CMC Rifle stages an academy in fire
Nine cadets complete the CMC Rifle Fire Academy despite the challenges of the pandemic
The acrid smell of smoldering fire wafts into the brisk morning air just south of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport as Lt. Denny Hostetler, with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, fuels an intentionally set fire inside an old minivan.
While Lt. Hostetler ignites the fires, Battalion Chief Scott Van Slyke, with Colorado River Fire Rescue, talks with the nine cadets enrolled in Colorado Mountain College Rifle Fire Academy 1, as they prepare to suit up and learn how to safely extinguish car fires during Sunday’s burn day.
“Historically in Garfield County people in this class have already been hired as a volunteer or are part time with an organization,” Van Slyke said. “Starting this year we were able to open that up to people that don’t have any experience. They can come take the class with us and hopefully it’s a stepping stone into a fire service career.”
Now in its second year, the 12-week spring program had to condense the academy after a nearly two-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After they restricted us because of COVID we talked it over with the class and decided to do a condensed program, and we’ve done 80 hours in the last two weeks,” Lt. Hostetler said. “It’s been really intensive.”
A typical academy, which takes over 200 hours to complete, meets three days a week. Typically the classes meet for 5 hours both Tuesday and Thursday, and 10 hours on Saturdays.
“With COVID we had about a month-and-a-half to two-month hiatus where we couldn’t do anything,” Van Slyke said.
Cadets must complete the firefighter 1 skill set, and another 45 contact hours for HazMat Operations and Awareness.
During the shutdown cadets were able to do most of the bookwork for HazMat Operations training virtually, but many of the hours need to be in person. Most in-person days consist of burns and drills to make sure cadets are using their personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus properly as they test their skills competency and progression in fighting and extinguishing fires.
“CMC had to request an exception to run the course face-to-face, provide an extensive safety plan, and gain approval from the state,” CMC Vice President and Rifle Campus Dean Tinker Duclo said. “Numerous COVID-19 adaptations had to be made to enable the in-person burn days of the class. Stringent social distancing protocol has been in place, use of bunker gear which is cleaned after each use, masks, and hand sanitizer.”
The class spent more than 5 hours staging different types of car fires that they may respond to once they are on the job.
Rifle resident Ambrose Menard, who is originally from Highlands Ranch, has been working as a wildland and volunteer firefighter with CRFR, which sponsored him to go to the academy. Menard works full time on a ranch in the Rifle area and has been logging 20 hours a week to earn his firefighter 1 certification in hopes of starting a career in fire service.
“The academy is tough enough to start out, and then you throw in taking a month or so off, not being with the guys training and your skills get rusty,” Menard said. “Feels great to be back, and getting back at it.”
Menard originally wanted to be a doctor when he was growing up, but fell in love with the possibility of being a firefighter.
Van Slyke said most of the cadets are working 40 hours a week, and spend an additional 20 hours in class.
Doss Coody, who is sponsored by Carbondale Fire and hopes to be hired on after certification, moved to Carbondale from Waco, Texas. As far back as he can remember he has wanted to be a firefighter and has been inspired by the staff of Carbondale Fire where he has been working as a seasonal wildland firefighter.
“So far it’s been some solid work in the classroom. These burn days have taught me a ton — I’ve learned vertical ventilation, fire attack, and car fires today,” Coody said. “I thoroughly hope that I become a career firefighter through Carbondale Fire.”
Hostetler said GSFD has shifted over the years and is hiring non-certified part time employees and paying for their education in hopes they will stick around and work for the department when a full-time position opens up.
“It’s worked pretty well for us so far. This is a new thing for the county, having all the departments working together, all the training chiefs and fire chiefs have been great about giving us the support we need to make this happen, and we’re hoping it continues to grow,” Hostetler said.
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