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County schools may revive fire/EMT course

Friday, November 15, 2013

By BY PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin staff writer

Juniors and seniors in Henry County Public Schools may be able to take firefighting/EMT training at Patrick Henry Community College starting next school year.

That is if the county school board approves the 2014-15 high school program of studies at its meeting Dec. 12.

The proposed program of studies describes the “Firefighting/EMT Academy” as a two-year program in which students completing both years will be eligible to sit for the EMT-Basic state exam and also will earn CPR certification. Students also will learn fundamental skills for fire control and suppression, and they “will have the necessary skills and knowledge to also sit for state firefighting certifications,” it states.

Sandy Strayer, the school division’s director of K-12 instruction, told the school board at its meeting Nov. 7 that the school division would provide bus transportation for students to take the course at Patrick Henry Community College.

“We support the program with the college 100 percent,” Rodney Howell, Henry County public safety director, said Tuesday.

“It would be an improvement over what we had,” he said, referring to when the school division previously offered firefighting and EMT training. That training began in 2004-05 and was terminated at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

In interviews in late 2011, several fire officials, firefighters and others said they thought the school division should reinstate the firefighter class. They said local fire departments had found it harder to recruit volunteer firefighters after the program was ended.

According to figures supplied by Henry County Public Safety in 2011, during the six years of the program, 197 students took the Firefighter I class. Of those, 144 received hazardous materials awareness certification, 138 received Firefighter I certification, 81 joined fire departments and 20 joined rescue squads. Firefighter I certification basically means a person can enter burning buildings and save people trapped inside, fire officials said at the time.

From 2005 to 2010, a total of 71 students enrolled in the Firefighter II class, according to the Henry County Public Safety information. Of those, 65 received hazardous materials operations certification and 47 received Firefighter II certification.

At a school board meeting in late 2011, school officials said the firefighter class was eliminated because of enrollment and lack of funds.

“We have always valued the program, but it came down to decreased student interest/enrollment and lack of funding based on information I’ve received,” Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said in an email Tuesday. “We are hopeful that students will be interested in this new opportunity.”

Strayer said Wednesday, according to program documentation, a total of 35 students took firefighting 1 and 2 in 2004-05, 35 in 2005-06, 36 in 2006-7, 64 in 2007-08, 50 in 2008-09 and 43 in 2009-2010. She said a total of 64 students took EMT in 2004-05, 62 in 2005-06, 63 in 2006-7, 62 in 2007-08, 53 in 2008-09 and 36 in 2009-2010.

Strayer said, according to information she was given, the program started in the fall of 2004 as a joint venture of the Henry County and Martinsville school divisions, with the Harvest Foundation providing 100 percent of the funding the first year. Harvest provided 66 percent of the funding the second year of the program and 33 percent the third year.

Strayer said she was told the program ended in Henry County Schools “because of enrollment being low.”

Howell said Tuesday that he believes allowing high school juniors and seniors to take fire/EMT training at PHCC would “give the program a little more credibility” and the students would be earning college credit. He said he believes the program would help provide a pipeline of volunteers for local fire departments and for people interested in careers in firefighting or emergency services.

The high school firefighter/EMT training program that previously was offered was “an excellent recruiting program,” Howell said. “We picked up a lot of young people who were trained ... had a lot of energy and were motivated. It probably was one of the best recruiting tools we’ve ever tried.”

A separate proposed change in the high school program of studies is that juniors and seniors would be able to enroll in the information technology academy at Patrick Henry Community College and earn industry certifications.

“Students who enroll in the IT academy will spend the first semester studying computer operations and repair. Students who successfully complete will be eligible to test for the CompTIA A+ certification. Following the first semester students will study fundamentals of networking environments, the basics of router operations and basic router configuration that could lead to becoming a CISCO Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT),” the program of studies states.

Strayer said students will be employable after earning certifications through the firefighting/EMT and IT academies. She said there will be no cost to students to take either program and that the school division will pay tuition for students to take the courses at PHCC.

Colin Ferguson, career pathways coordinator for PHCC, said, “I think it (the program) fills a void for students interested in the careers of EMS and firefighting and gives students the opportunity to pursue their chosen career paths earlier.”


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