fire3

Harleton High School firefighter instructor Eresmo Lopez, left, helps senior Clay Floyd with his gear Friday at the school.

HARLETON — A program that allows high school seniors to become certified firefighters through a partnership with the Kilgore College Fire Academy has added students in Upshur, Harrison and Anderson counties and expanded to another Gregg County school district.

Pine Tree High School, Big Sandy High School, Palestine High School and Harleton High School started the dual-credit program this year. They join Sabine High School, where the program is in its second year.

The program allows students to spend a year studying and obtaining skills needed to become a certified firefighter in Texas before heading to the college’s academy in July for a 10-day boot camp.

If the students pass the yearlong course then pass the 10-day physical skills boot camp at Kilgore College, they’re off to take their Texas Commission on Fire Protection exam to become a certified Texas firefighter.

In Harleton, the program is being offered through the Career and Technology Education program. It’s free for the three seniors taking part there, thanks to Harleton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Harper, who paid for the students and is seeking a reimbursement grant from the state.

As part of the grant, the students now are part of the Harleton Volunteer Fire Department and will help out by cleaning equipment, lugging hoses, inspecting equipment and other tasks this year.

The three seniors taking in the new class at the high school are Clay Floyd, Karson Evans and Tyler Oregero, who became interested after Fire Academy Director Mike Simmons made a presentation at the school.

“Before Mr. Simmons came and did the presentation, I was looking into becoming a firefighter after graduation, now I can get a jump on that and then I’d like to go on and become a firefighter paramedic,” Oregero said Friday. “I can work on becoming a paramedic in between the time until I turn 21 because Longview Fire Department begins hiring at 21.”

Floyd said he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do after high school graduation, so when Simmons gave his presentation he thought he’d check it out. Now, the class has ignited a passion in him for firefighting.

Evans talked the idea over with his dad this spring and decided he’d give it a shot.

“I didn’t really have plans for after high school,” Evans said. “I saw the presentation for the program, and now it’s kind of saved my life.”

Harleton High School firefighter program instructors Eresmo Lopez, Dusty Burks and Cody Corrin said the students have a mixture of class time, video lectures and hands on learning.

If the students choose to attend Kilgore College for their associate degree after high school, they’ll take 23 credit hours with them from the high school firefighter program towards that degree, Simmons said.

They’ll also receive a firefighter exemption for tuition, making their education free.

“There are also about 40 other universities in Texas that recognize the firefighter exemption for tuition, so they could potentially earn their bachelor’s degree tuition-free,” Simmons said.

Harleton High School Principal Crystal Newman said she’s excited for the program and what it means for her students.

“Our curriculum director heard about this program at a conference and we thought it would be a great idea,” Newman said Friday. “University and college after high school isn’t for everybody, so this gives those students the skills to go directly into the workforce making a good income, with good benefits and in a career that helps serve the community as well.”