FLINT, Michigan — Construction is now underway on a new fire training facility for Genesee County high school students who are interested in working towards either a Fire Certification, an EMT Certification, or both.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the future Fire Training Center was held Monday, September 26 at Genesee Career Institute (GCI) on Torrey Road in Flint.
The state-of-the-art Fire Training Center will be located on the campus of the Genesee Intermediate School District’s Genesee Career Institute (GISD) and will include areas for roof rescue, several flights of stairs, long hoses, and an apparatus bay with a fire truck.
Last year, the first Fire Training Academy was instituted through a partnership between GCI and the Genesee County Association of Fire Chiefs, in response to the high demand for firefighters in the region.
City of Burton Fire Chief Kirk Wilkinson explained that shortages are being felt across the country in all types of first responder disciplines. “We’re not getting the number of applications we used to get,” Wilkinson said.
The City of Burton Fire Department, for example, once boasted 65 on-call firefighters. “That’s where it would like to be, is to be back at that 65 number. Right now, we’re at less than 30,” Wilkinson explained.
That’s why, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilkinson approached Diana Allard, Executive Director of Career Technical Education at GISD, and the idea for a new fire training program for local high school students was born.
Wilkinson was thrilled by the response he saw from GISD. “They were 100% all in,” he said. While he expected the course would be taught mainly in a classroom setting, those expectations were well-exceeded by the plans for the new training center.
“They’re pretty much giving us a full-fledged fire station to actually run this out of, which is going to make it all that much better and that much more realistic for these students,” Wilkinson added.
Despite the pandemic, the Fire Training Academy began last year, with five students completing both Fire Certifications required by Michigan.
Allard spoke about one of those five, Collin Diekman, who was hired by the Swartz Creek Area Fire Department upon his graduation. “He never thought he would graduate high school and have people knocking on the door, asking him to work for them,” Allard said.
“It feels great to see students gain such hireable skills during their high school years, and knowing that the program is benefitting fire departments across the region,” she added.
The program is now in its second year, and Wilkinson feels optimistic about the future. “They’re very enthusiastic this year,” he said. “There’s the potential for another 4-5 departments, maybe more, to benefit again this year.”
Wilkinson explained that last year, he and one other fire chief served as the two instructors for the program, in addition to handling their normal duties within their fire departments. “If there was a day that both of us needed off or wanted off, one of us needed to make a sacrifice to make sure the students had an instructor there,” he said.
This year, that number has increased to four instructors, allowing Wilkinson to take a more administrative role.
Allard says the new facility is set to be completed and operational next fall for the program’s third year. “Right now, we can only run one session, so about 24 students at a time. With the new building, we’ll be able to run up to three sessions at a time, with a total of 72 students,” she explained.
Allard recommends that students who are interested in the Fire Training Academy reach out to their guidance counselor during their 10th-grade year, and ask to enroll in the program for their 11th-grade year.
She added that there are no academic requirements to enroll in the program. Each certificate can be earned in one school year, meaning both Fire Certifications can be earned by the time a student graduates from high school.
For more information on the Fire Training Center, visit the Genesee Intermediate School District's website.