Firefighting Program Prepares Students to Make a Difference in Someone’s Life

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by Eric Jensen

How many schools can boast of a 99 percent graduation rate?

Kelly Phelps, Director of Victoria College’s Public Service Academies, said VC’s Fire Academy can.

“The level of training we offer is outstanding,” Phelps says, noting that those graduating only a few years ago have since become fire department captains and lieutenants.

The two-semester program offers 760 hours of training with classes held in the evenings. Once students
complete the program, they are eligible to take the Texas Commission on Fire Protection examination and become a certified firefighter in the state of Texas.

If you want a job that that makes a difference in someone’s life, if you like helping others in need, if you like hard work, if you don’t want to sit behind a desk, and want to feel like you are part of a family while at work, then being a firefighter might just be the job that you are looking for.

Phelps estimates that 40 percent of his students’ time is spent in a classroom setting with the remainder dedicated to hands-on technical training.

The Fire Academy curriculum includes:

  • Hands-on skills training
  • Proper use of fire equipment
  • Firefighting strategies and tactics
  • Organization and operation of fire services
  • Management techniques
  • Specialized job skills

Students also learn about hazardous materials, such as leaking oils or chemicals, and take part in live fire exercises at the Victoria Fire Department’s new 3,000-square-foot training facility. Completed in November 2012, the facility sits on three acres and includes a four-story tower offering ladder climbing exercises and indoor and outdoor firefighting training scenarios.

Some of the training is repetitive, but that’s the whole point, Phelps stressed.

“They might be dragging the fire hose for three weeks, and then they get tired of it,” he said. “But then, it becomes second nature to them.”

Academy instructors strive to teach students “15 ways to do the same job” so that in the event of dangerous situations, future firefighters will instinctively know what to do.

Phelps also stressed that firefighting is a team effort, “only as strong as its weakest link.”

The academy has a good success rate in getting its graduates hired in firefighting assignments. Some of the students are serving in area volunteer fire departments and are learning new skills or brushing up on old ones.

Phelps stresses to students that firefighting is not an 8 to 5 job.

“You will work 24 hour shifts, and sometimes have to miss a holiday or other important event if you choose to become a firefighter. You will not make a fortune, but what you will do is make someone’s life better during one of the worst days they will ever experience. That is your reward for being a firefighter.”

The academy averages 18 students a year with a maximum of 24. Student ages currently range from 24 to 38. There is one instructor for every five students, and seven to eight instructors are present during live fire exercises.

Although firefighting is a male-dominated profession, the academy usually graduates one female each year.

Females in the program are expected to pass the same physical requirements as their male counterparts,
Phelps said.

Students completing the Basic Firefighter Certificate can continue their education and obtain an Associate of Applied Science degree in fire science. The program is designed to provide students with foundational skills in firefighter safety, building codes, fire prevention, code inspections, firefighting strategy and tactics, and fire behavior.

“If you want a job that that makes a difference in someone’s life, if you like helping others in need, if you like hard work, if you don’t want to sit behind a desk, and want to feel like you are part of a family while at work, then being a firefighter might just be the job that you are looking for,” Phelps adds.

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