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Thermo Fisher donates fire truck to Beaufort County Schools

CHOCOWINITY — The donation of a fire truck and equipment courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific will mean new opportunities for Beaufort County Schools students enrolled at Southside High School’s Fire and EMT Academy.

Since 2012, the academy has allowed students at BCS to take a fast track to earn credentials they need to become firefighters and emergency medical technicians. With the addition of the new truck and equipment, Southside High School Public Safety Instructor Otis Harrell says the donation will enhance his program’s capability for hands-on training.

“Whether they want to be a volunteer firefighter or a career firefighter, they will have the knowledge and capability to know how the engine works, how the nozzle works and the training they need,” Harrell said. “It will be very beneficial to our class.”

The truck and training equipment, valued at more than $100,000, will be housed at Chocowinity Fire and EMS, an organization that has partnered with the school system to help grow the academy at Southside High School.

For Chocowinity Fire Chief Tommy Pendley, the hope is that getting young people interested in the profession at an early age will translate to better recruitment and retention for departments throughout Beaufort County. He says his department has recruited a number of junior firefighters thanks to the academy.

“It’s a big thing for Beaufort County,” Pendley said. “Getting volunteers at this day and time is like pulling teeth. Being able to teach the guys young, when they graduate school, they’re firefighter certified. It helps all the fire departments out. When they’re 18, they’re able to get on the roster and start fighting fires. It gives them a career path.”

Though there are some pieces of training, such as live burns, that are off-limits to high school fire academies, Harrell says the academy works closely with Beaufort County Community College to fill in the final requirements for students. The college’s facilities allow students to practice more advance techniques such as search and rescue, high-angle rescue and training with air packs.

“We have a good relationship where we can go and use the facilities there,” Harrell said.

Though the Fire and EMT Academy is housed at Southside High School, BCS Career and Technical Education Director Wendy Petteway says it is open to all BCS high school students.

“The program actually recruits from all over our county,” Petteway said. “If students would like to be part of the program, they could transfer schools, or by the time they can drive, they can actually come over and take Mr. Harrell’s courses. We try to work with them to do that.”

For now, Petteway says the school system has postponed its firefighter classes until the spring semester. Other CTE programs that require hands-on instruction, however, may be able to meet in-person this fall, she said.

Students interested in enrolling in Southside’s Fire and EMT Academy can contact Harrell by email at oharrell@beaufort.k12.nc.us or by calling 252-940-1881.