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Firefighter training can begin in high school
If Yuma Union High School District students want to be involved in the Yuma Fire Department's Cooperative Education program, they have to start taking steps as freshmen to make sure they can qualify to apply for the program as a senior.
Lorie Honeycutt, with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at YUHSD, said that for several years, YFD has invested time and funds into educating students at the high school level to help them determine if they want to pursue a career in firefighting after graduation. YFD training captain Chris Flores, also an instructor for the Fire Academy through Arizona Western College, teaches the high school Cooperative Education Program.
Honeycutt said that because Yuma County is the only county in the state without a Joint Technical Education District (JTED), students are required to enroll in two years of a different CTE program before applying to be in the firefighting co-op program during their senior year. A JTED is an independent school district specifically established to offer and fund career and technical education programs.
Without the funding of a JTED, she said, YUHSD does not offer a firefighting CTE program to accompany the senior year cooperative education firefighting internship program.
“For example, I have two kids at Kofa, one is a concentrator in construction and the other in automotive. Just because we don't have a (firefighting CTE program) at the high schools, we still try to make accommodations for those kids and this is how we do it.”
The first portion of the firefighting program at the high school consists of academic work in the classroom.
“The high school students use the same book that they use at the collegiate level so it gives the kids a step ahead,” said Honeycutt.
The second portion of the year, students are assigned to a fire station to work alongside a mentor firefighter for their internship.
“Chris Flores tells the parents that he won't let them go out on a ride until they're prepared and ready. They have to follow protocol because it means their lives,” she said. “The students get to wear city of Yuma firefighting uniforms, so they have to abide by all the rules that they do.”
Students are required to work a minimum of 15 hours a week during the internship portion of the program. “Many of them put in a lot more time than that, sometimes we have to make them go home,” Honeycutt said.
Mike Erfert, spokesman for the Yuma Fire Department, said that every year they ask the firefighters for volunteers to work with the kids as mentors.
“It gives our people a chance to give back to the community, other than the usual way that first responders do ... It also helps us to grow our department for the future and it helps young people to decide on career paths. Whether the fire service is something they want to pursue or emergency medical, they can go right out into AWC's two-semester Fire Academy and it's right here in town where they can take advantage of it.”
Of the applications submitted by high students, only nine are admitted into the high school firefighting program, said Honeycutt. Students are required to maintain their grades, submit a resume and application online and also interview.
This year there are two students from Cibola High, two from Kofa High, two from Gila Ridge High and three from Yuma High in the program. The program is open to students at all YUHSD campuses as well as homeschooled students.
For students who apply and don't make it into the firefighting program their senior year, Honeycutt said, they work to make sure students can find an internship in a similar field.
“We would still work to find them positions. I had a young lady who wasn't quite sure she wanted to be a firefighter and she was waffling between YFD, Yuma Police Department and Border Patrol so we had her interview at all three and she actually ended up in an administrative assistant position at the fire department for her senior year and now she's in the Fire Academy at AWC.”
Honeycutt added, “Whatever career path they are interested in, we want them to intern in that area so that they don't waste thousands of dollars in college finding out that they don't want to do something.”
Students in the firefighting program also have the opportunity to compete at the local, state and national level in SkillsUSA competitions. Last year Ty Fritz, Trey Vickers and Noe Marquez placed 12th at the 2012 SkillsUSA National Championships in Kansas City, Mo., in the firefighting category.
For a full list of CTE and Cooperative Education programs at YUHSD, visit www.yumaunion.org, hover over the “Welcome” tab and click on “CTE Course Descriptions” to download the PDF file.
To get involved in any CTE program, students or parents can call the CTE office and ask for Honeycutt at 502-4680.