A group of 11 candidates recently put their endurance and agility skills to the test to become the first students to enter HCISD’s new Firefighters Academy. A total of 24 students will be accepted in the academy’s inaugural year.
Under the careful supervision of Harlingen firefighters and the watchful eye of emergency medical technicians, students tackled tasks like a 1 1/2 mile run, lifting and carrying a 60-pound ladder, climbing a 12-foot ladder, a stairway climb, and a 125-pound dummy rescue — all while wearing firefighter protective gear and attire.
“It was a great experience because we got an idea of what firefighters do. I especially liked that the Harlingen Fire Department was there guiding us and helping us,” said Avianna Ayala, a sophomore at Harlingen High School. “The toughest part for me was the stairway climb. Going back down with a hose on my shoulders, placing that down, and then going to the next test where we pulled a 125-pound dummy — that was the hardest part because I was already so tired. But it’s nothing we can’t do.”
Ayala, who just met Harlingen’s first female firefighter, Bree Rios, hopes to carry on the trailblazer’s legacy and prove she can take on the challenge of working in a male-dominated field.
“I recently met Bree Rios, and she was really nice,” she said. “I’m glad I have someone like her to look up to. She’s doing things that male firefighters do. It’s really cool for me because it makes me feel like I belong, too. I like what she’s done.”
HHS sophomore Anthony Rodriguez, who hopes to become a firefighter in the U.S. Navy, didn’t let an injury he experienced two days before hold him back from completing the course.
“The challenging part for me, because of my hand injury, was dropping down the rope for the hose. I could bring up the rope quickly, but dropping it down without using all my fingers was a struggle,” Rodriguez said.
With a heart for saving lives, both students have already had first-hand experiences where they have had to act to render aid to someone in trouble.
“I recently got CPR and lifeguard certified with the City of Harlingen. When I was going to get my certification, water aerobics classes were taking place at the pool,” Ayala said. “Suddenly, one of the ladies looked like she couldn’t breathe. My best friend who was with me pointed it out, and we took her out of the water and helped her breathe. She had fainted in the water. She could have easily drowned if no one else was around to help her.”
“I want to help save lives,” Rodriguez said. “Earlier this year, a woman fainted at PetSmart, and I helped make sure she was OK. I checked her breathing, and I checked her pulse. I checked to see if she was going into shock, but she wasn’t, she had just fainted. She woke up and fainted again. I got ahold of one of the workers and asked them to call for an ambulance. My mother showed me some things, like how to check vital signs. It really helped me out in that situation. It was a bit stressful, but I just found that focus to what I had to do.”
In the new program, made possible through a partnership between HCISD and the Harlingen Fire Department, these students will have the opportunity to earn 468 hours of credit towards two certifications — Basic Structure Fire Suppression and First Responder — while gaining hands-on experience in the field.
“The Firefighters Academy curriculum is geared toward preparing students to take the Texas basic fire certification exam,” said Raul Alvarez, director of career and technical education. “When students pass their examination, they will be eligible for employment as an entry-level firefighter at any fire department in Texas. Students also have the option, once they become certified firefighters, to attend a vocational college to take firefighter courses free of charge.”
Starting in ninth grade, students will take courses in principles of law, public safety, and corrections and security. After taking law enforcement 1 during their sophomore year, students interested in becoming a firefighter will apply to the academy.
HCISD will launch six new academies featuring career and technical education courses of high-demand career tracks. Hands on training, skill development, and educational achievement are all part of the unique experiences students will receive through these exciting district opportunities.
To learn more about HCISD Academies, visit http://www.hcisd.org/enroll/academies