Students in the Blue Valley School District now have the chance for some unique hands-on learning as part of the district’s new fire science program, which launched at the start of the current school year.
On a recent weekday afternoon at Overland Park Fire Training Center, 15 juniors and seniors from all five of the district’s high schools took part in a lesson about dealing with hazardous materials.
The day consisted of the students assessing a mysterious looking barrel for potential signs of hazardous materials. They also suited up in hazmat attire to learn how to be properly hosed down after being potential exposure to dangerous chemicals.
That class turned out to be a typical day in the life of students enrolled in the program, which comes through a partnership between the school district and the Overland Park Fire Department.
Everyday, these student take normal classes in the morning at their designated high school before heading to the training center for an afternoon of fire science education.
“We are always looking for opportunities for ways to allow kids to explore career paths or interests that they may have that we can’t or don’t offer in a current traditional high school setting,” Blue Valley director of career-ready programs Adam Wessel said.
The students train where professional firefighters in Overland Park train, and their teachers are members of the city fire department.
For their first semester, students will complete a hazardous materials course and an intro to public safety course.
Next semester, their focus will shift to emergency medical science, where students will take courses like first aid and CPR.
Starting in. August 2022, current juniors in the program will take two courses on how to be a firefighter, completing the two-year program.
The ultimate goal of the program is to graduate job-ready firefighters and emergency medical technicians by the time they finish high school, Andrew Bobka fire medic and lead instructor for the program said.
In order to achieve this goal, Bobka said all that is currently missing from the program “is just a little bit on the emergency medical side.”
He said he hopes the program will be certification ready within the next couple of years.
Fire science program are not new to the Johnson County area. Both Shawnee Mission and Olathe have already implemented their own programs in recent years, but Blue Valley says their new program has something different.
“We are aligned with Johnson County Community College (JCCC), so that our students can take this for college credit,” Wessel said.
Paid by the district through the Blue Valley Education Foundation, that college credit fire science students earn is what will eventually allow them to test for their certification right after graduating high school.
Wessel said Blue Valley is the only local fire science program that offers that.
The program does not just benefit the students either. Overland Park Fire Department media manager Jason Rhodes said it also is helping local fire departments, which are facing a dwindling pool of candidates each year.
“JCCC regularly pushes out about 24 new recruits each year, and that is just not enough for the area,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said the potential new recruits gained from this program could go a long way.
AJ Reed, a senior at Blue Valley North currently going through the program, said he encourages other students in the district to consider it.
“It’ll let you know if you wanted to be a firefighter or not,” Reed said. “In the end, it’s just a great experience.”
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