From the basic fire service knots to types of extinguishers, the life of a firefighter is more than putting on a uniform. It’s simple safety knots that can make a difference in saving someone’s life and that’s what the Dickinson Fire Department is teaching high school students about with its Firefighter 1 Academy.

Dickinson Fire Department’s Lt. Dustin Hofer and firefighter Jared Rhode spearheaded the program back in December and kicked off the semester-long course Feb. 8. Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell awarded Hofer and Rhode for their educational initiatives with employee certificates Feb. 16 at a Dickinson City Commission meeting.

“The potential impact is we’re creating a pool of qualified candidates coming out of high school whether they stay here or they leave Dickinson, they can volunteer or get on a department wherever they end up,” Presnell said. “In terms of the class, it’s put us in a position where we’re breaking the trail for this type of high school class in the state.”

The class is open to junior and seniors, and currently entails 18 recruits ranging from Dickinson, Richardton, Hebron and South Heart as well as a few new Dickinson firefighters, who are going through the same Firefighter 1 Academy, Presnell said, adding that this partnership between southwestern North Dakota high schools reduced costs by 75%.

“Our program is kind of setting the state and surrounding states. Once this got out into the news, people started reaching out to us wanting to know how they can get it started — fire departments, schools, stuff like that. It provides a huge benefit to the Dickinson Fire Department,” Presnell said, adding, “It shows us that it was a good move on our part. We kind of had a little foresight in terms of what the fire service needed or how we can move the fire service forward and getting involved with the high schools.”

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The class occurs every Tuesday night and lasts for 3 hours at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center. Hofer, Rhode along with a few other seasoned firefighters will go over course material such as tying various knots then suiting up and using those lessons learned inside the classroom and putting them to the test.

Cue Dakken, a junior at Hebron High School, was drew to a firefighter’s career at a young age with his dad, uncles and grandpa all being involved in it. Once Dakken turns 18, he hopes to join the Hebron Fire Department. Taking Firefighter 1 Academy was a way to boost his future, he said.

“I’ve learned that there’s more to firefighting than just putting out fires. There’s all the tools, response times and all that stuff,” Dakken said. “It’s good to get your foot in the door early …and it opens up options for your future.”

For Richardton-Taylor High School junior Dylan Jahner, he’s learned more about firefighting than he was expecting from the types of fires, extinguishers, chemicals, knots, rescue ropes and safety precautions.

“I always thought being a firefighter was always intriguing. I always thought it was really interesting — our first responders. I would like to see how or what (it’s like) to be in their shoes because life out there, it’s hard being a firefighter and I respect those guys and all first responders,” Jahner said. “I’ve always wanted to be a first responder and a firefighter would be a good one to be.”

Jahner noted that this course is a way to get an inside look at fire service.

“It’s fun. There’s new things you’ll learn every day. And if you want to save others or if you want to help your communities, this is the way to go about it,” Jahner added.

FUTURE OF FIRE SERVICE INNOVATION

This one example of leadership and innovation from the Dickinson Fire Department is important in driving the future forward and harnessing that knowledge, Mayor Scott Decker said at the Feb. 16 meeting.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we can fire up a regional training center and put the people to work (and) have the instructors that are necessary to be a world class between our fire department, our police department, our public works,” Decker said. “We have the expertise and we need to acknowledge that we have the potential to become … a city that’s out at the forefront and leading the way in innovative training. Between our regional training center (and) the Dickinson CTE Center, there’s just so much potential and we just need to have the intestinal fortitude to drive this forward and get it done.”

Presnell hopes that this course will increase volunteerism in fire service.

“In terms of retention and development in the fire service across the United States, volunteerism is way down. This will at least put some of these younger kids in a position that they can and go volunteer… We really hope they’ll stay in North Dakota and volunteer with the North Dakota Fire Department,” Presnell noted.

This course offers an outlet of competitiveness and physical aspect most high school students yearn for upon graduation, Presnell said, adding that it’s a feature that draws several students in. Hofer and Rhode are also key aspects to keeping the course fun, yet informative.

“They’re really good instructors; they’re instructors with the state. They teach for the North Dakota Firefighter Association, who’s in charge of all the training in North Dakota. Both of their wives are involved in education,” he said. “I think they can just really relate with the kids and have a little better understanding of what their needs are.”

Looking ahead, Presnell said he would like to see the Firefighter Academy 1 evolve and eventually lead to an associate’s degree program at Dickinson State University.