Concord H S Fire Academy: A Model for Training the Future Fire Service

As one walks up to the door of the Concord High School Fire Academy, you can tell that this is going to be a mind opening experience. The sign on the door speaks volumes; “Through these Doors Walks the Future of the American Fire Service”. Upon your knock, the Watch Commander rises to answer the door. The command “Attention on Deck” is given and the recruits all rise to stand at attention to welcome their visitor. The watch Commander asks for your name and announces your arrival. This is a courtesy extended to all adults that visit this classroom. The Chief walks over and welcomes you to the Concord High School Fire Academy which is one of only three such programs in the state of North Carolina. Turning to the recruits, the Chief says “As you Were” and the recruits default to the parade rest position and remain standing. This program is set up as a direct delivery program through the OSFM that does not involve the NC Community College system. There are two other two programs, one at E. E. Smith High School in Fayetteville, NC and Dixon High School in Onslow County NC. These three programs are part of a three year pilot program. The Concord High School Fire Academy is the youngest of the three.

The idea for high school students to be able to take Firefighter I,II certification classes through the community college system has been around for many years through the dual enrollment process. The idea for High Schools to offer Firefighter Certification classes as part of the Career and Technical Education program however, is a much newer idea. Mr. Jay Brooks, the Assistant Fire Marshal of Rockingham County near Eden, NC proposed the idea to Mr. David Barbour, a Trade and Industrial Consultant for the NC Department of Public Instruction. His idea was based on the fact that many high school students across the state were responding to fire calls and they did not have the necessary training to answer these calls safely. His proposal was to have the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the NC Department of Public Instruction join forces to offer Career and Technical Education classes that would provide these students with the Firefighter I,II certification classes as well as provide them with CTE class credits.

These two organizations collaborated and the first three pilot programs were selected. The 2010-2011 school year marks the second year of the 3 year pilot program. If all goes well and the pilot program is deemed successful, the concept of High School Fire Academies will become part of the NC Standard Course of Study. All that will be needed is to have a strong partner agency for the high school to work with to assist with providing the tools of the trade and additional instructors to assist with the practical skills. The Instructors must be NC Certified Teachers as well as Level II Instructors with the Office of the State Fire Marshal qualified to instruct Firefighter I,II classes.

Welcome to the Concord High School Fire Academy! As the recruits enter the classroom, they pick up their ID tag from a ring on the back of the door and walk across the room and tag in on the Accountability Board. Students must tag in and out each class period. If a student is called to the office or needs to leave the class for any reason, the CHSFA has a “2-In – 2-Out” policy and another recruit must accompany them as their “Battle Buddy”. This is Reality Based Instruction. The class is considered a Battalion and each neat row of 4 desks is a Company. The class has a Battalion Chief and each Company has a company officer who holds the rank of Captain. The officers all sit in the rear seats of the class so they can watch over their companies. When the class attendance is taken it is done so as a PAR by company.

Each class period there are the announcements which are performed much like a face to face shift change with the recruits standing at either attention or at parade rest. Once seated, there is the “Morning Minute” and a Fire service quote or a one-liner from Fire Nuggets.com. Then there is the trademark CHSFA Cheer. Chief “Whooo?” Battalion Drill Commander “Who Are WE?” All Recruits shout “CHS Fire Academy CTE – Sir!”. The CTE has two meanings – Career and Technical Education, and the Fire Academy motto which is “Committed To Excellence”. Posted on the wall next to the accountability tags is a sign that says Don’t Train To Get It Right… Train So That You Can’t Get It Wrong. The Academy Motto is “Honor, Service, Pride, Tradition”.
The classroom has a Memorial Wall with the American Flag and State Flag flanking it. It is a black bulletin board with a red stripe. The NCFFF T-shirt is in a shadow box on the wall along with Stickers from 9-11-01, W6, and the C9. At the top of the wall there is a sign that says… WE WILL NEVER FORGET. There is also a plaque with the names of the Cabarrus County LODD’s and a current count of the LODD’s for the US that is kept updated.

As you entered the CHSFA classroom one cannot help but see the 20 sets of used Turnout Gear hanging at the rear of the room on the gear rack that were donated by local fire departments along with 12 brand new fire helmets and CHS Fire Academy helmet shields. MSA Cairns Helmet division was very good to provide these for the academy as was Shelby Specialty Gloves and Majestic Fire Hoods. One also sees the mats used for PT for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award Program. The academy classroom also has several different brands of SCBA for the recruits to become familiar with.

Wednesday is uniform day. The recruits are required to wear the Fire Academy T-shirt and navy blue BDU’s with a plain black belt and black duty boots or shoes. The Introduction to Public Safety class has a red T-shirt and the Fire Science level I, II, III recruits wear a navy blue T-shirt. The Fire Science students actually wear the Class B uniform (T-shirts) every Monday and the Class A navy blue dress uniform shirt with the CHSFA patches on Wednesday. The Battalion Chiefs and Captains wear white dress uniform shirts. All of these are used shirts that have been donated by the partner agency – Concord Department of Fire and Life Safety. The partner agency has also made Photo ID cards for all of the Fire Academy recruits as well.

Whenever a Battalion goes outside of the classroom to participate in Drill, PT, or to train with the CHSFA Fire Apparatus “The Black Widow”, the Recruit Class Guidon must lead. One recruit is designated to guard the Guidon and a relief is appointed at approximately 5 minute intervals. This is another way that accountability is taught and learned through reality based instruction.

The Concord High School Fire Academy has an Honor Guard that presents the colors for many different events including Home Football games, Honor Society Inductions, Graduation, and this fall the Honor Guard was called upon to serve at a military funeral procession. The Honor Guard teamed up with the Police Explorers Honor Guard to begin the Holiday season this year by Presenting the Colors at the Concord Tree Lighting ceremony the night before the CHSFA marched in the Concord Christmas Parade. Early in December the CHSFA also participated in the Kannapolis, NC “Christmas Parade of Lights” night parade.

At this time, the Fire Science – Level I recruits are taking the Fire Prevention Education and Cause class and are working on Fire Safety messages as well as acting out a number of children’s fire safety story books with homemade and commercially available Puppets. Hopefully these will be successful and deliver the messages needed to make many young persons of all ages more fire safe.

The CHS Fire Academy has grown from 20 students in late January of 2010 to the current roster of 110 students during the 2010-2011 school year. Performance has been very satisfactory with the administration of 295 Certification Exams during the first semester along with the completion of the Practical Skills assessments. The pass rate during the first semester was 98 percent. To date, during the second semester the rate has been only slightly lower.

The Firefighter I,II certification classes are instructed over 3 semesters.

Semester I topics include: Orientation and Safety, PPE, Fire Behavior, Portable Fire Extinguishers, Alarms and Communications, Fire Prevention, Education, and Fire Cause Determination, and Fire Hose, Streams, and Appliances.

Semester II topics include: Ropes, Ladders, Forcible Entry, Ventilation, The Art of Reading Smoke, Water Supply, Sprinklers, and Foam Fire Streams.
Semester III topics include: Salvage, Overhaul, Emergency Medical Care, Rescue, Building Construction, and Fire Control – Except for the Live Burn. The Live Burn can be completed after age 18 and after graduation.

The only other class for Firefighter I,II that is not completed in the Fire Academy is Haz Mat Awareness, Operations, and Terrorism. The number of hours required for this class keeps it from being completed along with the rest of the Semester III topics. Recruits can take and complete this class with Dual Enrollment or at another time.

There has been a strong interest in the Skills USA Firefighter Competition Team that has been started this year. Currently there are 14 students that hold practice every Wednesday afternoon. Events that are practiced include: Turnout Gear Racing, Ladder Raise, Forcible Entry, Advancing charged and uncharged Hose Lines, Knots, Obstacle courses with backboards and Stokes Baskets and more… Each Competition Team member has a Resume, practices Interview Skills, and studies extra topics and detail in Fire Science. Two officers from the academy attended the Camp Dixie Fall Leadership Conference at the beginning of the school year so that they could lead and train the Skills USA Firefighter Competition Team. The State competition this year was held in late March and three of our recruits competed and did well. Captain Brandon Blackwelder placed 2nd, Battalion Chief Taylor Beverly placed 6th, and Captain Kyle Franklin placed 7th. Just recently we have learned that Captain Blackwelder will be representing North Carolina at the National Skills USA competition in Kansas City, Kansas in mid June.

The CHS Fire Academy Honor Guard and Officers attended the NC Association of Fire Chief’s Midwinter Conference February 2-6, 2011 that was held at the Embassy Suites Conference Center and Hotel in Concord, NC. The recruits were present as Chief Barlow presented a workshop about the program. The recruits manned a table display showcasing the High School Fire Academy Concept. The workshop was well attended. Mr. Steve Sloan of the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s Office announced to the workshop participants that this program is now being recognized as the model program in the state.

On April 12, 2011, Chief Barlow presented an overview of the CHS Fire Academy to the North Carolina Fire and Rescue Commission at their spring meeting. The Fire and Rescue Commission meets quarterly. The reason for the overview and update was to let the Commission know first hand what is happening with the program since there is so much interest statewide and beyond.

Other major events that the CHS Fire Academy has participated in this year include: Cabarrus County Fire and Life Safety Bowl and the Liberty Mutual Drunk Driving Awareness Crash Car event.
Upcoming events include: The 1st Annual CHS Fire Academy Awards Night, The 1st Annual Firemen’s Day & Muster, Honor Guard performances at the National Technical Honor Society Induction, Two different High School Graduation ceremonies, and the presentation of the colors at the International Association of Fire Chief’s Southeastern Conference in Montgomery, Alabama in mid June, and then the Skills USA National Competition. It has been a busy year so far.

As you prepare to leave the Fire Academy, the Battalion Chief asks if you have time to look over their pride and joy – “The Black Widow”? This is their 1973 American LaFrance Fire Apparatus that is named for the school mascot – The Spiders. The truck is on lease from the Concord Department of Fire and Life Safety for the recruits to use and maintain as their Training Truck and is their source of much pride. Since you do not have time to check it out on this visit, maybe you can return soon and really get a more detailed overview of how this equipment fits in to our overall Fire Academy experience.

Chief – Can I get a Hoorah? Recruits – “HooRah!”

Chief “Whooo?” Battalion Drill Commander “Who Are WE?”
Recruits shout “CHS Fire Academy CTE – Sir!”.

Chief David Barlow was hired as the Chief Instructor for this program after a 33 year career as a High School Science Teacher. His last 20 years of teaching was at Mooresville High School where he retired in June of 2008. After retirement, starting inside of Shenandoah National Park he backpacked the entire length of the Original Blue Ridge Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has come out of retirement to serve as the Chief of the Concord High School Fire Academy. Chief Barlow is an OSFM Level II Instructor, Emergency Medical Technician, Fire Officer Level III, Technical Rescue Specialist, Haz Mat Technician, and a graduate of the NC Association of Fire Chief’s Executive Development Program. He has also attended the NASA DART Advanced Structural Collapse USAR School at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. His current and active career as a volunteer firefighter spans more than 32 years.

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