Flagler Palm Coast High School's Fire Leadership Academy gives students opportunities to ride along with city professionals.
As John Overton tugs a fire hose over his shoulder and take steps toward the training zone outside Palm Coast Fire Station 23, he has to use his whole body to carry its weight.
The 16-year-old Palm Coast resident has aspired to be a first responder for as long as he can remember.
“I’m a Type 1 diabetic,” Overton said. “I have pictures when I was 7 — the year I got diagnosed — where you actually can see me at Fire Station 25, in a bunker coat, fully engulfed.”
As one of the about 125 students in Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Fire Leadership Academy, Overton joined the program in his sophomore year after being exposed to what firefighters do while working as a Flagler County Sheriff’s explorer during his freshman year.
With the school year having just begun, Overton said he’s looking forward to starting the “fire 1” class, which is part of his daily curriculum at FPCHS, taught by Flagler County Fire Rescue instructors.
“It’s an adrenaline rush. I’d say I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.”
- JOHN OVERTON, Fire Leadership Academy student
Beyond in-classroom learning with the county, Overton credits his skillset to the hands-on training he’s gotten to experience with the Palm Coast Fire Department.
“I’m going on my 12th month next month; Sept. 24 is my one year of riding,” he said about ride-alongs with the city’s department. “When I first started, I couldn’t tell you what anything on the truck was. Now I can tell you what everything on the truck is and what it’s used for.”
Over the summer, he would spend 12 hours four days a week at the different fire stations around the city, learning from the professionals. Now that the school year has started — plus his involvement with the Flagler Youth Orchestra and the i3 academy and as a FPC ambassador — he spends Thursdays after school and 12 hours on Saturdays at one of the city’s stations.
“He’s a good kid,” Palm Coast EMT Lt. Jason Wager said. “He’s going places — whether that’s here or with the coppers.”
Overton said he’s gone on countless emergency calls with the firefighters over the last 11 months. His role is usually to grab the life-saving pack and begin checking blood pressure and assisting crews on scene.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Overton said. “I’d say I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.”
Though he is still passionate about law enforcement, the camaraderie of firefighters has inspired him to make the decision to pursue that area of first responding after graduating from high school.
“It’s awesome because I would like to say they’re all my family now,” he said, as he’s gotten to know the firefighters at every station in the city through his training. “I would do anything for them, and I’m sure they’d do anything for me.”
Currently a junior at FPC, Overton will spend the next two school years finishing the certifications he’s allowed to do before turning 18. Once he turns 18, he’ll get the opportunity to do live fire training at the county’s fire tower in Bunnell and then take the state test to become an Emergency Medical Technician.
After that, he wants to stay in Palm Coast and join the department as a professional in the same town he’s lived his whole life.
“I know the area really well, so that’s why I want to stay,” Overton said. “I know the people, so if went to a different county to try and work as a firefighter, I wouldn’t know anyone and I’d be starting new, starting fresh. This way, I already know everybody is comfortable with me; I’m comfortable with them.”