Dozen learn to fight flames in N.C. town's first fire academy since 1993


By Meiling Arounnarath
The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina) 
Copyright 2006 The News and Observer

He emerged from the black smoke billowing from the brick building in his heavy, yellow suit, his oxygen tank giving off high-pitched rings.

Robert Bosworth, Chapel Hill's deputy fire chief, was teaching the "live burn" session of a 16-week fire academy the town's fire department revived this spring.

The ringing from his tank was telling Bosworth he didn't have much oxygen left; he had to get out of the building immediately.

Once a safe distance away, he peeled off his mask and the layers of his firefighter's suit, sweat dripping off the tip of his nose.

Bosworth was teaching his 12 students how to put out fires in a two-story building on the training grounds near the Durham Fire Department's Station No. 9. Ten of them are on their way to becoming full-time firefighters with the Chapel Hill Fire Department, one will go to Efland, and one will go to Parkwood.

They're mostly civilians who haven't fought fires before. Once they graduate from the academy Aug. 11, they'll be full-fledged firefighters.

But this week, they were still learning how to put out flames in sweltering, 90-degree heat.

This year's academy is the first since 1993, when the program dissolved due to lack of students.

"When you're only hiring one or two at a time, it's not cost effective," Bosworth explained.

Durham Technical Community College coordinates the classes and provides some instructors.

For next year's academy, the Chapel Hill Town Council has approved six new firefighters, while Carrboro's Board of Aldermen has approved five.

Neither town has recruited yet. That will start this fall, and hiring will begin next spring when both towns' new recruits will enter the academy together.

"We don't have enough money to run an academy by ourselves," new Carrboro Fire Chief Travis Crabtree said. "Durham Tech wants at least 10 people in a class to make it cost-effective."

In addition to the two-story brick building in Durham, the firefighters train in three buildings near Chapel Hill's Station No. 4 on Weaver Dairy Road Extension. One houses classrooms; one is a tower where firefighters can practice ladder work and rescuing from upper stories; and one is a single-story burn building in which they create fires.

Donnie Morrisey is heading to Chapel Hill's department. He was a barber in Raleigh for seven-and-a-half years before deciding he wanted to fight fires.

He joined because he had lots of firefighter friends who told him it was a great profession, and they made it sound so exciting, he said.

So, what drives him during training?

"The adrenaline rush," the 33-year-old said, "and to know that somebody might be depending on you."

GRADUATION DAY

The Chapel Hill Fire Department will graduate its first Fire Academy in 13 years at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, in the Council Chambers at Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The graduation will include a badge-pinning ceremony and presentation of awards.

The next Fire Academy will take place in April 2007.

The town of Chapel Hill will begin accepting applications for its new positions in November.

To find out more, contact the fire department at (919) 968-2781.

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