ST. PETERSBURG — Whether they’re running toward burning buildings to subdue a voracious inferno or rescuing trapped victims from dangerous situations, firefighters have long been regarded as stout souls who are ready and willing to risk the highest levels of danger to save lives.
The St. Pete campus of Pinellas Technical College (PTC) offers its Fire Fighting Apprenticeship program for those who want to develop the skill and knowledge of fire prevention and suppression.
“We have 120 apprentices in over three programs in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Hernando Counties,” explained Program Coordinator Darrin Anderson. “PTC provides the instructors that provide the instruction to the apprentices.”
Anderson said that there are close to 30 instructors that provide training in this three-year program, which is comprised of 6,000 on-the-job training hours. The various instructors provide instruction at the actual department sites.
“When a fire apprentice comes on a job, they have an orientation period,” Anderson said, and that period can last anywhere from four to 10 weeks. You don’t want to take a firefighter straight off the street, put him on a truck and say, ‘Go for it!’”
There is a defined level of training that the program provides to apprentices, Anderson said. Their orientation training includes work with ground ladders, fire hoses, fire streams, search and rescue and rapid intervention, among other things. They also learn how to use heart monitors in Emergency Medical Service (EMS) training and are put through a Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course as well.
“We have an outline of all the subject areas that are covered within that program,” he explained, “and they are taking all that before they go out on accompanies. Once they go out on accompanies, then they are evaluated on a quarterly basis during the apprenticeship.”
Apprentices must be employed by the St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Department, the Pinellas Park Fire Department or the Hernando County Fire Rescue Department. They must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent and also be a non-user of tobacco for at least a year prior to date of application. Though the minimum age for an apprentice is 18, there is no maximum age.
“There’s people that get in the program at 18 and there’s people that get in at 35,” Anderson stated. “You can walk in at 50 years old. You just have to meet the individual department requirements to be hired with that department for the apprenticeship program. PTC doesn’t pick the candidate, the department does.”
Upon completion of the program, apprentices receive a certificate from the State of Florida Department of Education stating that they have completed the program, Anderson said.
“They are full-fledged firefighters when they come into the program,” he explained, “as they’ve been through the fire academy. But even if they’ve been to the fire academy it may take two or three years to get a job, and the skills are not adequate to perform life-saving work, so that’s why we put them through these orientations. This is fine tuning their skills through an apprenticeship.”
Anderson, who has been a program coordinator with PTC for eight years, said it is fantastic program for firefighters to participate in and apprentices may get paid more at the completion of the program.
“It’s a program where a firefighter can get out of the academy, get on to a job and become a journeyman firefighter,” he averred. “And that certificate you get from the state of Florida means something. If you were to take that certificate to another department that participates in the fire apprenticeship program, then you’re showing a level of competency where they could put you right at a higher step of the pay scale. So you don’t start out as an entry level employee because you’ve shown that level of competency.”
In every way, Anderson feels the PTC program provides excellent training to participants in honing their valuable skills of firefighting.
“It’s a great program for the departments that are in it to watch their apprentices become professional firefighters,” he said.
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available.