What started as a dream for the Eufaula Fire Department in 2014 came to fruition Thursday as two Eufaula High School students, Hugh Dollar and Michael Lucas, signed on with the fire department to begin employment with them following graduation.
While as many as two former students completed the school’s Alabama Fire College’s Volunteer Firefighter course in the past, they chose other careers. This year, Desmond Hicks also completed the course but signed a football letter-of-intent at a college.
City of Eufaula Human Resources Director Elizabeth Conklin, Eufaula City Schools Director of Teaching and Learning Michele Eiler, EHS Principal Sean Clark, Eufaula Fire Chief Greg Holmes and Lt. Richard Praeger, fire inspector for the Eufaula Fire & Rescue, as well as family, friends and classmates joined the students for the occasion.
Dollar is the son of Luann and Ricky Dollar of Eufaula, and Lucas is the son of Katrina and George Lucas of Bakerhill. Ricky Dollar is a Eufaula Police officer, while George Lucas is fire chief at Bakerhill.
Praeger joked that it is a police officer’s dream to become a firefighter, and this way he can live the dream through his son.
Holmes said the moment was especially exciting because the department had been working toward it for several years.
When the idea was considered, no high school in Alabama south of Montgomery had the program, and although Houston County beat Eufaula to the table, Holmes noted that the EHS program draws from only EHS students.
“The reason we started is we have a high turnover rate here and we asked how we could keep people from leaving us,” Holmes said. “Today, we’re making history again through this partnership.”
Praeger was asked to run the program two years ago.
“I out everything I had into it, and the first year we were successful,” Praeger said. “We finished 4th and 20th at SkillsUSA. This year, our three guys finished 6th (Dollar), 12th and 20th. Each year, the program has gotten bigger and better.
The Alabama Fire College’s Volunteer Firefighter course was added to the EHS curriculum in 2017 and the Eufaula Fire Department partnered with the school to provide it with certified fire instructors who are also experienced firefighters.
“This training program is unique in that it delivers a standard recruit training curriculum while meeting the standards of NFPA 1001(National Fire Protection Association - Standard for Firefighting Professional Qualifications) all during the student’s senior year of high school,” Praeger said. “The fire instructors provide classroom and hands-on training in all basic firefighter skills. Students practice first under non-fire conditions and then demonstrate the skills learned during controlled fire conditions. To graduate, students must demonstrate proficiency in life safety, search and rescue, ladder operations, water supply, and fire attack. Fire attack operations range from ground cover fires to multiple-floor or multiple room structural fires. They are also given training in public fire education, hazardous material incident mitigation, flammable liquids, stress management, firefighter self-rescue, and vehicle extrication. Additional training in Emergency First-Aid, CPR, and the National Incident Management System are also provided. Graduates of the program have completed over 220 hours of training during the school year and successfully passed all standardized certification testing.
“Graduates will then become certified to the level of Volunteer Firefighter I, Hazardous Materials First Responder Operational Level, and Emergency Care Provider by the Alabama Fire College, which is accredited by the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications. With these certifications, and successful completion of CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) graduates are employable to all career fire departments in Alabama. The Fire Department will then send the newly employed certified volunteer firefighters to a 5-week volunteer firefighter to career firefighter bridge course. In this course they will receive an additional 200 hours of training to become a certified career firefighter.”
Praeger added that the students will be sent to EMT school, then a bridge program before working with the Eufaula FD.
“I graduated from Eufaula High School in 1988, so this makes me so proud,” Holmes said. “These students applied for the course in the 11th grade and realized what they were getting into. And now, they have finished the course before graduation from high school because of their commitment.”