Pflugerville is set to host the only partnership-based high school fire program in the Capitol area, with the Pflugerville ISD School Board recently pledging support to launch a High School Fire Academy in 2017. Enrollment begins this month (January 2017) for the pilot program, open to 2017-18 seniors at Hendrickson High School.
Travis County Emergency Services District No. 2, also known as the Pflugerville Fire Department, brought the concept to PfISD a few years ago. The Fire Department's vision was and remains to gradually make fire academies available throughout PfISD. Talks continued as the details of a possible partnership were developed. Ryan Merritt, PfISD director of career and technical education, and Hendrickson High School administrators were among the program’s biggest advocates.
Allison Strupeck, fire department public information officer, commended them for their support and the PfISD Board for agreeing to the partnership.
“We are excited about working together to prepare local students for a highly respected career soon after graduating high school, in addition to the higher education opportunities this academy will open for them,” Strupeck said.
The fire department is growing just like the northeast Travis County population that it serves. The department brought on its biggest recruit class in decades last year with 13 new firefighters and is currently looking to hire 20 more firefighters this year, Strupeck said. Hiring is expected to continue for the next several years.
“We are going to take a serious look at these academy graduates to potentially work right here for their hometown fire department, whether as interns or traditional hires,” she said. “We are especially hopeful to see female and minority students enter the academy and potentially join our ranks.”
Academy students will meet every school day at Hendrickson for 90 minutes. Firefighters from the Fire Department’s Training Division with extensive experience teaching at other high school fire academies will be in charge of teaching all of the hands-on skills, bringing fire engines and gear with them to the school. Twice a week, they will lead the class at Hendrickson. Additionally, the students will get specialized physical training from the Fire Department's full-time fitness coordinator. Students will also learn via an online curriculum, with Mike Baker, a HHS engineering teacher and former firefighter, facilitating the classroom discussions. The program will culminate with skills testing in June at the Fire Department's Training Field, including fighting a live fire.
The year-long program—which follows a blended model of online, face-to-face and hands-on instruction—provides seniors with an affordable, expedited pathway towards a career or college. Students in the program will earn eight certifications, most notably becoming a certified structural firefighter through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. Academy graduates may decide to go into firefighting, or they may choose to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in a major such as Homeland Security, Public Safety, or Emergency Management. In Texas, certified firefighters working in the field are exempt from paying state tuition for college while pursuing relevant degrees, as outlined here: http://bit.ly/2ijsmTl
Most fire departments including Travis County ESD No. 2 require firefighters to also be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) prior to being hired. But Strupeck noted there are multiple programs in Central Texas where students can earn their EMT certification in just one semester.
“This means that within a year of finishing high school, our academy graduates could be earning close to $50,000 with us plus excellent benefits in a stable profession that makes the community safer,” she said.
PfISD will select approximately 16 students for the inaugural class. Students will be selected based on GPA, attendance, and teacher recommendations. While most of the program costs will be covered by PfISD funds in addition to fire department resources, each student will be responsible for about $250. Assistance may be available for outstanding applicants in financial need.
“We have constructed this program in such a way that minimizes cost for our students,” Merritt said. “Compared to similar academy programs, this is an affordable, high-quality option to get started toward a career in the fire service field.”