a career path for those students who may not want to attend college directly out of high school.
Sudia added that the majority larger fire departments support their firefighter going to college by offering tuition reimbursement. The BREC Fire Academy gives firefighters a chance of acquiring their degrees without incurring significant student debt and to have gainful employment while they finish their college.
But meeting the requirements for graduation isn’t a walk in the park.
“They must successfully achieve a passing grade of 70 on practical and written examinations that cover 20 of the 22 classes required for certification by the State of North Carolina as firefighters,” said Sudia. “As of school year 20-21, we will be able to offer 21 of the 22 classes required for certification due to the addition of Hazardous Materials Level I certification to the program.”
Cashiers-Glenville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Randy Dillard was on hand at the school imparting years of firefighting wisdom to the trainees. Sudia said students spend part of their training at the department getting hands-on experience.
“As part of Fire Technology 4, the students will do a two-day a week internship with Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department where they will be functioning as firefighters,” said Sudia. “The other three days a week they will be at the school learning pump operations, hydraulics, water supplies and aerial operations (ladder truck).”
There may be no graduates yet, but Sudia said he’s already seeing a positive influence on those students enrolled in the program.
“It’s been an amazing experience to see the change that this program has made in many of the students,” he said. “I constantly have teachers here at the school tell me the change that they have seen in several of the students that are in the program particularly in their self-confidence and maturity. It gives me a warm feeling in my heart and soul to feel that I might have a very small part in the development of these young men and women and hopefully their successful lives to come.”