PALM BEACH, Fla. – Duncan Smith, 16, of Lake Worth, and Katie Schmidt, 16, of Wellington, both always wanted to be firefighters just like their fathers. Now, they're starting their training at Wellington High School Fire Science Academy.
During the Fire Science Academy, a four-year program that prepares students for Palm Beach State College's Fire Academy, students learn skills such as fire behavior, first responder model, personal protective equipment, use of equipment, fundamentals of extinguishment, and rescue procedures.
The academy recently received a fire truck from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, which will help students become familiar with the truck used in fire service, according to Mark Davis, lead instructor and interim director for Wellington High's fire academy. Davis is also a captain with Palm Beach Fire Rescue Station 23 and an adjunct instructor at Palm Beach State's academy.
"This is one of several key pieces of equipment for the program," Davis said. "This apparatus allows our students to assimilate with the everyday apparatus used in the fire service. This gives them pride and ownership, which is a valuable lesson for high school students wanting to enter into public service."
Erik Wilkinson, academy coordinator, said, "The generosity of our friends at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, along with the professional training offered through Palm Beach State College, provides our cadets with world class instructional opportunities. Their financial support helps to bridge the gap between school budgets and industry expectations."
The fire truck will also help students practice before taking the challenging practical portion of the state firefighter certification, Davis said.
"I'm really excited about it," Schmidt said. "It will be a lot more hands-on for us because it will be more realistic to what we are going to see when we get out there."
The Wellington High program started in 2013 and is designed so that by the students' senior year, they receive their Emergency Medical Responder certification. Seniors spend time at PBSC Fire Academy perfecting their skills, Davis said.
The students in the academy will graduate in May and start the second half of the program through PBSC by mid- to late July. If they complete all aspects successfully, they become certified firefighters by September, said Davis.
Schmidt said she was interested in the opportunities the academy presented.
"This is my home school and it was my decision to go into this program," she said. "How could anyone pass up this kind of opportunity? My dad is in this service for almost 25 years and I wanted to follow in his footsteps and learn and understand what he goes through in his day-to-day."
The academy enforces a paramilitary discipline, and students have to be comfortable with standing at attention as part of the culture, said Davis.
"I like the discipline aspect because I feel like a lot high schoolers sometimes go the wrong way, and with this, it's not possible," said Schmidt.