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Opening months of South Alberta Fire Rescue Academy going strong

Posted on October 12, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Anna Smith

The South Alberta Fire Rescue Academy in Bow Island is only about one month into it’s pilot year, but the consensus is clear; they’ve lit a fire for their students that won’t be going out so easily.

For this inaugural year, the academy has seven students, a number that’s both more than they expected and still perfect in regards to allowing each student the individual attention they need when learning such highly specialized and potentially dangerous information.

“We were prepared to run this program with two students,” said Andy Phillips, the instructor for the program. Phillips has been a teacher at Senator Gershaw School for 18 years, and was a volunteer firefighter for 10 of those years.

“Mr. Angle our principal approached me in January when he asked. He told me about this academy, this fire academy starting up and asked me if I would be willing to be a part of it,” said Phillips. “We were riding the chairlift; we were on a ski trip at the time with our high school kids. He asked me the question at the bottom of the chairlift. And I said, I told him, I would need a bit of time to think about it. And by the time we were halfway up the hill, I told him that I would do it.”

In this first month, they’ve covered things such as how to start generators, don personal protective equipment, and some of the foundational building blocks they’ll build on over the rest of their high school careers.

“Coming up there, they’re going to start talking about fire dynamics. So they’re going to learn about fire behaviour. We have students in our shop at our school that are building doll houses. And then what we’ll do is we’ll burn these doll houses a few times and show the kids how fire will behave through a house,” said Philips.

The program has been met with enthusiasm from the students so far, with those such as grade 10 Graeme Hofmann adding that while this was a new potential career path for them, he plans to see it through to graduation and beyond.

“I thought that it would be just really interesting. I know that my dad was a volunteer fireman for a little bit before I was born. And then I just thought that would be really cool. I’d be opening doors for my future,” said Hofmann. He added that it’s currently the subject he’s most invested in at school, and that he looks forward to everything he’s learned so far; even the weight training, which has so far been a challenge.

“Mr. Phillips is pretty good,” added Hofmann. “It’s been going really well. They were learning lots of things. And they have lots of drills. They’re very organized. And we get a lot of cool stuff along with it.”

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