A graduation took place in Sedalia Thursday night, but it wasn’t for high school or college students. It was for the 14 graduates of the first-ever Firefighter 1 and 2 courses hosted by the Sedalia Fire Department.
Recruitment and retention has become an issue for SFD over the last few years, and creating its own training course was one of several solutions.
“We didn’t necessarily start the program to hire out of directly, but over the last several years we have recently had a ton of turnover and recruitment and retention has been a problem,” said program Lead Instructor Daniel Shaw, a driver and operator at SFD. “One we’ve attributed that to is our pay scale was not competitive with other markets. The other big side was the only places to obtain this type of certification was in larger metro areas, so individuals we were hiring … were from the metro and whenever an opening came up close to home, we were losing them to go back home.
“… Our hope is we can train our own community members to the certification levels needed and potentially hire them and keep them at home.”
Students were led by Shaw and 13 SFD instructors for the six-month course that started in mid-September. Shaw said the course was long because classes were every Tuesday and Thursday night plus every other Saturday, allowing students to keep full-time jobs.
Shaw said the 14 students ranged in age from 20 to early 30s and many of them were in the situation that they couldn’t fulfill their desire of a firefighting career because of the logistics of most metro classes, which require a full-time commitment.
“They had this desire for this career field they had interest in, however they were never really afforded the opportunity because of the drawbacks of other programs,” he explained. “Somebody in their early 30s typically has a wife and kids at home and has full-time employment somewhere. To be able to provide what you need for your family and drop everything to take a course just wan’t an option for many of them.”
Student Joseph Parnell, of Sedalia, agreed, saying having a course in Sedalia gave him the opportunity he needed.
“I wanted to change careers, do something that meant something to me, that I could help other people — have an impact on somebody else’s life,” said Parnell, who works at Custom Auto Graphics. “I have two kids and work a full-time job, so to be able to still provide for my family and be able to do this class was great because otherwise I would’ve never been able to do anything like this.”
The course allows SFD to gain new props to train not only the students but active firefighters.
“For this particular class, we built a forceable entry prop but also a vertical ventilation prop,” Shaw said. “It’s not only a huge teaching tool for students but also a great benefit to our on-duty personnel. Once the prop is here it’s reusable, we’re able to use it as a department to hone our skills as well.
“We hope every year able to add one more additional prop to the mix and not only benefit our students but our department and ultimately our community.”
Shaw added that the 13 instructors were aided by on-duty personnel for almost every class. He said they weren’t expecting to need additional help, but personnel were willing each time.
“When it came to the days we were outside performing skills, it took the assistance of many on-duty personnel to assist in instruction, so although they weren’t technically instructors, they were assistance, anything from operating an apparatus so we could set up scenarios to doing some one-on-one stuff to assist individual students with skills they may have some trouble with and need some more assistance,” he said.
Students received training in numerous areas, such as hazardous materials and operations, orientation and history, search and rescue, and ropes and knots. There are 22 chapters in the fire safety side of the course, including vehicle extrication, live burn evolutions — multiple interior structure fighting techniques — propane cylinder fires and vehicle fires; many of those activities must be certified by state evaluators.
Shaw said SFD plans to continue the course as long as they have interest and can meet a minimum of 15 students each time to help them qualify for funding from various organizations. Students must pay for the course themselves, so SFD officials work to keep costs as low as possible.
Parnell said he plans to pursue EMT certification and other firefighter courses.
“Hopefully one of these days I’ll have the chance to work for the Sedalia Fire Department,” he said.
Graduation from the course prepares students to take tests with the State Fire Marshal’s Office to be certified entry-level firefighters and eligible for employment. SFD Deputy Chief Greg Harrell surprised the students during his graduation address Thursday by announcing SFD will be hiring one firefighter in the next few months, and he encouraged the graduates to complete their testing and apply.
For more information about the course, visit Facebook.com/SedaliaFireFightersL103 or visit the SFD section of the City of Sedalia’s website. Those interested in signing up for the next course can submit their email address to receive information about when applications will be available.
Sedalia Firefighter 1 & 2 graduates
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.