Pasquotank High School’s new Firefighter Academy is becoming a hot ticket.
Nearly a year after only three students signed up for the program, 60 already have signed up for this fall.
“It surprised me when they gave me the numbers,” said Eugene Rountree, a certified firefighter and the school’s Firefighter Academy instructor.
Pasquotank’s Firefighter Academy was one of only seven such academies in the state of North Carolina when it began last school year. The local school program partnered with the Elizabeth City Fire Department and students who participated worked toward earning their firefighter certification.
“It’s great that they have this opportunity,” said Elizabeth City Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Cartwright. “If students are two classes shy of certification, fire departments are going to look at that and it does aid getting into the workforce of fire service.”
Students come out of the program knowing how to position ladders, tie knots, load hose and bring people down a ladder. The courses are taught in conjunction with the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
“They love to do stuff that’s hands on,” Rountree said. “Most of them seem to enjoy it a lot.”
Thanks to the school’s partnership with the Elizabeth City Fire Department, students are able to get some of their hands-on training at the same houses where Elizabeth City firefighters are taught. The students take field trips to these designated homes and practice cutting holes in the walls and in the ceiling – to learn about ventilation techniques – and wear blackout masks to help them practice navigating smoky environments. Students also get extra practice using the fire hose and ladders.
Without the generosity of local fire departments – from Nags Head to New Bern – who have loaned the fledgling fire program equipment and trucks, Rountree and Luton said the program wouldn’t be possible. In
addition to the helmets, boots, axes and other equipment area fire departments have donated, Rountree is hopeful the program may even receive a donated fire truck over the summer.
Cartwright said the school partnership also benefits area fire departments who might have more trained volunteer firefighters as a result of the program.
Mary Grace Luton, the school district’s career technical education instructional management coordinator, decided to implement the program soon after learning about it.
“When I look at training kids for the workforce upon graduation, there’s a value there,” Luton said, referring to the program. “It just opens our kids up to other opportunities and possibilities.”
Several students who were in the program last year are returning for further instruction this fall. If they complete a few more classes, Rountree said, they will be the first students certified through the program.
Seniors who graduated from the program last year, Rountree added, now have about one-third of the training they need to become certified firefighters.
“This is another course where kids can earn a certification credential,” Luton said. “There’s great value in our kids graduating with those credentials.”