HCC fire science program blazing with opportunity

By Ryan Christner
Hutchinson News – April 27, 2015

Vinyl wrap photos of firefighters are featured on the exterior of the new HCC Fire Science Building as seen on Sunday, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lindsey Bauman.

Vinyl wrap photos of firefighters are featured on the exterior of the new HCC Fire Science Building as seen on Sunday, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lindsey Bauman.

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Out with the old; in with the new.

During a joint ceremony Sunday afternoon, Hutchinson Community College recognized student scholars and soon-to-graduate members of its honors program while dedicating its new fire science training center.

Students, their families, school staff, regional fire personnel and community leaders packed the dominating red and gray metal structure, located along East Fourth Avenue on the Hutchinson Fire Department’s training grounds, as they heard messages honoring the past while looking forward to the future.

Fire science courses were first offered during the 1974-75 academic year, HCC President Carter File told the audience, and during the 40 years since, “it’s grown into one of the premier fire science programs in the country.”

During its first year, the program saw an enrollment of just nine students, said Bobby White, fire science coordinator. More than 100 full-time students are involved today, and about 200 are taking at least one class within the program.

Through regular courses and special training sessions, the program has an international reach, White said. But one of the biggest potential impacts could be seen locally.

While details are still being worked on, both File and Hutchinson Fire Chief Kim Forbes told the crowd of plans to put fire science students into Hutchinson fire stations through an internship program that could lead to their direct hiring upon graduation.

“That is a heck of an opportunity,” Forbes said.

By placing one qualified student with each of the three crews assigned to the seven fire stations in town, up to 21 students could be affected by the effort.

“The vision is to incorporate them as much as possible into the daily operations of that station,” White said following the ceremony. “They’re going to get as realistic a view as possible for what its like to work in a fire station.”

Already, White estimates 40 to 50 percent of HFD’s current staff are graduates of the fire science program. Ask the head of any fire department in Reno or surrounding counties, he said, and you’ll get glowing reports.

“They’ll tell you, they love our guys,” White said. “That’s something we like to do. Let’s make good firefighters and let’s do it better than anybody else.”

As some in attendance wandered throughout the facility’s many classrooms to watch as the scholars give presentations on their honors projects, many others took tours of training and storage areas.

Included on the tour was a room designated for search and rescue drills. While its still a work in progress, a full-scale two-story, three-bedroom house has been constructed inside. Smoke, lights and sound can be implemented through a control center to recreate the conditions inside a burning structure.

“We want to create the stimulus; we want to stress them and see how they’re going to react,” White said.

The room also comes equipped with obstacles like tunnels and a collapsing floor, as well as a space where students can utilize a chainsaw to simulate entering a home through the roof.

Construction on the new building was finished in December 2014, and since classes began in January, students have amassed a total of 1,800 credit hours inside the facility, according to White.

But in addition to teaching future firefighters, White said he hopes the building can serve the needs of outside organizations. Already, a group from the Kansas Department of Education has utilized the site’s classrooms and large multipurpose room to host a meeting. And equipment manufacturers could be welcomed in to demonstrate new technologies.

“I think we’re positioned well for the future,” White said.

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