Firefighter and EMT training are coming to Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools in the 2017-18 school year.
The Board of Education recently approved a set of proposed course revisions that included EMT1 and Firefighter Technology courses at Chapel Hill High School.
Career and Technical Education Director Kathi Breweur said a conversation with Fire Chief Matt Sullivan of the Chapel Hill Fire Department led to the proposal.
“Chief Sullivan came to me a little while ago and said, ‘We’ve had trouble finding firefighters, and Kathi, I understand you have curriculum that could help us out,’” Breweur said.
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After checking with the state Department of Public Instruction, Breweur said she learned that it was, indeed, possible to start an academy within the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. She and Sullivan were urged to visit two such programs at Harnett County Schools for inspiration.
Sullivan, a 1985 Chapel Hill High School graduate, said he and Battalion Chief Keith Porterfield, who accompanied him to the Dec. 1 school board meeting, are glad to find a new way to get local youth interested in firefighting careers.
“When we started working for the town, most of the police officers and firefighters came from our community,” Sullivan said. “We’ve seen, over the course of the last 15 or 20 years, we have very few local firefighters.”
The Chapel Hill Fire Department has surplus equipment that could be used for high school fire training. Chapel Hill High is a little less than three miles away from the Chapel Hill Training Center for firefighters, which includes a drill tower.
Most students who take the courses at CHHS would be just two classes short of certification by graduation, simply because those two classes – fire control, and hazardous materials operations – require students to be 18 or older.
Porterfield said those two courses would require about a month of additional schooling at a community college. Entry-level firefighters in Chapel Hill start at around $35,000 a year.
Board of Education members expressed great enthusiasm for the program as a good option for teenagers who aren’t necessarily on the college track.
Board member Pat Heinrich spoke from his own family’s experience, to emphasize the wisdom of giving high school kids a wide range of choices.
“I’ve got a brother who didn’t go through a traditional four-year institution but became a police officer through the police academy,” he said. “He’s now a detective over at Raleigh PD. A career like that really suited him well.”
Because the firefighter and EMT courses will be offered just at CHHS, the program re-opens the debate over students transferring between different schools.
“This is a wonderful proposal,” said board member Annetta Stokes Streater. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to provide and share this across the district, and figure out how to make it accessible for all of our high school students.”
The board has talked in the recent past about revisiting policies regarding in-district transfers. Some members demurred, because they suspected some students would transfer just to gain access to certain sports programs.
Right now, transfers are only granted to students for seven reasons listed on the CHCCS website. The firefighter program doesn’t appear to fit into any of those categories.
Board of Education members wondered aloud if the policy needs to be revised, now that fire training at CHHS will be offered.
“I would encourage the exception, because it would allow a greater number of students to take advantage of it, if they are interested in becoming firefighters,” said member Joal Broun.
Board Chair James Barrett said the topic will likely come up in March, as the board prepares its annual Over-and-Under Crowded Schools Report.