When most people think of firefighters, they conjure up images of what they have seen in movies, but beyond that, many in the general public don’t know what all goes into fighting fires.
The Citizen Fire Academy was founded to provide citizens with an understanding of what the fire department does in the community.
“Most people’s vision of what a firefighter does is based on a Hollywood idea,” said Mark Runge, Central County Fire and Rescue Battallion Chief .
“The program gives the real essence of what it is we really do,” Runge said.
The program does not prepare citizens to become firefighters or put them in any dangerous situations. Instead, it was created to let citizens know what the department does through carefully planned simulated emergencies.
In fact, programs like Citizen Fire Academy can serve as a way to teach the public to be proactive in fire safety by giving them a hands-on view of the job.
“Typically fire departments have been reactive, as cultures change, the expectation of fire departments also changes, making today’s fire department proactive,” Runge said.
Runge went on to say that part of the way changes occur are through public education, such as teaching in schools, and through other measures such as preventing fires with code enforcements.
The chief said there are many epiphanies experienced throughout the class, but said the first one typically occurs in the second class, which is when students learn about the search and rescue process of firefighting.
“What’s amazing to me is the epiphany that citizens go through,” he said of the class.
Runge said during the second class, students participate in an exercise that simulates rescuing victims from a burning building. He said first students use the "old school method" of finding fire victims, by crawling on the floor of a smoke-filled area with zero visibility doing blind sweeps by hand. Once the pupils get a feel for that, they get to use a thermal imaging camera which measures infra red body heat and finds victims in the smoke.
“The smoke is non toxic and there’s no danger, the building is not going to collapse, the way it could during a real fire, but students come away with respect for what these guys have to do,” he said of the academy students.
Other things students will learn while attending the academy are rescues during a simulated car crash, and students get to use equipment to pull simulated victims out of cars.
Upon completion of the seven-week course, a graduation ceremony is given to the students while they are in their turn-out gear. Students receive a diploma, as well as two portraits, one is a group shot taken in front of fire pits, and one is taken alone with an axe or some other type of tool.
There are two academies a year, one in the spring and another in the fall, while the spring class has been full for a while, Runge said fall’s date hasn’t been picked yet.
For more information on the Citizen’s Fire Academy, visit their website or call 636-970-9700.