Fire Chief Chris Martin says Hollywood just doesn’t get portrayals of firefighters right.
“No good TV show explains what the fire department actually does,” he says.
It’s one of the reasons the Sterling Heights Fire Department is running a Civilian Fire Academy this year. The program launched September 5 and is aimed at sharing an inside look at what it’s like to be a firefighter.
Martin says because the participants are city residents it’s also a chance for them to get an idea of where their tax dollar is going.
“When it comes time to vote on things it’s just good to have an understanding of what the men and women do,” Martin says.
The five-week program runs every Wednesday evening this month at the Ryan Road station. Participants learn fire hose use, search and rescue, ground ladder use and EMS delivery.
“They’ll be exposed to a lot of different things,” says Martin. “Like an actual extrication using the jaws of life on a vehicle.”
Participants will also become CPR certified, do a “ride-along” with the crew on an eight-hour shift, and the department will hold a graduation ceremony at their Open House on October 7.
It’s not the station’s first civilian academy, with a previous course ceasing in 2008 after budget cuts limited outreach programs. Ten years later, the plan is to run the training every fall.
State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer says programs like this are vital for connecting communities with their departments and visa versa.
“Michigan is in the top 10 for fire fatalities in the nation, and last year there were two civilian fire fatalities in Sterling Heights.”
Sehlmeyer says not many people know what their local fire department does, and that this is way to raise awareness.
“We want the citizens to understand the services provided,” he says. “They get to see what’s involved, and what equipment is used--equipment they essentially paid for.”