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La Salle fire service academy attracts cadets with career opportunities
AMANDA BROWN SNOWDEN
They are ready to do push-ups, any time, anywhere.
La Salle County’s new Fire Academy cadets are being trained for their certification exams at the Fire Rescue & EMS, and can be seen kitted out in bright red at classroom and outdoor facilities in Cotulla.
One such appearance took place this week when the county unveiled its new fire truck, and members of the cadet class were on hand to offer the public a view of the new equipment.
The trainees are of one mind in their approach to the task ahead of them: “Giving our community a hundred percent of us, a hundred percent of the time.”
The current class includes three Cotulla residents, among them the son of Sheriff Anthony Zertuche.
There have been plenty of shortages troubling Americans lately. While the toilet paper crisis of 2020 was certainly concerning, another shortage has the potential to cause much larger problems. There is high demand for firefighters and EMS workers nationwide, and not nearly enough people to fill the positions.
La Salle County Fire Rescue, like many other departments, is almost always hiring.
“Because of our location, attracting certified and qualified individuals is often a hard task,” Fire Chief Daniel Mendez says. “There are few training academies for firefighters nearby, and other industries tend to be more aggressive and have active recruiters in the area.”
Eight candidates are currently in the heart of an innovative training program in La Salle County, learning and working in Cotulla. The fire cadets have completed their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program and are currently navigating the fire training portion.
“By hosting this academy, we are training and bringing them onto our department to help curb the shortage issue, while also offering an alternative accessible career path to people right here locally,” Mendez says.
“We’re offering training to community members, here, for job opportunities here, other than the oil field,” says Cindy Williams at the fire service.
Only a handful of employees are originally from the area. Just a few from Cotulla, and a few members from Frio and Dimmit counties are a part of the team. The department hopes to add to those numbers in the future.
The current class is the first of a potentially annual academy offered at LSCFR. The county service’s long-term goal is to provide education, skills, and certifications for local community members that can create opportunities to advance professionally and the possibility, even to move on to new locations.
Attending fire academy right here at home only requires that applicants be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or GED, and pass simple background checks and drug screenings. Interviews, physical agility, and cognitive exams are conducted locally with the department, with school following, all right in the community.
The cadet program at LSCFR lasts six to seven months and has all the same education and training as traditional programs, but also provides hands-on learning. At LSCFR, the cadets are housed with the firefighters and exposed to everything that makes up a shift at the fire house, including the noise of late-night call-outs. There is daily physical fitness training, classroom time, and skills training. It’s still an academy program, so cadets are tested and must pass their exams to earn certification, but Mendez believes they gain gain real experience to support their education.
An undeniable advantage for cadets accepted at LSCFR who complete and pass the program is that they will also save on the expenses of a traditional fire academy, whose tuition can total over $10,000. Many of the certifications, classes, and even room and board expenses are covered or included through the program, with the added bonus of already being a paid employee of the department during the course of the academy.
Cadets are also team-building and establishing bonds that are vital to the nature of working in a fire and rescue department, all before they even climb into the truck.
All training and education is being offered by current employees. The main instructor, Jennifer Hoyt, is a firefighter and paramedic at LSCFR, with previous instructor experience, who volunteered to take on the position for the cadet program.
Upon graduation from the cadet program in October, each of the cadets will be a Texas-certified firefighter/EMT. They are meant to be hired at LSCFR, but they will also be qualified to work at any department in Texas.
La Salle County currently has the only fully staffed, paid non-volunteer fire and rescue department between Laredo and San Antonio, and it has been an advantage for the community during the rapid expansions of the energy industry, increases in interstate traffic, and an international pandemic.
And, soon enough, the service expects to offer the newest community opportunity for an education and career resource.
The push-ups continue.