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News Education Southwestern’s first Firefighter Academy graduates its first class

The first graduating class of Southwestern Community College’s Firefighter Academy included, from left, Sean Sullivan of Franklin, William Sellers of Bryson City, Joshua Price of Franklin, Joshua Nations of Bryson City, Benjamin Johnson of Franklin, Jacob Henry of Franklin, and Kevin Gates of Franklin. Photo by Pat McKay, SCCBefore enrolling in Southwestern Community College’s Firefighter Academy, Sean Sullivan and Joshua Price helped their respective community fire departments by fetching equipment and working in the background.

Now they can be on the front lines.

Sullivan, Price, and five other area students completed 572 hours of intensive training in less than three months and became the program’s first graduating class on June 29 at SCC’s Public Safety Training Center (SCC-PSTC).

“Before, I had just general knowledge,” said Price, an 18-year-old Macon County resident who is also preparing for his General Education Development exam at SCC. “I have a healthy respect for everything now. Next time we’re needed, I hope to use some of my training and get better at it.”

Roughly 85 family members, firefighters and SCC-PSTC faculty and staff attended the graduation ceremony, and Skyland Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Ryan Cole delivered the commencement speech. Each graduate received a North Carolina Firefighter certificate.

Travis Scruggs, Southwestern’s fire and rescue training coordinator, said most graduates are already applying for paid positions, and all currently serve their communities as volunteer firefighters. Six graduates will participate in the EMT-Basic course that starts July 8 at the PSTC.

“These guys grew by leaps and bounds,” Scruggs said. The work they did was the most impressive part. They were putting in 60-hour weeks.”

Curtis Dowdle, Southwestern Community College’s director of public safety training, addresses the first graduating class of SCC’s Firefighter Academy.An Iraq War veteran, Sullivan joined the West Macon Fire and Rescue Department this spring upon leaving the Army.

He said the hardest parts of the training were the Firefighter Survival sessions, which placed students in predicaments such as being trapped inside a collapsed house and having to find their own means of survival and escape.

“My favorite part was probably all of it,” said Sullivan, who’s 27 years old. “It was all beneficial. Definitely the hands-on portion that Travis could bring to the table along with Aaron Williams and Mike Ensley. All of their experience helped make it a better training program.

“I’ve had a few friends who’ve gone to fire training elsewhere, and their academies were one or two months longer,” Sullivan added. “They maybe spent a month or a month and a half on hands-on training. The rest of it was all books and learning. What I liked about this one was it was more hands-on, which makes it easier to learn.”

Price said the condensed program was packed with vital lessons that he expects will help him in the field.

“The smallest thing could mean the biggest difference in our job,” Price said. “One decision could change the whole outcome of the situation. Everything I learned will be used, from the basic fire prevention classes to the [lessons on] hazardous materials.”

For more information about Southwestern’s Public Safety Training Center, call 306-7045 or visit www.southwesterncc.edu/content/publicsafety- training.


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