By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspaper
ALLEN PARK – Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Ed Cann received the city council’s approval Sept. 22 to sponsor a Fire Cadet Explorer program for students 16 to 18 years of age.
He said the program would help provide more well-trained candidates for future fire department vacancies.
Cann said Lt. Cary Thompson of the Royal Oak Fire Department, who lives in Dearborn, and Lt. Joshua Bunse, of the Novi Fire Department, who is an Allen Park resident, approached him with a request to reactivate the program, which Thompson ran in the past.
Thompson and Bunse currently teach the program at the William D. Ford Career Technical Center in Westland.
Wayne County requires a fire department to sponsor a program, which is needed to provide a means of testing for participants when they turn 18, to receive Firefighter I and II certification.
Cann said the program will not incur any cost to the city of Allen Park or to its fire department, and the program is already insured.
He said the only program cost to participants is purchasing the program T-shirt.
“The Allen Park Fire Department, like so many fire departments in the area, has had a massive decrease in the number of qualified candidates when we have an opening compared to recent years,” Cann said. “This program will allow youngsters to become exposed to the career and obtain most of the certifications, other than paramedic, that will allow them to apply to the Allen Park Fire Department.”
He said the program allows the fire department to get to know the future applicants and their skill sets before they interview, which lets them to choose better candidates.
Applicants to the program, usually high school juniors and seniors, need only be Wayne County residents.
“The program is already up and running, with Cary at its helm,” Cann said. “This is just going to put an official sponsor to it. They are already getting high school credit. As soon as they turn 18, they are able to test for Firefighter I and II, and get the certification.”
Mayor Gail McLeod said it is strictly a training program, and the students are not displacing any firefighter.
“We are creating a pipeline, because we are going to have a lot of people retiring in the next two, three, four years,” she said. “So, we need to have some talent developed, and this is kind of like a co-op program, and they are here simply for training and to observe, so I would think all of your force would welcome that, because they will have an opportunity to work with these young people and get to know them.”
When Councilman Tony Lalli tried to speak up, McLeod interrupted him, but he persisted.
“Can I finish please,” he said. “I understand what the deputy fire chief is doing, so they can be something later on in life. I have no problem with it. I just don’t want to disturb the overtime and the union, that’s all. I think it’s a great idea.”
Cann assured Lalli that the program will not impact any firefighter jobs, and the students will not respond to any runs unless they are in an approved observation role.
Thompson said that as a member of both the teacher and firefighter unions, he would never do anything to jeopardize anyone’s job.
“This program at William D. Ford is strongly behind the kids getting exposure to this career,” he said. “To be honest with you, the fire service across the country is trying to get to its knees. We’ve been knocked to the ground, and are having a difficult time obtaining the employees.”
Thompson said fire departments across the country are facing recruiting challenges to find the people they need to function.
“This program absolutely helps out, and gets the people trained, and by the time these kids exit out of high school, it is going to set them up for a basis of success for the whole rest of their life,” he said. “It will give these kids a chance to get a good-paying career with a solid knowledge base behind them second to none.”
Thompson said when students leave the program, they will be the best-trained people in the fire service.
“Fire departments all across the region are begging for these kids to get into this program,” he said.
For more information, go to wwcsd.net/schools/high-schools/william-d-ford-career-technical-center/courses.