Kentucky high school leads in training future firefighters and EMTs

March 5, 2024

Fairdale High School introduces CPAT for fire and EMS training

Fairdale High School in Fairdale, Kentucky, is pioneering a new approach in training the upcoming cohort of fire fighters and EMTs.

The school’s Fire and EMS Academy recently celebrated the acquisition of a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) license.

This enables students to complete the test before they graduate.

Dan Shirley, an instructor at the academy, highlighted the significance of this development.

“The CPAT is crucial for students aspiring to pursue a career in the fire service,” said Shirley.

“Having the opportunity to prepare for the test from the moment they enter the program until their senior year provides them with a significant advantage.”

Bill Bussing, CPAT Coordinator for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), recognized the school as the first U.S. high school to receive the license.

Success and demand in fire service training

The success of Fairdale High School’s program is evident. Shirley noted that all three students who recently took the CPAT test passed.

On average, the academy graduates 20 students annually. “The need for fire fighters and EMTs to join the workforce is at a critical stage in our local community,” Shirley added.

Natalie Taylor, President of Jefferson County, KY Local 3972, commended the program’s proactive approach.

“We are facing staffing shortages in Jefferson County, with many of our fire fighters, EMTS, and paramedics starting to become burnt out,” Taylor said.

“Having this CPAT program at an already established fire science program like that at Fairdale H.S. will ignite excitement and interest in our next generation of fire fighters.”

Addressing the decline in qualified applicants

Louisville Fire Chief Brian O’Neill shared his observations on the changing landscape of fire service recruitment.

“Initially, there were 3,000 applicants for 30 positions back then. Now, as chief, we are recruiting 40 positions and have nearly 600 applicants.

“However, many drop out due to several reasons, including qualification issues, reducing the pool further,” O’Neill stated.

He anticipates that the program will benefit graduating seniors in their job applications.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% growth in fire fighter demand from 2022 to 2032, largely due to replacements for retirees or career changers.

O’Neill emphasized the need for diverse recruitment and expanding fire science programs in schools.

Enhancing fire science education

In addition to the CPAT license, Fairdale High School received a significant donation from the Louisville Fire Department—a second fire apparatus.

O’Neill explained the value of this addition: “We donated an old pumper truck so they would have that apparatus,” O’Neill said.

“It is great because you have an opportunity for these students to learn what it truly means to be a fire fighter, what it involves, what it takes physically and mentally, and how to use the equipment.”

Taylor advocated for sustained collaboration and resource allocation to address staffing challenges.

“Continuing to improve upon and develop the current programs offered through Jefferson County Public Schools through collaboration with the local IAFF Local, local fire districts, and state resources is needed if we are going to address the issue of staffing our fire service in the future,” she said.

“The priority should be collaboration to resolve the issues while improving the relationships amongst those who have a vested interest in the success of our Kentucky fire service.”

FSJA Comment

Fairdale High School’s initiative in introducing the CPAT license marks a significant stride in fire service education.

The collaboration between educational institutions, local fire departments, and industry bodies exemplifies a comprehensive approach to tackling workforce challenges.

This initiative serves as a model for other schools and districts, highlighting the importance of practical, hands-on training in preparing the next generation of emergency responders.

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