10/31/2003 12:00 AM
Many Texas citizens depend on volunteer firefighters to protect their lives and property and those firefighters depend on TEEX for training. In the United States, Texas is a leader in providing volunteer fire protection, and second only to Pennsylvania in the number of volunteer firefighters.
But becoming a Texas volunteer firefighter is harder work than most people assume. Many volunteers have full-time jobs and families to care for outside of firefighting. Yet somehow, in the busy course of their lives, they make time to answer fire and rescue calls as a service to their community.
Thousands of these men and women are trained by TEEX’s Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI) at the Annual Texas Fire Training Schools in College Station, but many can’t afford to leave their homes and jobs to travel across Texas for a week-long training school. To reach out to those firefighters, ESTI offers extension classes and area schools where the roles are reversed and the instructors go to the students.
Through the extension schools, volunteers can receive the training they need in new firefighting techniques, new combustible materials and new equipment—information that can lower their risk of injury or even death. More than 14,000 firefighters are trained at TEEX extension classes and schools annually, for a total of more than 212,000 hours in training.
“We meet a lot of interesting people,” said Ken King, ESTI extension instructor for the East Texas area. “We meet the customer where they live, on their home turf, and teach them classes. Because they pay state taxes, they don’t get charged for the schools. They can actually see how their tax money is being spent.”
There are eight ESTI extension instructors, who individually teach an average of 50 extension classes and schools a year for both paid and volunteer firefighters. Instructors coordinate and teach schools based on schedules that they coordinate, and serve in an advisory role to many community fire departments.
“The number of towns that we go to varies from instructor to instructor,” said King. “Each extension school takes three to five days to complete and that includes all the driving and teaching.
“There’s 52 weeks in a year; and we teach about 50 classes and spend five weeks in College Station for the Annual Schools. We call ourselves the Road Warriors and Jedi Knights because we’re on the road so much,” he said.
TEEX offers 35 National Fire Academy-approved firefighting classes that are free to participating departments. They are then responsible only for travel, lodging and bunker gear. ESTI is striving to provide training for these volunteers so that all have the best knowledge and skills available to perform their duties.
“It’s an enjoyable job; you’re not tied down to a desk or office, you’re on the road, on your own and meeting a lot of nice and highly dedicated individuals who are interested in their community and their people,” said King. “Most of the firefighters we meet are volunteers, doing it on their own time and with no compensation—I really admire them for that.”