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Local teens receive a different kind of training

Providence High School student Bryson Estridge always knew he wanted to become a firefighter after graduation.

So it was a no brainer for the south Charlotte senior to enroll in a new course offered by the school and Charlotte Fire Department based around firefighter technology.

“It’s the first year for the program, and it’s just really good. I think just as a career, firefighting is something a lot of people tend to overlook,” Bryson said. “Now, we have class everyday and when I graduate, I’ll mostly be finished with my certification, so that’s a huge advantage. Plus, this class on my application for Charlotte Fire Department will look really good.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Career and Technical Education Department partnered with the Charlotte Fire Department to start a pilot firefighter technology program at Providence. The program, which currently has five Providence students and one Butler student, started at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year and is already looking to expand for the second semester, which starts later this month. The program is a statewide partnership between the office of the state fire marshal, local fire departments and school districts in an effort to increase access for high school students interested in firefighting as a career.

Capt. Kelvin Brim with the Charlotte Fire Department’s training division teaches the course. He’s been with the department for 16 years and holds an associate degree in fire protection, a bachelor’s degree in fire safety and engineering, a master’s degree in fire administration and a North Carolina Instruction certification. He first started working with CMS students through the department’s summer academy program for teenagers, a condensed version of training Charlotte fire recruits receive. That program helped pave the way for the pilot program at Providence.

“My department knows me as the guy who works with the high school students and the kids,” Brim said. “I remember when I was young like them looking to get into the fire service. I wish I would have had someone there to answer questions and give me guidance. I want to be that person for these students.”

The six students in Brim’s course meet daily and spend time both in and out of the classroom, many times dressed in full gear and working with equipment such as the fully functional fire truck provided by Charlotte Fire Department. The truck is available to Brim and his students, compliments of The Arboretum-area Station 39, whenever needed.

Brim said the pilot program has been really successful so far at Providence, and students are learning valuable skills that he hopes they’ll put to good use – maybe even here at home.

“The ultimate goal is eventually for them to earn their North Carolina certification. They’ll get the bulk of the training here,” Brim said, adding to finish up the certification, some training will most likely still be required after graduation. “If they are serious about becoming firefighters, the knowledge, skills and abilities that they are going to get here will really prepare them moving forward and will make them more attractive candidates for hire.”

Brim said the Charlotte Fire Department is fully on board with potential expansion of the program, including Chief Joe Hannan who is known for his emphasis on finding home-grown firefighters, Brim said. The department is happy to help cultivate future hires who already are invested in the Charlotte community – that’s where they live, eat, shop and work, Brim said.

Talks of expansion have already begun, with the program potentially spreading to other area high schools, maybe Harding or Garinger, for the 2015-16 school year.

“We don’t know what it’s going to look like just yet, but (Hannan) is really interested in exploring the program and getting out to the other schools,” Brim said. “Not everyone can do what we do, but I truly believe these boys will be excellent firefighters one day.”


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