From teaching the basics of saving lives to putting out fires, the South Plains College Fire Academy provides everything needed to become a certified firefighter.
The SPC Fire Academy program started after Lubbock Fire and Rescue stopped holding their own academy around 2001 and started requiring firefighter certification for new job applicants.
“We work very closely with LFR, and they are a big part of our advisory committee for fire technology,” said Matthew Hixon, coordinator and instructor in fire technology for SPC and firefighter for the Lubbock Fire Department. “We have to be sure we’re providing the department with students who have the correct job skills to be successful in the career field.”
The Fire Academy is held at the Lubbock Fire Department Training and Administration Complex on Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hixon explained that the requirements for the academy include filling out a fire academy application and getting a medical physical. Applicants also have to submit TSI scores and documentation of any medical training or prior military service they may have.
In June, everyone who has submitted a completed application also takes a timed physical fitness evaluation. Scores from the written TSI test and the time from the physical test are combined, and the top 25 are selected for the class.
Steve Haily, a retired Fire Chief from Lubbock, serves as an instructor for the academy.
“There’s a tremendous number of hours and subjects that they go through,” explained Haily, who served as a fireman in Lubbock for 30 years.
The Fire Academy is a 25 credit-hour program for two semesters, with more than 672 contact hours.
“We’re learning to become firefighters,” said James Clerk, a fire academy student from Whitney. “We have good instructors that teach us how to fight fire, save victims, and everything we need to know for when we get on a department.”
Students gain the knowledge and hands-on skills needed to pass the Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) basic structural firefighter examination. Once students pass the TCFP, they are certified firefighters.
“They start with the very basics with basically how to put on their PPE, their personal protective equipment,” Haily said.
From there, students move on to becoming familiar with their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
“We do numerous exercises with them putting that air pack on and going through a lot of drills in our smoke house,” said Haily. “They’re in a disorienting atmosphere, and they have to find their way out. And they have to find another firefighter and get them out. We do a tremendous amount of drills on that.”
Students enrolled in the Fire Academy also learn about forcible entry. They learn how to cut holes in roofs and force entry into doors. They learn about ventilation as well, which teaches them how to read the smoke to determine where or how they need to ventilate, and what kind of ventilation they need to use.
“They do salvage and overhaul,” explained Haily. “Which is what we get into on every fire scene once the fire is kind of over. Overhaul is when we go in and make sure we’ve got all the fire out and it’s not going to start back. Salvage is going in and seeing what we can save from a house or a car or whatever it may be.”
During the second semester, they start a hazardous materials curriculum, which includes the live fire portions of the training.
“It’s pretty tough curriculum to go through,” Haily explains. “We’ll start with the liquefied petroleum gas fire. And then we’ll start the house fire, then we actually go out to our airport training pit. They’ll actually put diesel and jet fuel in and the guys will light it, and that will be their Class B flammable pit fire to put out.”
There’s currently 22 students enrolled in the program for this year.
“We’ve got 22 that we’re hoping to graduate in May,” Haily said.
The instructors for the academy are either retired firefighters or work for the Lubbock Fire Department. There are 15 instructors who teach in their off time from being on duty and work for SPC part time.
“Most of my friends are firefighters, and they just kept talking about how great of a job it was and everything,” said Levi Sherrill, a fire academy student from Lubbock. “So they kind of just lead me on this path. I think it’s something I really enjoy doing, learning how to fight fires and save people. Just learning how to be a part of a family.”
The extra costs incurred during the academy for both equipment and consumables such as propane for the live fires are covered by the students’ lab fees. Tuition for the entire year, with lab fees, is about $5,000.
“For me, personally, I enjoy seeing the students progress from having no knowledge of the fire service to the point where we are putting them in gear and taking them in to put out actual fires in LFR’s training building,” Hixson said. “I also love getting emails or texts from students, sometimes years after graduation, to tell me that they got a job with a fire department. It’s very rewarding.”
PHOTOS BY KENDAL RAINER AND AUTUMN BIPPERT