Schools' fire-cadet program revived

Firefighters, system agree

program now limited to seniors

February 14, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

After a one-year hiatus, Anne Arundel County volunteer and professional firefighters will revive their cadet training program with the county school system in the hope of attracting more recruits.

The program, which suffered from a lack of interest, high failure rates and the prohibitive cost of busing participants, will be limited next fall to high school seniors with better grades.

"All of us wanted to see it come back," said Karl Behringer, acting director of career and technology education for county schools. "We just felt we had to deal with some issues."

Cadets will spend part of the school day at the Center for Applied Technology-North in Glen Burnie, train at the Fire Training Academy in Millersville and volunteer at a local firehouse, under arrangements hashed out between school and fire officials Friday.

While a recently completed investigation by county Fire Chief David L. Stokes Sr. found that minors had engaged in sexual activity and watched pornography at the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company station in Pasadena, Battalion Chief Michael Cox, a department spokesman, stressed that no cadets in the school partnership were involved.

"They were minors but not cadets," he said.

Fire officials instead point to the program's success stories, such as Ian Bussey. He took the yearlong course as a junior at Northeast High School in Pasadena, allowing him to earn the basic certifications as a firefighter and an emergency medical and rescue technician. When he graduated from high school in 2005, he volunteered at the Lake Shore Fire Department. The county hired him as a career firefighter in August.

"I used the certification as a bridge," Bussey said. "It gives you a basis to work off of and looks excellent on a resume."

Not every graduate of the program becomes a firefighter. About 70 students have completed the course since its inception in 2000, and 20 to 25 have become career firefighters with the county or elsewhere. A majority of the cadets have become volunteers.

The volunteer association and county Fire Department want more cadets to move on to full-time careers with the county, said David Lewis, association president. One of the problems is that the county needs to strengthen the hiring preference for graduates of the cadet program, he said.

School officials voted to halt the program last year because only seven students had enrolled, and too many earlier students had been failing parts of the course, Cox said.

The fall cadet program must have a minimum of 15 students to move forward, Cox aid. Instead of a minimum 2.0 grade point average, students will be required to have at least a 2.5 GPA.

"The counselors thought because of the poor success rate that some of the participants were too young and not mature enough for the program," Cox said.

Jackie Olson, the county Fire Department's volunteer coordinator, normally visits county high schools to recruit students for the volunteer departments. She said her main goal this year is to recruit students for the cadet program.

Students will be eligible for certification for EMT-basic, rescue technician and firefighter I status.

Officials decided to eliminate the firefighter II portion of the program because it made the course too fast-paced, Cox said.

Firefighter I deals more with the firefighter as an individual. Level II certification addresses teamwork and department hierarchy, he said.

The class schedule also will allow students an early release from classes Mondays and Fridays so students can spend more time at their volunteer fire companies, Behringer said.

Because the class will be limited to seniors, school officials believe South County students will be able to drive or car pool to the academy rather than take a bus, Behringer said. A proposal to bus students from South County schools failed last year because the $72,000 price tag was too expensive.

North County students will continue to be bused, Behringer said.

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