Student Firefighter Program
In 1996, the Department of Public Safety began a partnership with Rogue Community College to train students enrolled in either the Fire Science or Emergency Medical Technology Associate Degree programs at the college. The goal was to provide an opportunity for students to receive real life training in the areas of firefighting and emergency medical services.
The City of Grants Pass provides all equipment and reimburses the students who meet a certain criteria for tuition and books. In return, the students work ten, 24-hour shifts per month at one of the City's fire stations. The program started in 1996 with three students. In 1999 that number grew to 6. In 2006 that number grew to 9. The program became known as the Student Firefighter Program and has been a huge success with many students going on to full time, paid positions in the fire or emergency medical service (EMS) fields.
Currently, 33% of our paid firefighters graduated from our student firefighter program. Most students either get hired during the program or within 2 years after completion of the program.
How to Become a Student Firefighter
To enter the program, a student must apply through a competitive process as space in the program is limited. Once accepted into the program, they are enrolled at Rogue Community College and a plan of coursework is outlined to achieve their Associates Degree in either Fire Science or Paramedicine. Students must carry at least 9 credits per term, maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average and are eligible to be reimbursed for up to 18 credits per term and up to $750.00 dollars per year for books.
What It Means to Be a Student Firefighter
Each student is assigned to a paid firefighter who becomes their mentor and trainer for the next 2 years. In addition to learning firefighting and EMS skills, students develop and build interpersonal relationship skills by living and working in the same environment as the paid firefighters. This gives them some insight into what it really means to work as a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT). Some people are not cut out to work the 24-hour shift schedule and some find that they have a low tolerance for some of the types of calls firefighters respond to.
Firefighters must be able to quickly size up a situation and determine a plan of action which often as not impacts someone's possessions or even their life. Firefighters must be able to work in hot environments and confined spaces often with limited visibility. EMTs are required to deal with life threatening medical emergencies. A high level of physical fitness is required to perform the tasks required for the job.
As a department, our goal is to find those students who have a strong work ethic and the skills and abilities to move forward into a full time paid position as they become available. Many other fire departments and EMS services have benefited from our student firefighter program by hiring them as they complete our program. In fact, several other departments after seeing the success of our program have started their own Student Firefighter Programs.
Much of the first year of the program focuses on developing firefighting, technical rescue, EMS skills, learning department SOP's and regulations with a heavy emphasis on safety. During the second year students essentially function side-by-side with the paid firefighters and their skills are evaluated on a daily basis to hone and refine what they have learned during the previous 12 months. During this time they receive training on apparatus operation and driving, but are not allowed to actually drive the large fire engines to emergencies.
Success For All Involved
This successful program has contributed to providing a high level of service to our community while at the same time helping to control costs. It provides us with a pool of well trained and enthusiastic firefighters at a very low cost to the tax payers. In addition and maybe most important it provides an opportunity for our local young adults to pursue a career in their hometown, while performing service to their community.