Sullivan East fire science program certifies student before graduation

Rick Wagner • Aug 29, 2018 at 2:21 PM

BLUFF CITY — Two graduated Sullivan County high school fire science students may be firefighters in the future, one working alongside his dad.

The Sullivan East High School program will be offered at the new West Ridge High School starting in the fall of 2020, it’s graduating students already working and/or studying to be firefighters and emergency responders.

“We may be the only active program in the state” of Tennessee, said Brandon Renfro, East’s fire science instructor. He said the Knox County school system had one and that Memphis area schools are trying to start one, but as far as he knows East had the only high school fire science program in the state last school year.

Renfro said the program has continued to grow over the past four years he’s taught it. The program offers the chance for students to earn a Firefighter 1 certification. Four classes are offered: Principles of Fire and Emergency Services, Fire Prevention, Fire Science 1 and Fire Science 2. This semester, he has 62 enrolled in four classes.

Renfro said he hopes to add work-based learning by having students job shadow area fire department employees.

“This program is designed to give the students the opportunity and information needed to earn the Firefighter 1 certification,” Renfro said. Students who do that by graduation earn a Diploma of Distinction in Tennessee. One student did that in May, and six others graduated eligible to take the certification test. Renfro said many are going to Northeast State Community College to seek the Emergency Medical Technician certification, while combined with the Firefighter 1 certification makes them attractive to be hired as full-time firefighters.

He said the Piney Flats Volunteer Fire Department has teamed up with the fire science program to do the live burn testings required for Firefighter 1 certification.

Renfro worked as a firefighter for Johnson City eight years until a 2014 back injury on the job forced him to take a medical retirement, but he then began teaching part time at East. He went full time for the 2018-19 school year.


Bryson Fannon, a May 2017 graduate of East, is already working in emergency services and plans a career in it.

“I was really just unsure about it,” Fannon said of a career in firefighting and/or emergency services. “I tried it out and found I loved it.” He took Firefighter 1, Firefighter 2 and Emergency Preparedness at East. He has since earned his basic emergency medical technician credentials and works for the Ambulance Service of Bristol in convalescent transport. He is seeking EMT certification at Northeast State Community College.

“My goal is paramedic,” Fannon, 19, said of a certification he can obtain when he turns 21. He also is a volunteer for the Bluff City volunteer rescue squad and volunteer fire department.

Sullivan County’s new West Ridge High, to be built near Exit 63 of Interstate 81, is to have a fire program when it opens as well as a working fire station at the northern edge of the campus. The station, to be funded by the county’s volunteer fire departments, would serve the greater Indian Springs area and provide a training ground for West Ridge fire service students.

“I highly encourage that,” Fannon said of having the program at the new high school.

Gage Broyles, a December 2017 graduate of East who was in the May 2018 graduation march, is a volunteer firefighter but one day hopes to work as a paid city firefighter.

Broyles is enrolled at Northeast State pursuing an associate’s degree in EMT with a paramedic focus. He is intending to get an EMT certification this fall and plans to go on to his paramedic certification. He also had Firefighter 1 certification before graduating from East, the first one to do that in the program.

A member of East Sullivan County Volunteer Fire Department, the 18-year-old said he hopes to join his father, Sean Broyles, someday as a firefighter for the Kingsport Fire Department. Gage Broyles has applied to and interviewed with the Kingsport department.

“I’m really wanting to follow in his footsteps,” Broyles said. “I think that’s a great idea. It’s a great idea to start people at a young age and give them all the proper training and experience they need.”

Jesse Brown, a May 2018 graduate of East, has been volunteering with East Sullivan County VFD for about two years after Broyles encouraged him to join. He was training Thursday evening at the department but is enrolled for EMT certification classes at Northeast this fall.

“I’m planning on becoming a full-time paid firefighter for the Bristol, Tenn., Fire Department,” Brown said. He applied about a month ago.

“I had no clue that I would be a firefighter,” Brown said. “I grew up as a paramedic’s son.”

He said his mother works for Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services, but he’s decided to go into firefighting.

“I’ve grown up on this (emergency services) all my life,” Brown said.

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