Don’t expect these students to burn out.
They’re high-schoolers enrolled at the Fire Science Academy — a direct career path to prepare them for a future in firefighting. During this three-year program at Fivay High in Hudson, they’ll live, eat and breathe like any recruit entering the traditional fire academy.
They’ll do it as teenagers, as part of elective courses in addition to their core high school classes. When they graduate, they’ll be several steps ahead of other fire academy recruits and even capable of becoming a firefighter before they turn 20.
And, that’s all because they chose to be part of this program — to be firefighters.
“I never thought I’d be in a firefighter program in high school,” said Isaiah Ferrell, a junior. “It’s amazing that it’s offered because I’ve wanted to be a firefighter my whole life. My mom would take me to the fire stations, look at the fire trucks and stuff, but when I saw this when getting ready for high school, I thought it was perfect and I just fell in love with it in the first year.
“It’s great they have a program like this.”
Students will learn through classroom and work-based learning experience about fire vehicles, equipment, fire behavior, fire streams, fundamentals of extinguishment, ventilation, rescue, water supplies, medical techniques and more.
They get hands-on experience, in the school’s “firehouse,” with live hose work, ladder rescues and navigating a smoke-filled maze. The academy even can even have prop fires to practice extinguisher work. It also has a stuck-door apparatus that allows for different scenarios to give trainees the experience of using an ax or wedge tool to bust down the door.
The program is led by Lou Staggs, a 20-year, retired lieutenant with the Dunedin Fire Department. He’s been training new firefighter recruits for most of his career, but is now preparing both young men and women in a feeder system into the Pasco Fire Rescue Department.
“They’re not certified, though since (most are) under age of 18, and part of (certification training) is live firefighting in an environment that is hazardous to life and death, they miss out on that portion,” Staggs said. “But after three years in this program, they have about five steps up on any other recruit going to the fire academy because they’re learning all the materials with hands-on experience more than someone walking in brand new.
“Pasco County Fire Rescue comes out once a month and does some hands-on training and drills with them,” he added. “That’s kind of the direction I try to steer them, so we are a feeder system for Pasco County. They’re expanding the department and getting ready to hire hundreds of people, but thanks to this program, they can be a firefighter by the time they are 19.”
The academy, however, isn’t just hand-on training while wearing firefighting gear donated by Pasco Fire Rescue. It’s classwork — it’s testing and studying, too.
The academy’s students do that in a nearby classroom that also features the back end of an ambulance designed to teach them basic first aid and even get Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) certified.
Staggs, in his first year as academy instructor, loves this job. Academy students chose to be there, chose to set in motion a career toward firefighter or EMR.
When they show up to class or the “firehouse” or even need to do physical training, they’re ready and motivated.
“I personally feel that I’m blessed with the students I have because they chose this path and (were) not stuck with this class,” Stags said. “They still have their core classes, but this is an elective, like art or culinary, which we have and is fantastic. But these kids chose Fire Science Academy.
“Students absolutely love it, and they want to be here.”
“Everything you do in Firefighting I, you do here, stretched out over 2-3 years. You learn responsibility and stuff like that, too, because you have to be on the lookout for the other guys because you’re part of a team, you’re a family. You learn teamwork.
“All the knowledge I’m learning, it’ll make me a firefighter after I graduate.”
Fire Science Academy
Where: Fivay High, 12115 Chicago Ave., in Hudson
Details: Fire Science Academy is a career pathway to prepare students for a future in firefighting. Students in the academy learn what it takes for careers in firefighting and as emergency medical responders through classroom instruction and hands-on lessons. The experience includes learning about fire vehicles, apparatus and equipment; fire behavior; fire streams; fundamentals of extinguishment; ventilation; rescue; water supplies; medical techniques, and more. The program is open to students throughout Pasco County, but those interested must apply to attend by utilizing the Pasco Pathways School Choice Application.
Info: Visit tinyurl.com/36m9usve.
Published November 22, 2023