It all started in 2016, as an eight-week after-school program for seniors. The after-school program’s purpose at the time was to scout out potential new hires to fill in gaps within the City of Richland’s roster at the fire department. After a promising start, Richland High School’s (RHS) principal at the time, Dr. William Sutton, was interested in putting the program inside the school full time to give students another career path to explore. In 2017, the Fire Academy was officially established and began providing fire science skill instruction in earnest.
Many fire departments do host after-school programs in the State of Mississippi, or what are referred to as junior firefighter programs, but many of those are geared towards younger kids, usually under the age of twelve. There are also law and public safety courses offered within school districts that provide a firefighter portion, but typically two weeks of instruction total area dedicated to fire service. To date, RHS is the only fire academy of its kind, offered by a public school district in the state.
The RHS program has been designed as a two-year program for students in tenth grade and above. They utilize classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations to provide students with a foundation in fire science.
Ashley Hinton, Student Services Coordinator with Rankin County School District, assists the academy’s CTE (Career Technical Education) teachers during the early spring semester with recruiting. Recruiting allows the academy an opportunity to share information about all of the CTE programs with the student body at RHS while facilitating an increase in enrollments. They reach out through school social media posts, school announcements, preview nights for parents and students, and in-class visits. Since 2017, the number of students enrolled in the Fire Academy has grown. They hope to have over twenty students matriculated by 2022.
Hinton is a 2003 graduate of RHS and has been employed with the City of Richland since 2004. Starting out as an emergency telecommunicator, she was eventually transferred to the fire department at the age of twenty-one. She currently holds the rank of Captain and has been the lead instructor since the academy's inception.
New facility allows RHS Fire Academy room to grow
Among many things, 2021 will be remembered as the first year Richland High School’s (RHS) Fire Academy had full access to a facility dedicated to its program. The new building on the RHS campus was part of a Rankin County School District bond issue, and it provides classrooms for the Fire Academy, Business Academy, and many other academic classrooms. Prior to the opening of the new building in August 2021, the fire classes were held in a portable classroom. The new classroom has opened up new possibilities for instruction and improved the overall experience of the Fire Academy.
In addition to a classroom measuring at 3200 square feet, they now have enough equipment to outfit thirteen students with gear and three Conex boxes (shipping containers) used to simulate fire ground operations, such as fire suppression, search and rescue, confined space rescue, rope rescue, vehicle extrication, and forcible entry. Currently, there are fourteen students enrolled in the one-of-a-kind program.
The Richland Fire Department has played an integral part in the success of the equipment donations, as well as full access to manpower, equipment, and apparatus. The success of the program can be attributed, in part, to their dedication and support, as well as the support received from the City of Richland itself.
Instructors include Micah Sanford and Corey Adams, both Richland High School graduates and full-time members of the Richland Fire Department. As far as curriculum, a typical daily schedule consists of instructions beginning with a quick skill as an ice breaker for the day. This is followed by thirty to forty-five minutes of classroom instruction, eventually moving on to actual hands-on training. Unique to RHS’s program, hands-on training is a critical and essential part of the training to prepare students for a future in firefighting.
Students who express an interest in the fire academy may join the two-year program as sophomores. All students are eligible to take the class, but it is important to note that the program is physically demanding. Whatever challenges and abilities each student brings to the program, the instructors take into account, modifying instruction if needed so that they receive the best-individualized learning experience.
Since its inception, the fire academy has received the prestigious Mississippi Association of Partners in Education Partnership of Excellence Award a total of three times, in 2017, 2020, and 2021.
The RHS Fire Academy has graduated approximately forty students overall. Graduates have gone on to become professionals in a wide array of first-responder specialties, including full-time firefighters, EMT-basics, EMT-paramedics, law enforcement officers, and emergency telecommunicators. A few were even inspired to join the military.
Looking to the future, the academy intends on continuing to build on the program. Their hope is to partner with the state fire academy for potential skills testing and certification, as well as to expand the curriculum to include emergency medical training (EMT) to students who qualify.
For more information about the program, visit www.rcsd.ms/about-rcsd/academies.