- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A group of recruits at the Luther J. Taylor Sr. Fire Safety Training Center is challenged to dress in 65 pounds of gear in less than two minutes.

While their trainer counts down the time in increments of 15 seconds, each recruit claps his - or her - hands when they’re suited up.

Not bad for being just a little more than two months into the program, Assistant Chief John Cortier says.

“When they started,” he says, in the same amount of time, “they couldn’t even get their boots on.”

Especially impressive since these are all high school students.



Thanks to a new partnership between South Bend Community School Corp., Ivy Tech Community College and the South Bend Fire Department, students from the city’s high schools now have the opportunity to take part in a fire science program.

Spending three hours each school day in training, they earn elective high school credit along with industry certifications and related college credit.

In addition to listening to lectures and taking part in traditional learning, the students are learning about climbing on top of buildings, using equipment on firetrucks and cutting holes in roofs. Soon, they’ll take part in emergency scenarios that incorporate all of those - and other - skills.

“I like the action,” Ciara Robinson, an Adams High School junior and fire science recruit, said. “It’s fun.”

Students are chosen for the career and technical education program based on their school attendance, disciplinary history and success at achieving ample high school credits. They also have to pass a physical fitness test.

Jeff Wells’ son, Joseph, is among the South Bend high school recruits.

“I think it’s absolutely great,” Wells said. “It gives them a real opportunity to see what the job actually entails and lets them decide whether to move on” with firefighting as a career.

For Adams senior Stephen Torrijas, that’s something he’s seriously considering, thanks to his experiences in the program.

“It’s not just about firefighting,” he said, “but helping people.” And, he said of the program trainers who are also South Bend firefighters, “they talk all the time about how everybody loves their job and becomes practically family.”

The dual credit fire science program is essentially the same one city firefighter recruits go through, Cortier said.

“They could go on to volunteer departments, other departments and start working,” he said, “depending on the requirements of the department.”

However, program participants interested in working for South Bend’s fire department - where the starting pay for a firefighter is $39,000 annually - will still have to go through traditional recruit school, he said.

The partnership between the schools, Ivy Tech and the fire department makes sense, Cortier said, since the department this year lowered its recruitment age to 18 in an effort to attract more candidates.

“If these kids aren’t going to go to college,” he said, “we don’t want to lose them between high school” and their 21st birthdays.

And if they decide not to become firefighters?

“They came in here as 12 individuals,” Cortier said. “When they leave, they’re going to be best friends.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/21pwqUi

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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