A partnership between Parker County Emergency Services District 7, Weatherford College and Millsap ISD has resulted in a trial of a county high school fire academy.
“Parker County ESD 7 is made up of Millsap, Greenwood and Cool-Garner fire departments and we were trying to figure out a way to get more members, more people to volunteer and more community involvement,” ESD 7 firefighter Chad Edwards, a Millsap ISD graduate, said. “I was 15 when I joined as a volunteer and I know the impact that it had on my life, so I thought maybe if we got some more involvement with high school kids, not only would we possibly get some junior members but maybe their parents would want to join, too.”
Edwards said he got the idea of creating a firefighting intern program but couldn’t figure out how to make it work. That’s when Edwards reached out to Weatherford College’s Director of Public Safety Steve Malley.
“We’re a certified training facility through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and so the online class isn’t just for the [high school kids], it’s a class we offer on a regular basis but in an online format while the kids are in school for the semester — it’s perfect for them,” Malley said. “It’s the same fire academy that anybody would go through so it’s not like the kid’s version, it’s the legitimate version and they’ll take their state certification test at the end.”
Edwards also contacted Millsap High School Principal Tammy Addison, who jumped at the opportunity for her students.
“I always tell everybody whether they’re a teacher or student that the only thing that limits them at Millsap is themselves because if they want to do it, we figure out a way,” Addison said. “It’s very individualized, so this program is great — there’s only three kids in it, but it’s great for those three. We’re going to pursue anything and everything that would provide a career and further our students to be successful if they so desire.”
With Millsap ISD’s 100% graduation rate, Addison added that their end goal is no longer to graduate students but to get them connected.
“Our end goal is not just to expose students but to make sure they are connected when they leave our campus — connected in a career, or connected in a college, connected in trade school — but they are connected to that next step,” she said. “They’re not just talking about it, it’s not just an idea.”
With the fire station being located in downtown Millsap, MISD seemed a perfect fit for the trial.
“Millsap ISD believes student success is our ultimate measure, but success looks different for each student. Some will go to college, some will enter the military and some will immediately enter the workforce,” MISD Superintendent Deann Lee said. “It is because of partnerships with those such as ESD 7 and Weatherford College that we are able to ensure each child is prepared for whichever path they chose. The students and community will benefit from the success of the Parker County High School Fire Academy.”
The Millsap High School students participating — Preston Shields, Trey Dudley and Paul Wolff — will do their online academy course Mondays through Thursdays and then on Fridays will get some hands-on experience.
“On Fridays from 1-3:30 p.m. they come over to the fire station and we do all the hands-on of what they learned that week, so it’s really putting a practical element on it, keeping them involved and getting them some real-world experience,” Malley said. “It really gives them a leg up because typically, to get into the fire academy, you have to graduate high school, take your fire academy, take your EMT and so it really is putting them almost a year ahead of kids at other school districts.”
Dudley said he heard about the opportunity a few months ago.
“I just thought it seemed cool. It just seemed interesting to learn about and I think it’s a great career choice,” Dudley said. “I always wanted to do something in public safety, so my first thought was a cop but now this seems better.”
Shields already has volunteer experience under his belt as well as a family connection.
“I volunteer at Garner and I’ve been around this kind of stuff for six or seven years,” he said. “I’ve been a volunteer for about two or three years and both of my parents, David Shields and Jennifer Shields, are volunteers at Garner — my dad is the lieutenant.”
Wolff said he primarily joined the program to gain more knowledge about a variety of fields for potential career options.
“I eventually want to use that as a route to go down for a career, so I have more options because I’m already certified in welding and I want more knowledge of how to do different things,” he said. “After this, I plan on going into the military and when I’m getting out, go into this field.”
Malley said the online fire academy is a 14-week course and will get these students in a stable career at just 19 to 20 years old.
“I came out of high school into the fire service and it was the greatest job and so even though this is my 41st year, I still love it as much as I did when I started,” he said. “These young men and women would be in their senior year and this would get them into a career that they can start within a year of being out of school — by 19 or 20 years old at the latest. They can be walking into a full-time job that is a career and retire in 20 to 25 years with full retirement and still be young enough to start a second career.”
Edwards said after completing the program, the students can then go on to obtain their Emergency Medical Technician Certification.
“They’ll be hopping into an EMT class hopefully over the summer and realistically by the end of the summer they could be a firefighter/EMT and be able to go get a job at 19 years old,” he said. “If they go on to get their paramedic certification, that would take basically another year and there’s a real shortage of paramedics.”
Edwards and Malley said the goal for the academy would be to expand if it works out.
“Word traveled pretty quick and so this is the test pilot program and we’ll figure out all the kinks and if it’s going to work or not, but I think it’s going to do really well,” Edwards said. “This is going to be a program that in a couple of years maybe, every high school in Parker County has access to.”
Malley added that he would love to see all high schools participate in the future and even have competitions between schools.
“We think it’s a way to not only get these young men and women out in their career but to start competition between high schools in the program. It’s just one more thing that makes it fun — everybody shooting for the trophy at the end,” he said.