Fire cadet program halted

Training initiative in county high schools canceled for coming year


A firefighter cadet training program for Anne Arundel County High School students has been canceled for the coming school year, mainly because of declining interest, and the seven students hoping to take the yearlong course must change their academic schedules, according to school and fire officials.

The program, which began in the county in 2000, prepares students to join volunteer or professional fire departments.

"The benefit is it's a career-related program, and for students who are interested in being professional firefighters, it's a great way for them to start," said Karl Behringer, the school system's acting director of career and technology education.

According to a Fire Department spokesman, officials determined that the course wasn't achieving its goals, and the department and the school system jointly decided to suspend the program for a year while the curriculum is revamped.

"It takes time to get that curriculum change approved. There was not enough time to get that done for the current year," said department Division Chief Stuart McNicol. "It was a joint decision to take this time to look at the curriculum and revise it as necessary, and line it up with the original goals of the program and increase the success of the students."

David Lewis, the second vice president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, said the course was canceled without input from the volunteer association, which had pushed for the creation of the program. He said he was disappointed by the decision.

Lewis admitted that last year's program had some problems - a high failure rate in the more difficult aspects of the course and discipline problems among the students. But he said he disagreed with the decision to cancel the course altogether.

He said the volunteer association had written a memo that offered solutions.

"The volunteer group said, `Here's what we think concerns are, this is what steps need to be taken,' and the Fire Department and the school [officials] met and decided the best way to deal with it was to cancel the program for the year," Lewis said. "In our eyes, that's the wrong approach. The issues should be addressed now ... to keep the program on track instead of removing the opportunity for the students who were looking forward to it."

Behringer said that he was not aware of disciplinary problems, but that many students were not passing all sections of the course.

"That is a big concern for me," he said.

Ideally, the course has about 15 students who attend their regular schools in the morning and spend the second half of their day training at the fire academy in Millersville. In addition to receiving high school credit, students who successfully complete the course can earn certification as firefighters at levels one and two, and as emergency medical technicians and rescue technicians, and qualify for national certification at the firefighter two level. Students must become members of a volunteer fire company in Anne Arundel County to participate.

Classes have been taught at the county's training academy by instructors certified by the state, according to McNicol.

Behringer said he will spend the next school year with focus groups and talking with counselors to determine how to make the course more attractive to students. The curriculum also will be revamped.

About 70 students have completed the course since its inception, Lewis said, and about 20 to 25 have become career firefighters with the county or elsewhere. A majority have maintained their volunteer associations, he said. Officials didn't know how many students took the course during the most recent school year.

Though fire officials agreed to the suspension of the program, McNicol said it remains important to the department.

"It gives us an avenue to acquire additional personnel," he said. "The number of volunteers available has decreased as society gets more busy."

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