BURTON, MI — A new firefighter training and certification program at the Genesee Career Institute will soon accept its first class to address staffing issues with fire stations countywide.
The Genesee Intermediate School District program is slated to begin in the Fall 2021 semester with 24 students, then grow to up to 75 in future years, Burton Fire Chief Kirk Wilkinson said. Training instructors from the Burton Fire Department will instruct students in the year-long course.
Students have to option to also participate in GCI’s Emergency Medical Technician program to allow students to earn both firefighter certifications and work towards a bachelor’s degree in paramedics, GISD confirmed.
“With the City of Burton, and other area fire departments, in desperate need of firefighters to help keep our communities safe, we are happy to be able to offer a program to Genesee County students that can be instrumental in helping to fill that void,” GISD spokesperson Kristin Moore Burks said in a statement. “Anytime there is a need our community, it is important for us to do what we can to help.”
The district learned of the need for more firefighters in the county when approached by Wilkinson. The program will be one of 22 learning programs through the Genesee County CTE Early Middle College.
“Our overall goal is to create opportunities for local students to gain the skills needed to be employed in our communities,” Burks said. “The Fire Academy program does just that and will help fulfill the need of area fire departments searching for fire fighters who are well-trained and able to do such an important job.”
Burton Mayor Duane Haskins said public service as a whole is struggling to keep staffing levels. This forced the city to get creative in recruiting efforts, he said. In the past, Burton’s tried direct recruiting at the high school level by passing out fliers that said they are hiring.
“What we face in Burton is the same as what a lot of places across the country face — a problem with recruitment,” Wilkinson said. “On-call and full-time fire departments across the country are having a hard time getting firefighters.”
Local fire stations rely heavily on mutual aid agreements with other municipalities to address short staffs, Wilkinson said. President of the Genesee County Association of Fire Chiefs Dan Campbell agreed.
“Right now, we see it very bad during the day,” Campbell said. “When I first got on, usually you only had to call one or two departments (for help). Now, you have to call five or six departments to get adequate help.”
Shortages in fire departments starting being recognized about 10 years ago, Campbell said. Other efforts to increase participation include spreading awareness on social media and explaining the importance of the job, he said.