The four-year program will give students the credentials to get hired by the fire department right out of high school.
For a student like Alexander Lesassier, a tenth-grader at Flagler Palm Coast High School, the district's new Fire Leadership Academy is a dream come true.
Lesassier, who wants to become a certified paramedic in the future, hopes the opportunity means he could have a job waiting for him right out of high school.
"I pray that everything will go off well and I have faith that by the time I graduate, I'll have everything in my hands," said Lesassier.
That's the hope of school and municipal leaders who brought the idea of a fire academy to life over the past year and a half.
"I think it's a great idea -- we're going to be keeping kids who are interested in fire and emergency service a chance to stay here at home and give back to their communities," said Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle.
On March 8, the new home of the FPCHS Fire Leadership Academy was officially unveiled to the public on the high school campus. Attending the event were the 50 students who are enrolled in the first cohort of the academy, district administrators, firefighters from departments across Flagler County, and Mike Tucker, bureau chief of the Florida State Fire College.
The four-year program is taught by certified fire trainers, who are also employed locally by city and county fire departments. Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito worked with educators, particularly FPCHS Principal Dustin Sims, to ensure the curriculum matched up not only to state fire-fighting standards but also state educational guidelines and district credit requirements.
The academy will focus on leadership development and skills including first responder models; personal protective equipment; use of ropes, tools and equipment; use of fire streams; and fundamentals of extinguishment and rescue procedures, including CPR certification.
Students will be taught the history of fire service, as well as its specialties and career pathways. Graduates of the program will be eligible to sit for a state fire certification test and also to work toward EMT certification.
The goal of the program is to provide job-ready firefighters who will be trained to work and live in Flagler County.
"They can walk out the door with a job," said Sims.
The jobs are there, according to Beadle.
Beadle said his department lost 30 firefighters over the last six years due to openings that became available closer to firefighters' hometowns, including Jacksonville and Orange County.
"It's become tough to fill positions and keep people here," said Beadle. "They put in their time here and then they go home."
Beadle and other municipal leaders hope the new fire training program for local high-schoolers will encourage more young people to consider a career in fire service and stay here in the area to work.
Any high school student in the Flagler district is eligible to apply for the Fire Leadership Academy. While the 50 slots for this year are filled, another 50 will open up in the fall.