Superintendent Jim Tager, at the mic, and Fire Chief Don Petito, left, introduce Flagler County Fire Rescue’s newest recruits this morning, and the first to be hired directly out of Flagler Palm Coast High School’s three-year-old fire academy. The recruits are, from left, Noah Dunaway, Dylan Cronk and Beau Kruithoff, all 18. (© FlaglerLive via FCTV)
Three years ago, Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito and five colleagues were part of an orientation ceremony, encouraging the Flagler Palm Coast High School Class of 2020 to make it to graduation–and playing up the new Fire Academy that they were launching at FPC that winter.
The academy, one of the school district’s 23 classroom-to-careers, or flagship, programs, was to be unique in the state, preparing students to go directly from school to graduation to a job in the fire services. The academy quickly became one of the most high-profile flagship programs in the district, its most popular and certainly its most visible. It now has 150 students enrolled.
And this morning, Petito introduced the very first three graduates and inaugural recruits out of FPC’s academy who, within a week or two, will be drawing $36,600-a-year salaries as full-time professional firefighters with Flagler County Fire Rescue. (Petito on Monday had erroneously reported the salary as $44,000. “I gave you the starting salary of a firefighter paramedic. They will begin as firefighter EMTs and go to paramedic school,” he said Tuesday. “They will work 40 for the first week or two and then go to shift working 24 hours on and 48 off.”)
There they stood, Noah Dunaway, Dylan Cronk and Beau Kruithoff, three spindly 18 year olds with barely more girth to them than a fire hose, hands clasped in front of them as if in prayer, two of them in crew cuts, one of them almost so, already wearing the black uniform with Flagler County Fire Rescue’s red insignia as officials showed them off to commissioners.
“We don’t usually introduce new hires to the commission but today is a special day because behind me, you see, this is the first graduating class of the FPC Fire Academy,” Petito said. He described the academy as “a true classroom-to-career form of class that we’re doing now, and it’s the only class in the state of Florida doing this, so you should be pretty proud of Florida for doing that.”
Superintendent Jim Tager, Lynette Shott, the district’s community engagement director, and FPC Principal and Assistant Principal Tom Russel and Kerry Sands were also there for the modest graduation-like occasion. Sands did much of the work to get the academy going at the school. Russell is the rookie in all this, having arrived just in time to enjoy the glory.
“Thank you to the county for what you do for our students and thank you to Chief Petito particularly for what he does for our students,” Tager said. “This is my third year here and I’ve been looking forward to this day greatly. I think the program that we have for students with classroom-to-careers is the best in the state and one of the best in the country as far as firefighters. I’ve never seen the level of cooperation that we have with Flagler County.” Tager has been especially grateful for the academy because it’s helped improve graduation rates: “Students are coming to school just for the firefighting academy flagship,” he said. “This is a special day for us, and when young people have futures, you all are doing a fantastic job.”
Shott recognized Petito’s idea and Sands’s groundwork three years ago. “It’s a great example of being responsive to the needs of our community and region,” Shott said. “We are excited and very, very, very proud of our students that have accepted the challenge to go into this career and look forward to many other opportunities in many fields being able to fill a need in our community.” Curiously, no one from the county’s economic development department was at the students’ side, though the department has routinely taken credit for playing a role in the district’s flagship programs.
Commissioner Charlie Ericksen remarked that the number of students making it through FPC’s academy “should keep us for a few years.”
“It would be able to staff most of the fire departments around here,” Petito said.
Dunaway, Cronk and Kruithoff have all graduated high school, graduated the State Fire College and graduated EMT school (for emergency medical technicians). They’re about to start a two-week orientation that’ll include the usual battery of human resources classes including sexual harassment training, radio protocols and the like, and will be assigned to a paramedics class. They have to go through a written test, physical agility test, medical test, they have to be finger-printed and backgrounded, and will then sign a letter of intent to be hired, at which point they’ll go on payroll. Petito expects all that to be completed in the next couple of weeks. “We’re just waiting for them to sign the paperwork but they’re going to be hires,” Petito said.
They still face a considerable amount of training ahead. For the next two to three months, each will be rotated through a rescue shift, and after those months, will spend two or three months on an engine, learning all those protocols. Only then, when they make it through what amounts to a rigorous probationary period, will they be more permanently assigned where they’re needed.
They will join a county fire department running eight rescues and four engines 24 hours a day, with 100 firefighter-paramedics (including the medical director and Fire Flight’s pilots).
They’ll also be expected to endure the burdens of rookiedom, through there’s no hazing as in the old days.
“Basically what they’ll do to them is make sure they’re studying the protocol books,” Petito said of what the trio can expect in the next few months from their new colleagues. “They’ll show them things around the station, the kitchen, they’ll make them mop the floor and all that good stuff. There is no more hazing like the old days when they used to do that stuff. In the old days they’d make you sleep in the bay with the engine, ‘make sure nobody steals anything,’ because you’re so gullible when you’re young. They’d tell you, make you go look for the ventilation bucket. There is no ventilation bucket. They’ll spend hours looking for it.”