Charlotte firefighter technology program gives high-schoolers ‘a head start’
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Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2014

Charlotte firefighter technology program gives high-schoolers ‘a head start’

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/28/13/45/cdlF4.Em.138.jpeg|421
    - KATHLEEN CONROY
    Capt. Kelvin Brim, a 16-veteran with the Charlotte Fire Department, is a certified teacher and oversees the new high school firefighting program that may expand to schools other than Providence High and Butler.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/28/13/45/4S4ag.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - KATHLEEN CONROY
    Jeremy McIver, left, a senior at Providence High School, participates in a pilot partnership between CMS vocational and technical students and the Charlotte Fire Department.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/28/13/45/Uo9nz.Em.138.jpeg|421
    - KATHLEEN CONROY
    Carson Mattachinger, 18, covers his protective mask with black cloth to simulate blinding smoke during a search-and-rescue exercise with fellow students.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/28/13/45/NasBC.Em.138.jpeg|421
    - KATHLEEN CONROY
    Jeremy McIver plans to be a firefighter after graduation and has participated in a public service announcement to encourage other students at Providence High School to register by mid-February for the firefighter curriculum for the 2014-15 school year.
  • Learn more:

    For details about the high school firefighter-training program, contact CMS Career and Technical Education Department at 980-343-5686 or visit www.cms.k12.nc.us.

    For questions about recruitment and hiring, contact the Charlotte Fire Department at 704-336-2979 or email cfdrecruitment@charlottenc.gov.

Somewhere between lunch and a senior English course, Jeremy McIver finds time to don a 50-pound fire suit, join fellow firefighters-in-training at a search-and-rescue simulation at an outdoor mobile classroom and study ropes and knots, ventilation or fire prevention.

And that’s in just one class.

Tough stuff for an 18-year-old Providence High School student just looking to finish his final senior semester.

McIver joins five other male students – one from Butler High School and four from Providence High – in a pilot firefighter technology program.

“I’ve always thought I was going to be a firefighter. I was 4 or 5 when my dream started,” said McIver, who lives near the Arboretum. “I never thought they would actually offer a course like this at my school. It’s really given me a head start.”

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 fire technology as a career.

Capt. Kelvin Brim, a Charlotte Fire Department training professional who also is a licensed North Carolina teacher, teaches the course. The Charlotte Fire Department supplies the curriculum, supplies and equipment, including hands-on access to a fully functional firetruck.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Career and Technical Education Department partnered with the Charlotte Fire Department in August to offer Firefighting Technology I for the first time, and is registering new students in mid-February for the two-semester course. Brim said his department also is hoping to expand to Harding, Garinger and Olympic schools, as well as other schools for the 2014-15 school year and beyond.

Brim said he is pleased with the partnership, as well as the students’ enthusiasm.

“They are doing really, really well and are taking a strong interest in fire service now,” he said. “It benefits the students tremendously, but for us it also creates a pool of possible candidates for future hires.”

Brim, 33, said the city’s demographics means there is always a need for qualified individuals, and his goal is to train young students to meet a need.

“They will get the bulk of their training with this course, but there is a few pieces left to do,” he said.

Entry-level firefighters in Charlotte make about $33,000 to $36,000 per year.

Students who hope to go on to careers as firefighters, like McIver, still need to pass an extensive written exam, participate in a “live burn” and meet other physical requirements.

Brim’s group of students has or will cover a number of topics before May’s graduation. Mini-courses include firefighter safety, forcible entry, fire hose techniques, search and rescue, ventilation, orientation, fire prevention and ladders.

Brim also oversees onsite training using an outdoor mobile trailer as a “burning home.”

During one class, Providence High’s Carson Mattachinger of Matthews, who also hopes to be a firefighter, was loaded down with heavy gear, then “blinded” by smoke, using a black cloth attached to his protective face-mask.

Mattachinger and another masked student entered the trailer on their hands and knees, searching for a “fallen firefighter,” and sliding heavy axes along the floor to help guide them over obstacles.

They talk to each other constantly, sweeping the trailer until they discover their classmate behind a 6-foot table. They each grab an arm and drag him from the trailer. Brim reminds the students to stay low but is pleased with the exercise.

After graduation, McIver and Mattachinger plan to sit for North Carolina’s firefighter certification exam. McIver said he remembers being very young and begging his father to take him to a nearby fire station on Saturdays.

“I know it will never be boring, it will build community relations and really impact lives,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to help people, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Kathleen E. Conroy is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for her? Email her at suprwriter@gmail.com.

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