Dickinson's Firefighter 1 Academy graduates 15; boosts area recruitment efforts
A group of students recently completed their Roughrider Area Career and Tech Center Firefighter 1 Academy that was led by the Dickinson Fire Department. We spoke to DFD’s fire instructor Jared Rhode and Dickinson Public Schools to learn more about this program.
DICKINSON — For its second year, the Roughrider Area Career and Tech Center graduated 15 students from its Firefighter 1 Academy. Under the instruction of the Dickinson Fire Department, participating students completed training in preparation for gaining their full fire certification this week.
Dickinson firefighter Jared Rhode, one of the main instructors of the program, reflected on the second year of the program, saying that it’s been a learning process. The 2021-2022 school year was the first time that the program ran for two semesters. In December of 2020 when the program launched , the course was only a semester long. This move was beneficial for both students and instructors, Rhode said, adding that it’s difficult to cram the course load into one semester.
“But with any program, there’s always room for improvement,” Rhode said. “So we’ve already went to the drawing board for next year and things that we’re going to change from the student feedback that we got… and make it even better next year.”
Of the 15 students that graduated, 12 were students at Dickinson High School and one was a student from Hope Christian Academy.
Kylah Kirsch, a recent DHS graduate, was one of the students enrolled in Firefighter 1 Academy and is now going through the process of becoming a part-time DFD firefighter.
“I really liked it. I’ve always wanted to become a firefighter and it just helped me get one step closer to my goal of becoming a firefighter. (With) the classmates and the firefighters, it was like a whole other family; it didn’t just seem like a regular class that you take. It was a learning experience that would actually help you in the real world,” Kirsch said. “… Say if your plans don’t work out and you have the Fire 1 certificate, you could get a job at any fire department. So it’s not only a backup, but it also helps you get credits for college and it will help you get a job. So it’s just a very helpful program.”
Kirsch added that the live burn segment was a great way to end the course.
Firefighter 1 Academy is a college-level course, which made it appealing for the Dickinson school district, Rhode said, adding that they’re working on making it a dual-credit program once Dickinson State University launches its fire science program — another DFD partnership.
“As far as difficulty goes, there’s a lot of time that the students have to spend reading and there is an online portion where they take quizzes and they have all the information available to them. But each chapter is anywhere from 30 to 50 pages of a textbook. So it’s pretty rigorous in that aspect,” he said, adding that Wednesday evenings is where students complete the skill portion of the course.
In order to obtain their certification and test for the Pro Board — the original fire service system for the accreditation of agencies that certify candidates according to National Fire Protection Association professional qualification standards — students have to complete a certain amount of skills, Rhode noted. Though the full certification test requires both hands-on and textbook knowledge, the skill portion is most favored by the students, he said, adding that “the book work can be daunting.”
“What really made the course excel is just all of the group instructors. We’ve come together and really brainstorm with our group of instructors, and along with the help from our administration here in the fire department, to make the course that much better (and) that much more efficient,” he said, noting that local educators also contributed to the course’s success.
Southwest Career and Technical Education Academy Director Aaron Anderson noted that this course allows students at the high school level to get their foot in the door.
“Roughrider Career and Tech Center providing these opportunities for students in the region is awesome and Dickinson Public Schools is able to take advantage of programs like the Fire Academy. And so, that puts our students in real world situations and are instructed by experts in the field and helps them fast track their skills to enter into the workforce,” Anderson said. “With fire school, these students are going to be first responders, working for local fire departments, rural fire departments and now have access to those opportunities to serve their communities.”
Anderson noted that there was a need for additional first responders, especially fire rescue individuals, within the Dickinson community — which further sparked interest in the Firefighter 1 Academy program.
“... Whenever we add career technical education programming opportunities for students at Dickinson Public Schools, we want to make them as real world as possible. And the fire program is that, (which is) trained by experts by the Dickinson Fire Department in their setting, using the equipment that's been used in the field and providing opportunities at a low cost for these students,” he noted. “If we would try to replicate this program at our facilities, we couldn't. But that partnership with Dickinson Fire Department and their willingness to work with our students, makes those opportunities available.”
The main idea behind CTE is giving students the ability to walk out of high school with certification and enter the workforce, Rhode said. Even if students choose to go to college, this is something they can take with them and volunteer their time on the side to help boost recruitment numbers for fire departments nationwide.
“... This certification, a lot of full-time departments across the nation actually require it to even be considered for hiring. For instance, they could go to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana and have Fire 1 and be able to apply for a job and potentially get hired on as a full-time firefighter as well,” he said.
With already more than 20 prospective students signed up for next year's course, instructors say they will begin taking turns visiting schools to deliver lectures during the student's 90-minute off-period for the upcoming fall course. This will allow the fire instructors to spend more time with developing student skills without being time constrained, Rhode added.
The fire department is already looking at the pool of qualified candidates from the course, some of which are already pending an interview process with the City of Dickinson. Anderson added that this course is one of the many reasons why CTE programs are appealing to students.
“It's a great opportunity that students are going to take advantage of for years to come and more programs are coming down the pipeline for other in demand careers. We have a police academy program started to hopefully address some of the workforce needs… and obviously some additional career technical education programming that's going to come in the next year and a half,” Anderson said. “And so, we're grateful for the opportunities that we can provide students and appreciate the efforts of Roughrider Career Tech Center in providing access for these for students in the region.”