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Charlotte Fire Department to train its own; CPCC cuts $300K service

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

After nearly three decades, Central Piedmont Community College has stopped offering introductory courses to Charlotte firefighters, meaning the city will have to foot the $300,000 annual bill to train recruits.

The new expense constitutes a nearly 27 percent increase in the fire department’s training budget, according to city estimates.

“We’ve enjoyed a relationship with CPCC for over 30 years,” said Deputy Chief Richard Granger. “The game just changed.”

For 27 years, the community college and the state covered the cost of basic firefighter training, an intensive 26-week process during which firefighters learn everything from how to use breathing equipment and fireproof suits to using the jaws of life to rip open crumpled cars.

The Charlotte Fire Department hires between 30 and 40 people a year, a number that can vary based on retirements and expansion. CPCC also covered the cost of some training that firefighters are required to undergo every year.

But an audit by the community college system last year said the Charlotte Fire Department was big enough to pay for its own training.

“They told us that our training supplanted what the fire department could offer,” said Jeff Lowrance, a CPCC spokesman. “And since the fire department could do their training we would not be allowed to do so.”

It’s the cost of being big. Lowrance said community colleges across the state will continue to provide basic training for smaller fire departments.

“In lots of places across the state, the fire departments are small and they do not have the ability to do that training,” Lowrance said.

But larger cities like Durham pay for their own training.

“We foot the bill for everything,” said Andy Sannipoli, assistant chief for the Durham Fire Department, who says it’s been that way for the 17 years he’s been with the department. “We do all the training, and the instructors are all ours. We have a training staff. And folks in the field are state-certified.”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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