ROGERSVILLE — Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, high school students in Hawkins County will have an opportunity to receive the training they need to begin a career as firefighters or other emergency first responders.

Aside from offering students another viable career path, the new program is also intended to prepare and encourage young adults to join their local volunteer fire department. Hawkins County’s VFDs are always struggling to find new volunteers.

Hawkins County Schools CTE Supervisor Brandon Williams told the Times News on Tuesday the plan is to offer introductory firefighting courses, with room for about 100 students at both Cherokee and Volunteer high schools.

The program falls under the Tennessee Department of Education’s Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security cluster, which includes fire management services. The curriculum is designed for students interested in becoming a firefighter or fire management professional.

The sequence of courses provides comprehensive preparation in firefighter safety, fire behavior, building construction guidelines, use of firefighter equipment, safety with hazardous materials and more.

Upon completion of the program, students will have acquired the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career as a Firefighter 1 and will be prepared, after graduation, to further their instruction at a training facility.

The four courses include: Principles of Fire and Emergency Services; Fire Prevention; Fire Science 1; and Fire Science 2. The class will be taught by an instructor who holds an occupational teaching license and must have a minimum of five years of experience on the job.

There are links to more detailed explanations of each course in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.

“There will be hands-on training at all levels”

Williams noted that in the past Hawkins County Schools had proposed starting an EMS/first responder curriculum in the high schools, but there wasn’t enough interest among students.

“We just heard from several community members that they thought this would be a beneficial program,” Williams said. “We struggle with keeping enough paramedics and firefighters in the county. They thought it would be beneficial if those (students) who are interested in being volunteer firefighters had a little bit of a head start on the training, as opposed to coming in with zero training.”

Williams added, “There will be hands-on training at all levels of this. Students will have an opportunity to see all the equipment firefighters use regularly, understand how it works, and have an opportunity to practice, for example, suiting up with all the fire gear and checking their breathing apparatus. Hopefully we can work with some of the local fire departments to do some site visits.”

“Beneficial for future growth for the Hazmat team”

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Jamie Miller told the Times News on Tuesday that one of the biggest hindrances to recruiting new volunteer firefighters is the inability of recruits to find the time for the required training.

Hopefully, the local VFDs will benefit from more students graduating high school with Firefighter 1 certifications already in hand, Miller said.

“Thanks to everyone that has been involved in this program launch in any way,” Miller said. “Hawkins County fire departments and Hawkins County rescue squads are constantly recruiting members. This program will be beneficial to engaging future volunteers and individuals seeking a career in emergency services.”

Miller added, “This is great for our county and I am excited to see this program launch. I really appreciate the Hawkins County School District’s work on this. This also will be beneficial for future growth for the Hazmat team.”

“Good for the local fire departments”

Stanley Valley VFD Chief Stacy Vaughan agreed that the amount of training volunteer firefighters must complete is often the greatest hindrance to recruiting. Potential recruits can’t take time off from work to complete training, and/or they aren’t willing to sacrifice that much time away from their families.

“First they must attend a 16-hour class, and then within three years they must attend a 64-hour class,” Vaughan said.

“On top of those demands, they must meet the individual departments’ ISO training requirements, which typically could be as much as eight hours per month. It’s just very difficult for a individual with a family, job, and personal life to dedicate themselves to so much time to a volunteer position.”

The Church Hill Fire Department’s Luke Wood also praised the new program. Aside from serving as CHFD chief, Wood works full time with the Kingsport Fire Department. He said several professional departments are in the region where Hawkins County students would have an opportunity to find a job without having to move away.

“This program is going to be good for the local fire departments, and it’s going to be good for students who think a career in fire service is something they’d like to do,” Wood said. “Kingsport is going through a hiring process right now, and they actually had their written test today. Their rookie program is a little more in depth than what this (Hawkins County school) program would be, but it’ still a building block. What they learn in this curriculum will be a benefit to them when they decide to take that next step toward a professional department.”