Two weeks ago there were 19 firefighters left in the spring session of Firefighter Academy 1 at the Northeast Technology Center in Afton. The final 19 all passed the class and the state requirements.
They also passed live burn skills tests on Saturday and the skills tests on Sunday administered by proctors from OSU. The only thing left for them to wait for is the results of the 100 question written test they took Sunday morning. Most of the firefighters walked out with smiles on their faces after the relief of finishing the test and feel confident that they also passed that one.
The graduates will receive national certification and International Fire Service Accreditation.
The vigorous training started weeks before with 25 firefighters. The sixteen-hour a week training heated up some nights, as the night sky lit up from flames and the orange glow of the lights from the school and smoke from the live burn.
“You taught them well,” said Bill Casey, Certification Instructor from OSU to Carl Tesreau, lead instructor and Monkey Island Fire Chief.
The hard work that each of these men put into successfully completing the class showed on test day as firefighters went above and beyond to show their competence in each skill at testing.
“By completing this course we are building a pool of well trained firefighters for the local departments to choose from,” he said.
Firefighters were able to experience what it will be like when actually entering a structure that is on fire. Although most of the firefighters in the class have already been fighting fires, some for many years, there were some “newbie’s” in the group.
“This prepared us for these scenarios now if they arise,” said Brian Prince, Vinita Fire.
According to instructor Chief Patrick Beehler, Bernice Fire Department, “When I checked the temperature on the first floor during the burn, it was 450 to 475 degrees with the window open. That means it was probably 600 to 650 degrees when the window was closed.”
When firefighters enter a burning structure the temperature inside can become even hotter than that. Normally closer to 800 degrees or even more. The lessons learned from the fire academy could one day save one of their lives.
Nationwide, 70 percent of all firefighters are volunteers. In Oklahoma, for every paid firefighter, there are nine volunteers, most of whom work full-time in another capacity. There are basically no requirements to becoming a volunteer firefighter; other then you must be 18. These heroes who go into burning buildings to save us, try to save our homes and respond to our car accidents and medical emergencies, are just brave souls with the guts and need to help others.
“Every department is a little different when it comes to hiring. For me, it they are willing to do it, I’m willing to train them,” said Tesreau.
He also said he requires medical history and prefers a drivers license. Grove Fire has the same requirements and after hire, will send them to training.
The 19 that recently completed Firefighter 1, have worked above and beyond what is require of them.
“The certificate is just a piece of paper. The knowledge and skills you acquire from this course will save your life and that of others,” said Tesreau.
The weekend graduation and testing is so important to the NTC, that Mike Reece, Adult Education Director at NTC, stayed to help facilitate the testing and finish–up the program while his family went skiing for spring break.
“Our groups are a very cohesive group and work well together because they train together. Bernice, Monkey Island, and Hickory Grove especially send us a lot of firefighters to train,” said Reece.
“I’m just the facilitator. They are the heroes. All these volunteer firefighters have full-time jobs,” Reece said. One of the nineteen graduates was recently hired at Vinita Fire Department in a full-time position. The rest have other jobs on top of the time they spend volunteering for their fire departments. Training goes beyond the hours spent in class.
The last few weeks the guys have studied at home and with each other, meeting at the stations and practicing skills whenever possible.
“The gentlemen that are here right now have been very appreciative of the things we do for them plus, you see, this burn facility out here that allows us to do live burns is one of eight burn facilities in the state of Oklahoma,” said Reece. The put on a lot of live burns for other departments as well as the local ones to help them provide burn training.
They also have a skills building where they practice different skills and scenarios.
“Its kind of a gift for us to have these buildings at this facility with all the training we do here. In order to get certificated in a lot of this training you have the live burn on your resume,” Reece said.
A couple of times each year, Reece will get the local chiefs together and ask them what their stations need. Reece stated that he would be getting them together again soon to plan for fall training.
“It kind of personalizes training for each department,” said Chief Beehler.
Funding for the Afton center comes from the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education Firefighting Training Initiative for the purpose of meeting the increased demand placed on technology centers for training and testing of firefighters who are members of fire departments in the state of Oklahoma.
In fiscal year 2010, $400,000 was provided for this initiative. Technology centers are reimbursed on a project-by-project basis for tuition-free training programs designed to meet specific needs of members of volunteer fire departments within their districts. Each technology center has a prorated allotment based on availability of funds and number of volunteer firefighters in their district.