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FPC Will Launch a Firefighter-EMT Academy, Filling a Recruiting Gap for Fire Departments

| February 29, 2016

fire leadership academy fpc flagler

First, a lot of training. (© FlaglerLive)

When Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Dusty Sims a few weeks ago put a call out for any 9th grader interested in joining the school’s prospective Fire Leadership Academy, 85 students showed up. The program is intended to have 30 seats when it starts at the high school in August, but the response—without word spreading through middle schools or at Matanzas High School yet—suggested to Sims that interest in the program will be very high.

That’s all Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito wanted to hear. He’s been working on the idea for two years. He’s a little tired of seeing the county’s fire and rescue services used as training grounds for other agencies. He’d rather develop his own farm team of eventual firefighters and paramedics, children of Flagler County who’d be almost ready to enter one a local fire department not long after graduation from high school.

The first class of the Fire Leadership Academy will be seated come early August, and will graduate in 2019.

“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it and I finally got something,” Petito said, “and I’m so happy that Dusty is as excited as I am, because we have all the facilities, we have all the equipment, we have the instructors to be able to do this. We recently became state-certified through the state to do fire classes. We’re certified through the department of health to do EMT and paramedic classes. We’re the regional training center for the American Heart [Association] to do CPR classes. We have people from all around the region that come to us for training, so why not give it to our kids, too.”

In County Administrator Craig Coffey’s words, Flagler has seen turn-over in its ranks result in a drain of qualified firefighters going to other agencies. With the fire academy producing large batches of recruits, local agencies could get their ranks filled, and “we could be an exporter of these kinds of career fields.”

A chance to turn the tide and produce more firefighter recruits than local departments are currently losing.

As currently designed, the program will not cost either the school district or Flagler County Fire Rescue any additional money to run, though it would generate revenue for the district: as a line of courses students will take for credit, the credits themselves will command some state dollars. Instruction will be provided by the county’s and, presumably—Petito said—by the Palm Coast and Flagler Beach fire departments, without, he said, requiring any additional staff. The fire chief said existing staff can parcel out the one hour a day that will be needed to provide instruction at the high school, though how that arrangement will work in subsequent years, when additional classes will result in two, then three and four hours of instruction per day, is unclear.

The program will begin in August for 9th graders with Emergency Planning and Response, a one-credit class. As in subsequent years, students in the academy would still be taking all the other course requirements for high school students, but they would have that one class per day in the academy. In 10th Grade, they’ll take Firefighting I, the first step in their emergency medical responder certification. Once they’ve taken that class, they can volunteer with local fire departments, doing ride-alongs and pulling hoses or similar light duty, but not actually fighting fires.

In 11th grade, they’ll take Fiurefighting II. Depending on where they are in their course work, they can begin dual enrollment course work at Flagler Technical Institute or at a local college so they can also be on their way to become Emergency Medical Technicians once they leave high school. They will not be able to sit the Firefighter II and EMT assessments until they are high school graduates and 18 years old.

In their senior year, academy students will take a course called Firefighter III. No such course exists outside the academy in the prep work to become a firefighter, Sims said, but the school has to code its courses a certain way, and that was the name given its senior level course.

Don Petito. (© FlaglerLive)

Don Petito. (© FlaglerLive)

To remain in the program, students must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better. “But we’re obviously going to ask them for better than that,” Petito said. “We’re going to push them pretty hard, and a lot of the team concept is going to be pushed on them with a lot of leadership stuff.”

“We’ll have them well on their way to career readiness at the end of this coursework,” Sims said.

The chief and the principal spoke of the program as running on what they called “pramilitary” principles, based on what they both saw at a similar academy they observed at Wellington High School in Palm Beach County.

“They explained it to us this way,” Sims said. “If we have a student in the class that does not want to follow the directions or the order of the captain or the chain of command and they tell them to go into a burning house and they say you cannot open that door even though there’s 25 people on the others side of that door, if you open that door the house is going to go up in flames faster, however that guy can’t follow a command because he wants to open that door and save those 25 people, and all 25 of them will pass away because [he] will not follow the chain of command. They say it’s imperative that it would be run as a paramilitary type of organization “in order to prevent such potentially fatal mistakes.

Members of the academy would have their own uniforms, similar to students in the ROTC program. FPC is planning to set up the program in the school’s 600 building, where the area used might end up looking like a fire house, as is the case at Wellington High School.

Petito presented the Fire Leadership Academy idea to the county commission at the beginning of the month, Sims presented it, with Petito at his side, to the school board in mid-February. Both panels were impressed and eager to see the program go forward.

“It’s local training for a local need,” County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin. “The big problem we’re always dealing with the schools is kids go away to college, we have nothing to bring them back to.”

“That’s what this is going to change,” Petito said.

Dusty Sims. (© FlaglerLive)

Dusty Sims. (© FlaglerLive)

The academy, Sims said, “is going to appeal to some kids that have somehow lost their way because they just haven’t found their passion yet. I think they’re going to really fall in love with the instructors that are going to stand before them, that are living this out day to day, and the passion that these guys I’ve seen them have for their jobs and their professions, each and every day.”

When Petito mentioned to the school board that he’d been working on the program for two years, he heard an unexpected earful from Sue Dickinson, one of the board members. She was thrilled by the fire academy idea and was behind it entirely, as were her colleagues. But, she told Petito, “you say you’ve bene working on it for two years to get the program started. I’ve been working on getting a nurse program started for 33 years? But I’m going to tell you, and the rest of them haven’t heard it yet, Port Charlotte has an LPN program in their high school. Their students took care of my dad last week, and those kids are in high school. And when they graduate from high school, just like I did a few years ago, they were able to sit the exam immediately out of high school. So be ready guys because you’re all taking a field trip to Port Charlotte to check out their technical school as well for the nursing side of it. So you only had to wait a short time. I won’t be physically in Flagler County when the LPN program comes, but it’s coming, now that I found it.”

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9 Responses for “FPC Will Launch a Firefighter-EMT Academy, Filling a Recruiting Gap for Fire Departments”

  1. David S says:

    This program is good for a interested people who are interested in firefighting ,flagler is a stepping stone to bigger departments and more money for those ff’s who want to run 95% ems calls its ok but its difficult for some who go through all the training and cant use it.

  2. equalityforallplease says:

    “Depending on where they are in their course work, they can begin dual enrollment course work at Flagler Technical Institute or at a local college so they can also be on their way to become Emergency Medical Technicians once they leave high school.” — This is not accurate, as FTI no longer has the EMT or Firefighting courses available, and neither does DSC. I’m sorry, but to hell with the high schoolers, what about us people of working age who need a way into this field that doesn’t involve military service? We are willing and, more importantly able, to work in this line of work yet we have NO WAY of getting into it without paying tens of thousands of dollars to go to college for it, or joining the military. Wonderful idea, but how about next time we extend the privilege to anyone and everyone willing to pay. Yeah, thanks.

  3. Reality says:

    This will not help retain firefighters!! Better pay and retirement is what keeps firefighters. There are thousands of unemployed firefighters throughout the state. You will never “need to fill the voids”! You will always loose people to Orlando, Jacksonville, and better agencies. Plus it is very difficult to hire an 18 year old with no life experience to make split second life or death decisions. Good luck. But I vote bad idea.

  4. Seen It Before says:

    Sounds good but all that’s going to happen is the powers that be will move the goal post once the graduates get in a position to go to work. I know of adults in Flagler County that went to school for this profession only to find a so-called hiring freeze in one place after another do to the good ole boy network. Its not what you know its who you know.

  5. Smokey the Bear says:

    Ok, let’s start out with Bad, Bad, Bad, idea!!. FCFR and PCFD have been publicly announcing that they are short FF/Medics.
    There has been over 70 Firefighters that have come and gone through palm coast Fire Dept in the last 5 years. City management keeps blaming that the wages are low which is why city cannot keep the firefighters, the firefighter pay in Flagler County is about average with the rest of the counties, that’s not the issue. The revolving door is because of the Holy gods of Fire Chiefs, M.C BEADLE, the chief of all chiefs. It’s crazy that none of City of Palm Coast management thinks there’s a problem that over 70 firefighters have left the city. There has never been a single management employee in the PCFD ever demoted or fired since the city was established in 1999. What is also true is that Beadle, forte and many others got there online college degrees bachelors and masters on the tax payers dime. Some people can say that it must just have been a couple bad seeds which is why so many firefighters come through the door but 70.

    On another no I think it was disgraceful For Chief Forte to get so much publicity for not saving somebody in a swimming pool, the wife saved the guy, along with top-of-the-line firefighter paramedic care, which nether forte or BEADLE are Licensed Paramedics to even provide care. There was several newspaper articles and TV news interviews and not one time did they mention the good work that’the firefighter paramedic did to save the guy’s life, only about forte jumping into a pool.
    Now onto training 9th graders to be firefighters is going to be a huge waste of time and mistake, they want to train 9th graders to be firefighters they don’t even have drivers licenses yet. Both the county and the city are claiming they’re understaffed, this is going to make them even more understaffed having to provide instructors for teenage kids.Almost evey day the county and the city are below appropriate staffing levels. Not to mention when some of these kids get trained to somewhat of a level, is going to be a huge liability for the firefighters that are on scene having to keep an eye on them. The job is stressful enough not having to put more pressure on employees to be looking out for teenagers. Starting them in a fire Explorer program in 12th grade would be more appropriate. If these morons think that’s such a good idea maybe we should start training them to be sheriff’s officers also in 9th grade.

    If they want to fix the staffing issues and the continuous revolving door and disgruntle employees, they need to get rid of the command staff immediately. It’s almost a joke and will probably make the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon ,to hear that the fire department is that desperate they’re going to train 9th and 10th graders to be the next generation firefighter 4 years from now!!!

  6. It's not what you know---It's all about who you know says:

    What good will it do when people are hired because they are members of the friends and family plan. and these students won’t qualify? The only hope these kids have is to find employment outside of Flagler County if this is the path they should choose after graduation.

  7. kipscle says:

    Why is there so much negativity toward possibly bettering our youth, look at this program in comparison to ROTC. We will be teaching these not so much firefighting but structure, honor, integretiy, botherhood and being part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone post this is a bad idea, I say it’s a great idea. If it cost nothing, and we gain a better youth why not?

  8. Boo-Boo says:

    Smokey–I think the Sheriff is recruiting at the high school level-look at all thr kids he’s hired. If you we to watch the kids hired in the fire Dept wouldn’t the same bd true with the Sheriff’s Dept making us now not so protected!!? The youth hired at the FCSO aren’t even yet capable to make adult decisions.

  9. Tired of it says:

    Having worked in the fire service for many, many years and also as an adjunct instructor with local Fire Training Academy’s, I believe that this will be a program that will flop. The amount of information that needs to be learned and retained by FF candidates in fire school is unbelievable. Piecemealing the course work through 1 hour classes and expecting the student to retain the info 4 years later to sit for the State of Florida FF Certification is going to have a very high failure rate. I know because I have seem adult students that go to school 5 days a week for weeks on end fail the state test. Another matter is trying to convey to today’s young men and women in 9th grade the level of dedication that is required and the amount of studies that are needed to get to where they are employable. EMT school will be another difficult hurdle to cross too.

    The high schools would be much better off on concentrating on teaching the young men and women the learning, reading and writing skills that they need to be able to understand and retain the information needed to have a career in Emergency Services. Most of the students that are coming out of HS now are almost illiterate. They have difficulty reading and taking tests no mind comprehending the information given to them.

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