New program certifies teens as volunteer firefighters, EMTs in Forsyth County

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CLEMMONS, N.C. — A new program at West Forsyth High School is training teens to become volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

​The course is a collaboration between three rural fire departments who have been pushing for the certification program for years.

Rural fire departments are changing. As young adults take on more extra-curriculars and have less free time, it’s becoming harder for fire chiefs to recruit and keep volunteers.

“This program at West Forsyth is going to be a tremendous benefit to all of our local fire departments,” Lewisville Fire Chief Darin Needham said.

Needham said in small towns like Lewisville, Clemmons and Vienna, there’s a big push to create high school academies that recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

“We want as many as we can get and we’re looking for every way we can to pick those folks up,” Needham said.

But it wasn’t always that way. For Clemmons Fire Chief Jerry Brooks, just a few decades ago, 93 percent of the department graduated through the fire department’s own cadet program.

“It’s a very valuable program,” Brooks said.

Those who stayed on are now getting ready to retire. Today young adults make up less than 20 percent of the Clemmons Fire Department. With the pandemic postponing the course at West Forsyth until 2021, these first responders will have to wait to train the next generation who will also be their replacements.

“A lot of us are ready to get out and we want to make sure that our community is safe. We want to make sure those roles are filled by those coming after us,” Vienna Fire Chief Tim Lasley said.

Lasley has seen the success Walkertown High School has had with their academy.

“To see what the outcome has been, it’s going to be great for here,” Lasley said.

The certification program gets teens back out in the community.

“If we can engage our students to keep them engaged in the community, that strengthens our community bonds and strengthens our relationships,” said Charles McAninch, West Forsyth High School principal.

The course was supposed to start this coming fall semester but the pandemic has pushed it back to spring.

“Get that training while they’re in high school as opposed to graduating high school and moving away to college, trying to capture some of those folks when they come back. Or as they come back and enter the workforce trying to require hundreds of hours of training in addition to their regular daily work schedules,” Needham said.

Once students complete the high school program, they’ll take two classes at Forsyth Tech. After that, they’ll officially be certified.

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