Fire Science

May 4, 2021 is International Firefighters’ Day and Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) is celebrating its Fire Service program and our community of career and volunteer firefighters who help keep us safe.  CATEC’s Fire Service program has spent the last 18 years introducing students to the importance of fire safety and public service.

CATEC’s Fire Service program introduces students to the equipment and procedures necessary to fight live fires, operate in simulated hazardous materials incidents, and conduct search-and-rescue operations. Students react to multi-faceted situations such as accidents, natural disasters, and simulated terrorism as part of an emergency response team. They become familiar with emerging technologies like communications dispatch, geographic information systems mapping, incident reporting, and simulation programs. Each year, students participate in two live burns at the Charlottesville Albemarle Training Ground. Throughout the year, students gain valuable workplace skills necessary to become successful firefighters, including teamwork, critical thinking, public service, research, report writing, and incident management skills. This course challenges students academically, mentally, and physically.

The Fire Service program has dual enrolled agreements with Central Virginia Community College and Piedmont Virginia Community College. Students who successfully complete the program receive 14 college credits towards an Associates Degree in Fire Service Technology, transferrable to many schools in the Virginia Community College System. Students receive college credit in classes that cover principles of fire and emergency services, fire prevention, strategy and tactics, and First Aid and CPR. Additionally, many students undertake junior volunteer firefighter experiences at area fire stations, earning on-the-job training and exposure to the industry outside of the classroom setting.

Students in the Fire Service program earn up to 18 industry credentials that make graduates very marketable. Students sit for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs Firefighter I and II exam, and can earn certifications in Hazardous Materials Operations, Agency Overview, Active Gun Shooter for First Responders, and Introduction to Technical Rescue. Students can also earn Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) certifications in Introduction to Incident Command, National Incident management System, and National Response Framework and Introduction.

Many Fire Service students return to CATEC to participate in its Emergency Medical Technician program, or vice versa. Upon graduation from CATEC, students can continue their fire service educations at local community colleges. Germanna Community College offers a Fire Science Technology certificate and Fire Science Technology Associate of Applied Science. Piedmont Virginia Community College offers courses in Emergency Medical Services Intermediate, Advanced, and Paramedic, the last earning a Career Studies Certificate. And, at Virginia Commonwealth University, students can earn a Bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Annually, during the first week of May, CATEC’s Fire Service program hosts mock panel interviews where students follow the many steps of applying for jobs in the Fire Service. Students fill out lengthy job applications, receive interview invitations, and are interviewed by up to six interviewers, all modeling the actual process for entering the Fire Service industry, a competitive industry with up to 100 applications competing for few positions. This process gives students the opportunity to prepare for the different careers in their industry.

Graduates have many career pathways related to the Fire Service or positions in public service. They can become firefighters who work to control and extinguish fires or respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment are at risk. The projected job growth in Virginia for firefighters shows an 14% increase with higher earnings than the national average. Graduates can also become Arson Investigators who collect evidence, eyewitness accounts, and determine causes of fires. Or, graduates can work as Forestry Fire Prevention Specialists, inspecting forests for potential fire hazards and enforcing fire regulations. Instructor Captain Bobby Elliott estimates at least 30 former students have entered the industry as career or volunteer firefighters.

Additionally, many CATEC Fire Service program graduates enter the military. Captain Elliot estimates at least 15 former students have become service members and at least three alumni have become police offers. Similarly, students can continue their educations by combining their public service interests with academic pursuits outside of the Fire Service. 2018 Emergency Medical Technician and 2019 Fire Service graduate Kenley Woods enrolled at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan in August 2019. Woods is studying Maritime Engineering for four years, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Maritime Technology. He is learning how to efficiently operate and maintain ship engines and support ship machinery. Woods will graduate with his Coast Guard license and will be an Officer, First Engineer. It was at CATEC that Wood was introduced to the school at a career fair. He attributes much of his success to his accomplishments at CATEC, where is earned 24 college credits and certifications in the EMT and Fire Service programs.

Fire Service Program Instructor Captain Elliott, 35-year Fire Service veteran, says the highlight of his long career has been “watching former students become successful in a Fire Service career or as a volunteer firefighter.” And on this May 4th, we wish all of our former and current students, as well as our community of career and volunteer members of our Charlottesville stations who put their lives at risk for the safety of others, a safe and happy day of celebration.

CATEC is a regional technical education center that helps high school students and adults obtain the jobs they seek. Students have opportunities to practice hands-on and work-based learning activities alongside academically-driven curricula. CATEC prides itself on its built-in value, equity-based programs, and contribution to students' learning journeys.