The day a firefighter has nothing left to learn is the day they retire, but here at the District 51 Fire Academy everyone is learning what it takes, and teaching what it takes. Fire Chief Charles Balke with the Clifton Fire Department says, “We’re here for the community, and if we can do something, we should do something.”
He started fighting fires at the age of 15 in southern Arizona, and the fire he has in is heart for the profession lead to an idea that started a year ago, which is now the District 51 Fire Academy. The fire academy is new, but the qualities that make a firefighter are nothing new. “Integrity, honesty, dedication, hardworking, and self-sacrificing,” Balke said.
The students in the program come from both Central and Palisade High Schools, and they have all the qualities. Deputy Chief, Joe White says, “This is no different than any of our other academies. We constantly send them through all kinds of evolutions. Making sure that they’re doing everything safe, and that they’re able to do everything right.”
The number one lesson taught to these aspiring firefighters is that teamwork saves lives. Andrea Bolton is the Career & College Readiness teacher at D51 who’s partnered with the Clifton Fire Department, and knows how important teamwork can be in the workplace. “They just need to be willing to learn, willing to get their hands dirty, willing to follow direction, and willing to work as a team,” Bolton said.
February is Career and Technical Education month, and the goal of this particular program is to shape a small group of students who can come straight out of high school and right into the firefighting workforce. “They’re going to finish with a firefighter one certification,” Bolton said.
The D51 Fire Academy has only 12 slots available for the fall semester so, talk to your school counselor to sign up.
Dhief Balke says there’s a new memorandum of understanding that went into effect February 1, merging both the Clifton Fire and Palisade Fire Departments into one team better serving and protecting the Western Slope, and these students could make great future fire crew members.