Fire Academy finally a reality at West Forsyth
Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 13, 2022
After being delayed by COVID, program is off and running this year
It has been raining heavily for the last seven days in Emerald City. The Emerald City and Liberty County Emergency Management offices are preparing a response for a possible flood. Residents are starting to ask questions about the rising levels of the river and lake and are wondering if they need to leave their homes.
This is the scenario presented to students in Tad Byrum’s first, second and fourth period Public Safety I classes last Thursday at West Forsyth High School.
They are tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan to manage and control the situation.
It is the first year for the Fire Academy at West, where a series of CTE courses designed to allow students to work towards getting certified to become firefighters have been added to the curriculum.
The program is a collaboration between West Forsyth and the Clemmons and Lewisville fire departments. The program was on track to begin a few years ago until COVID-19 derailed it until this year.
Walkertown and Glenn also have fire academies at their schools.
Byrum is in his first year as a teacher after recently retiring as a deputy chief after 30 years of service as a firefighter and emergency service professional in Forsyth County.
His students call him “Chief.” It still makes him smile.
“I got my start as a volunteer firefighter in high school, and I remember how much I enjoyed it,” Byrum said. “This is a perfect chance for me to give back in a field I have plenty of knowledge and experience in.”
Byrum said that another fulfilling part of his new job is that he has several students in each of his classes whose parents, grandparents and other family members served with him at some point during his firefighting career.
“That really brings it all full circle,” he said.
Byrum assigned students particular roles the day before the exercise began in class. The classes have become incident management teams and have to work together to come up with an incident action plan, or IAP, to manage the scenario they were presented with.
Each class has one incident commander, who is responsible for the response, and students are grouped into operations, planning, logistics and finance. They all have a role. They all play a part.
“It’s really a lot like a football coaching staff or even planning the prom,” Byrum said. “To use the coaching example, here at West, you have Coach (Adrian) Snow as the incident commander, and he has an offensive and defensive coordinator. And they have position coaches who report to the coordinators, and they all have to come together and have a plan to prepare to play in a game. Same with a prom committee. They all have different areas they need to focus on for the event to come together. Sometimes you put things like this on terms that are more relatable for the students if using language like we use for this may be intimidating for them.”
That language comes directly from FEMA and its National Incident Management System.
“It is a standardized incident management system that everyone in the country is supposed to use for interoperability,” Byrum said. “FEMA publishes the materials and tests. It’s a requirement of all public safety personnel. A lot of the plans come from the response to 9/11.”
Public Safety I is the pre-requisite course for the program that everyone must take. It focuses on firefighting/fire safety, law enforcement, legal and EMS/paramedic.
Firefighter Technology I, II and III will come only after students have completed Public Safety I.
“That’s when we’ll really have some fun,” Byrum said. “That’s when we’ll be using gear, hoses and ladders.”
About 30 minutes after students have started their planning, Byrum interrupts them to provide an update on the flooding situation.
“Raining has continued for three more days,” Byrum read from the Promethean Board in the front of the room. “The flooding is expected to reach its highest point. Flooding has caused residents to evacuate their homes in anticipation of rising flood waters. Basement flooding to the first-floor level is anticipated.”
Students pepper Byrum with questions.
“What resources do we have available? What is the population of the town? Where are the shelters we can use and how many people can they hold? What about pets? Can dangerous chemicals leak into the river and contaminate the drinking water?”
Byrum nods his head and smiles when answering the questions.
“All great questions,” he said. “Identify what resources you have and what you need and why you need them. And then think about where you need to put them.”
Byrum fills in some of the details from his students’ queries and they scuttle back to their groups to add to their plans.
A few students huddle near the whiteboard at the front of the room to draw a map of Emerald City, indicating key landmarks and where the water is coming from and what areas are flooded. Another group of students is writing an organizational flood chart on the board, so everyone is clear on what their job is.
Cody Bowen is a senior in the program. He is in Byrum’s first period class. Firefighting is in his blood. His father has been a firefighter in Lewisville for 33 years and he also has an uncle who works for the Winston-Salem Fire Department.
“This is something I’ve been interested in for a while,” said Bowen, who was the deputy incident commander for this simulation. “This is the first big activity we have done and it’s the best thing we’ve done so far. It is teaching us to work together to accomplish something.”
Asked about the best advice he received from his father and uncle when they found out he was taking the class, Bowen didn’t hesitate with his response.
“Sit down and listen,” he said with a laugh. “There is nothing more important than that. I’ve learned a lot already from Chief Byrum and I’m looking forward to next semester.”
Maggie Lee, also in Byrum’s first period class, was tasked to give the press briefing near the end of class.
“People in the flood plains will need to evacuate their homes to the nearest emergency shelter or somewhere outside of the flood zones,” Lee said in her briefing. “We have fire, police and EMS evenly deployed throughout the shelters. We’ll need everyone to stay at least 30 feet away from the downed power lines. This concludes the press briefing.”
Lee received high praise from Clemmons Fire Chief Jerry Brooks, who came to observe the class, and from Lieutenant Will McBride, whose son is in Byrum’s second period class.
Each class was going to finalize their plans last Friday before submitting them.
“If a student wanted a career in public safety, this program would be a good place to start,” Byrum said.
“I’m looking forward to see how the programs grows the next few years.”