Gear up: Students learn firefighter basics at LeCroy

Published 3:42 pm Thursday, February 10, 2022

Editor’s note: Only first names are used for students at the request of the school.

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Childhood dreams of being a firefighter are a step closer to reality for students in the LeCroy Career Technical Center Public Service Fire Program as they learn the basics.

“Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in it,” Matthew, a high school senior in the program, said.

A self-proclaimed “adrenaline junky,” he is enjoying the course, but said meeting the expectations can be challenging.

“Mr. Lowery is always pushing us to be the best we can,” Matthew said. “You push yourself so far to achieve it.”

Taught by Isabella Volunteer Fire Department training chief Landon Lowery, the course gives students a basic skill set and information for being a firefighter, including the personal protective gear used, equipment, finding victims during a fire and getting them to safety, understanding how fire behaves as well as learning about building construction, hazardous materials and portable fire extinguishers.

“Everything that they do has an aspect of safety involved,” Lowery said.

This includes making sure everyone is looking out for potential safety issues and making the team aware of them.

There are three written and skills tests and a hazmat awareness test in the course. Each test is taken at LeCroy Career Technical Center with a proctor from the Alabama Fire College, Lowery said

Students who pass all of the tests become certified volunteer firefighters. Certifications can also be completed for CPR, emergency care provider and hazardous materials awareness and operations.

“They can go to a course over the summer called a bridge program that would get their Firefighter II certification, and at that point, they can work for a full-time fire department,” Lowery said.

The program courses follow the NFPA 1001 standards for professional firefighters.

Teamwork and overcoming fears are crucial components of the course beyond how to use the equipment.

The 15 students in the program are divided into morning and evening classes. Each is structured like a fire station with battalion chiefs, captains, firefighters and rookies.

Joshua, a high school junior, became interested in the course because his father is a volunteer firefighter. While he has often thought about volunteering when he was old enough, Joshua is now considering a career as a firefighter.

He said the course “has taught me a lot of how to control my breathing because we only have a certain amount of air we can use in a SBCA (self-contained breathing apparatus) tank, and how to overcome some fear with claustrophobia and heights, how to work as a team.”

The close confinement course has been the most challenging class for him thus far because of claustrophobia.

The class has become like family, Joshua said.

Austin, who is a high school junior, became interested in the course because his step-father is a firefighter.

He has enjoyed learning about search and rescue as well as deploying the fire hose.

Austin found the close confinement course challenging because he has to take off his air pack and push it in front of him in order to fit in the space.

“The job prospects for them (in a paid department) are really good because they can start out making about $40,000 as an incoming fireman at 19 years old,” Lowery said.

During a recent class, students pulled a hose off a real fire truck to a nearby fire hydrant, while wearing approximately 40 pounds of gear firefighters wear during an actual response.

Some of the skills are practiced until students can complete them in a set amount of time.

There is lifting and carrying heavy equipment required in the course.

The program is grateful to the Chilton County Fire Association, East Chilton, Collins Chapel, Union Grove and Isabella Fire Departments for equipment that has been donated.

Right now, the program can be completed in one year, but Lowery said there are plans to expand it to two years by adding courses to be a 911 dispatcher.