Students study saving skills at Fire and Rescue Academy

May 12, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

At least that's one thing the five high school boys joking in the back room of Funkstown Fire Hall all can agree upon.

The boys, each wearing a different navy blue fire station T-shirt, are members of Washington County Public Schools' Fire and Rescue Academy, a group of senior students who are studying to get certified in different areas of emergency medicine, fire fighting and hazardous materials operations.

Their school year is broken up into earning five certifications: Emergency Medical Technician Basic, Firefighter I, Firefighter II, Hazardous Materials Operations and Rescue Technician.


Sam Wilson, an instructor through the University of Maryland, is teaching the students how to get certified as rescue technicians. The academy, part of the Washington County Technical High School, is taught at the Funkstown Fire Hall by instructors who have specialties in different fields. He said the class started out with about 13 students but whittled down over the course of the school year.

The students get their certifications through the University of Maryland and can earn up to 12 college credits for their classes, Wilson said.

He recently has taught the boys how to operate tools such as the Jaws of Life, a metal-cutting machine commonly used by rescue technicians to cut a vehicle open to rescue its occupants.

Academy member Devon Gay, 18, from Boonsboro High School, said he gained a new appreciation for how hot it can get cutting into a car while wearing heavy equipment.

"One day we cut up a car using nothing but hand tools," he said.

Wilson said it's important for his students to keep up with new technology associated with their field.

For instance, Andrew Smith, 18, of Smithsburg High School, said hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius are made with high-voltage wires. If rescue technicians cut into the car in the wrong place, they could get electrocuted, he said.

Once students get certified as rescue technicians, they will ride along with rescue crews for the rest of the school year, Gay said.

The academy, which has been up and running in the school system for nearly four years, runs from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. every day and coincides with the school year calendar, Wilson said.

"It normally takes two to three years to take the classes we're taking, but it only takes us eight months," Gay said.

When they are not in school or at their paying jobs, each of the students volunteers with fire and rescue departments in the county.

As they're speaking, the station bell rings. The students each perk up in their seats only to slump back into them again.

"You can go, but you're not getting credit for this class," Wilson said.

Smith, who plans to go to York Technical Institute next year to study computer-assisted drafting, said he plans to be a firefighter regardless of whether he takes a different career path.

Kyle Minnick, 17, of Smithsburg High School, looked down at his Smithsburg Volunteer Fire Department T-shirt.

"Kids make fun of me because they think it's the only shirt I have," he said. "When they tell me they help someone every day, then they'll be entitled to their own shirt."

The other four Washington County Public Schools' academies are The Academy of Manufacturing and Engineering Technology at Williamsport High School, The Academy of Pre-Engineering and Computer-Assisted Drafting and Design at Williamsport, The Finance Academy at South Hagerstown High School and The Academy of Medical Careers at North Hagerstown High School. Students who join any of the five academies also join the school with which they are affiliated.

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