Hands-on blaze battling

Future firefighters battled real-world blazes at the Calera Fire Department training center April 7, as they got a realistic look at their future careers.

About 30 students in the Shelby County School of Technology’s Public Service Academy donned professional firefighting gear as they entered rooms blanketed with flame at the training facility off Shelby County 70.

During the training day, the high school students worked together to extinguish simulation fires designed to mimic realistic emergency situations while members of the Calera Fire Department coached them on.

Through the Public Service Academy program, 17 and 18-year-olds at the School of Technology receive hands-on training in several law enforcement and emergency response fields.

For the past seven years, the program has allowed students to experience what it’s really like to be a career firefighter or police officer, explained Gary Griffith, the academy’s instructor.

“The kids see firefighters and police officers on TV, and it seems exciting, so they become interested in it,” Griffith said. “This program shows them what it’s really like, and it helps them decide whether or not they want to enter those fields.

“We have a lot of fun in this class,” Griffith added. “But it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely a calling.”

Griffith grades his students on their work ethics, ability to work in teams and other skills necessary to save lives and become successful firefighters or police officers.

Because the program allows students to learn about firefighting and law enforcement, some students said they were able to choose which field they enjoyed more.

“Last year, we did police work,” said Lindsey Brechin, a student in the program. “Personally, I think firefighting is more exciting than police work.”

Michael Riley, also a program participant, said he enjoyed learning about the different duties of a firefighter.

“For me, I’ve been more interested in the medical stuff firefighters do,” said Riley said. “I think this program is perfect.”

Over the past seven years, the Public Service Academy has produced several professional firefighters, who are employed at fire departments across Shelby County and Central Alabama.

“We get a lot of support from fire departments across Shelby County. Some of our former students have already gotten jobs in firefighting and law enforcement,” Griffith said.

Former students are often recruited because they have hands-on training, Griffith added.

“We try to train our guys, so when they go to a fire department, it’s an easy transition,” he said.