Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Southwestern Community College’s Public Safety Training Center (SCC-PSTC) celebrated its 4th class of fire academy graduates on Tuesday night, bringing the program’s graduation total to 40 certified firefighters.
SCC-PSTC has an established history of providing quality training and continuing education to emergency services personnel. Multiple academies operate continually for North Carolina Law Enforcement, National Park Service and Emergency Medical Services. A majority of fire training is conducted one night a week at local fire departments and sometimes on weekends. In 2013 SCC-PSTC, based on requests from fire departments, held the first Fire Academy to enable those seeking to take their training to the next level. The average volunteer firefighter can attain their firefighter certification in two years going one night a week and some weekends. The Fire Academy gives those same volunteers an opportunity to become certificated in five months. Additionally, it provides each individual skills and certification need to gain employment in the Fire Service.
“After tonight, Aug. 29, SCC-PSTC will have graduated 40 certified Firefighters through the four Academies offered, nine of which are graduating tonight,” said Curtis Dowdle, director of the SCC-PSTC. “While 40 may not appear to be many, it is important for citizens to understand the physical and psychological strain these individuals put themselves and their families through to complete this training.”
Fire academies are common in the community college system, as the coursework is often developed around the needs of the community in which they serve. According to Dowdle, what makes SCC-PSTC’s Fire Academy different from many is the Para Military style training that is delivered. The closest thing that students could receive that is similar to the training at SCC-PSTC would be AB-Tech who delivers the City of Asheville Fire Department Academy.
“Anyone can become a firefighter by just joining the local volunteer fire department, but it takes a lot of determination and time away from family to become a certified firefighter,” said Dowdle. “With the fire academy at SCC-PSTC we try and shorten that time and assist those who want to go above and beyond to receive their training. Keeping in mind these people still have jobs, have to pay bills and still have family’s that they want and need to spend time with. The Academy is geared toward the working individuals that still wants to make a difference in their life as well as in the community.”
Over the 476 training hours that are taught to the Fire Academy, recruits receive training from health and wellness, communication training, leadership, physical mat training and firefighting training. Students take 24 separate block tests and one final 200-question exam to be eligible for graduation. Students spend many nights listening to lectures and researching fire prevention and protection techniques.
“All this is completed before learning skills at the fire rescue tower, located at SCC-PSTC,” said Dowdle. “Students spent long nights and some 14-hour Saturdays perfecting their skills, in hopes that one day it will save someone’s life and possibly their own.”
Graduates of Southwestern Community College’s Fire Academy, Class No. 4, are pictured here with instructors, front row, from left: Curtis Dowdle, SCC dean of public safety training; Benji Johnson, SCC fire and rescue program director and instructor; Kara Howard of Cherokee, Kyle Southard of Franklin (Cowee Fire Department); Luke Ledford of Franklin (Clarks Chapel Fire Department) and Jarrett Shuler of Bryson City. Back row, from left: Matthew Pruett, SCC fire and rescue support staff; Kaylorn Saylor of Cherokee; Takoma Bird of Cherokee; Levi Ledford of Franklin (Clarks Chapel Fire Department); and Scott Vance of Franklin (Cowee Fire Department). Not pictured is Christopher McCoy of Bryson City.