A shortage of volunteer firefighters nationwide is leading departments to look at new sources for staffing.
Johnston County Public Schools launched a fire science academy for the 2017-18 school year. The first class of teens will conclude this semester’s training in June.
The goal is to train students while they’re still in high school.
“The time constraints in order for volunteers to get the training that they need really prevents people from pursuing a volunteer role. The ranks of the volunteers are quickly depleting,” instructor Cpt. Mickey Nixon said.
Nixon retired from the Raleigh Fire Department in 2016.
A former Clayton High School science teacher, he decided to go back to school as the head of the academy which has classes at Clayton High School and Smithfield-Selma High School.
“Lots of the county departments depend on the volunteers. Their ranks are dwindling just because nobody wants to spend the time that it takes after a hard day’s work to go to Johnston Community College or somewhere and get the training that they need,” he said.
“But through this program these students can get all the training that they need right here in school, and when they graduate, after three years of being in the program, they’ll have two classes that they need to take to be certified firefighters and then they’ll be ready to go to work.”
The instruction feeds into JCC’s associate of applied fire science program. Johnston County also participates in the state’s career and college promise program to allow the high school students to get college credit.
A former volunteer firefighter contacted the school system in late April to express interest in offering a scholarship for a high school academy graduate to cover their costs of certification.
Several fire departments provide equipment and assistance to the classes. Smithfield Fire Division Chief Jeremey Daughtry said the partnership provides a great recruitment resource.
“Volunteers are getting a little hard to come by,” Daughtry said. “(More volunteers) benefit our citizens because it allows us to put more personnel on scene, allows us to operate more efficiently, and be able to provide that service and provide the public safety that we have been tasked to do.”
Sophomore Brock Currens is a cadet with the Four Oaks Volunteer Fire Department. The 16-year-old comes from a family of firefighters, as his grandfather, step-father, and step-grandfather all served volunteer departments as captains and chiefs.
“I wanted to come here just so I would have a little extra learning. I want to be a paid fireman at some time, but right now I’m just trying to get all my classes done with,” Currens said.
“It would be a lot longer to take my classes through the fire department, but with this, I can kind of get it along faster.”
His long term goal is to become a full-time paid firefighter with a larger department.
As a junior member with Four Oaks, he is not allowed to participate in fighting structure fires.
That will come at the age of 18.
Currens said he will receive the National Fire Protection Association 1403 live fire training certification through the class.
Fellow sophomore Violet Lassiter is the first in her family to try firefighting. She made a plan to wait until the summer to start volunteering with a department.
“I talked to one of the volunteer firefighters, because Captain Nixon was on the fire department with them a couple of years back, and I was thinking about being on with them,” Lassiter said.
“By the time I graduate, I should be certified, and I’ll only have to do a couple more tests. So this program is really amazing,” she said.
“My favorite part is actually the hands-on. We come out here almost every day and get to climb up ladders, We actually just put out fire over there, extinguishing it on the test. It’s really fun, just getting this experience.”
Smithfield-Selma High School Principal David Allen said he is thrilled to have this type of training on his campus.
“Part of our vision is that students can come to school, get the training that they need. Walk across at graduation, shake my hand, and go across the stage and enter that career or get into the college of their choice,” Allen said.
“We’re excited that this program is helping do exactly that.”
North Carolina State Fire Marshal and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey frequently visits volunteer fire departments to ask them about their needs. A constant answer is simply having enough firefighters to staff their stations.
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