Students are suiting up and training as firefighters at the Newton College and Career Academy.
Some 32 students are part of NCCA’s Firefighter Career Pathway, which is in its first year in partnership with Newton County Fire Services. The program teaches fire safety, the roles of first responders, and other skills needed for the profession.
NCFS Chief Kevin O’Brien said Lt. Mike Viores and Lt. Cydnie Taylor-Ridling, who are assigned to outreach and education, are the main instructors for the NCCA program, though other fire officials also visit the class to help train students.
"What I have observed,’’ said Taylor-Ridling, "is that almost always when you simply tell a youth that they need to study, read, understand math and science so they can graduate and go to college, some will automatically begin to lose interest. What is unique about what we are doing here at NCCA is that we teach the associates what this profession is all about through hands-on experience.
"We encourage them to push themselves further than they ever believed that they can go," she said. "Once they prove to themselves that this is a possibility for them, to work in the fire service, we have then gained their interest and their commitment."
In the program, Taylor-Ridling said, "The associates will grasp a personal understanding of real-life experience through the instruction of a career firefighter, and embrace that (with) a great education, combined with perseverance and the right attitude, there is no goal one cannot reach. I can see these associates evolving personally and professionally. Even if these associates never pursue a career in the fire service we will have instilled a strong work ethic, and a superior understanding of personal safety and teamwork."
NCCA Principal James Woodard said the program began as a vision of Chief O’Brien’s.
"We were just discussing the need for a firefighting pathway, and so that night he (Chief O’Brien) went home and he sent me a long email about his vision for what this program could be with their help," Woodard said. "They (Newton County Fire Services) actually agreed to staff the program, so they totally handled the teaching."
Woodard said students train in different skill areas. He said the city of Covington’s Fire Department also is involved in the program.
"We’re doing a little project with the city fire department with a sprinkler-system burn after Christmas," he said. "Our construction classes have actually built two pods that look like a living room, and they’re going to set up a fire, and one will have a sprinkler system and it will compress the fire."
Woodard said the demonstration will serve as a community awareness project, showing how quickly a fire can spread without a sprinkler system.
Students Mitchell Troutman, Chris Dube, Jaylin Penny, Aaron Daniecki and Joshua Hailey are enthusiastic participants in the training.
Troutman said his family has been involved in fire service for a long time, and firefighting is something that he has always wanted to do. "It (the program) will definitely help me in my career to
become a firefighter," he said.
Dube said he has always wanted to be a police officer, and the firefighting pathway has given him a second career option.
"This is something I can fall back on,’’ he said, "and also, I can be certified for both, because it’s still public safety."
Penny, like Troutman, said he has wanted to be a firefighter since he was a young child living down the street from a fire station. He said the program has been very helpful.
"(The program) taught me about the classification of fires ... how to put on the gear and that type of stuff," he said.
O’Brien said one of the biggest reasons NCFS looked at doing the program was to invest in students, but it also was looking to create an essential applicant pool for Newton’s fire departments in the future.
"In the last five years, I’ve hired about 60 employees and surprisingly, struggled to get applicants or at least quality applicants. There’s a lot of time and money invested in fire training. When we hire someone, by the time he or she is actually ready to be on a truck, between equipment and training, we’ve got about $15,000 invested in them," he said.
"It’s hard to find those people we know would be long-term employees, so through this program we’re helping to create an applicant pool so that when they graduate, they may not be certified, but they’ll be trained to a level where we’ve invested time in them and that they’ll stay with us and be quality employees ready to maybe just take a couple classes to get additional training for transitioning."