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Western Technical College receives grant to bolster high school fire academy program

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 4:43 PM CDT
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ONALASKA, Wis. (WEAU) - Western Technical College is teaming with the Onalaska Fire Department to encourage young people to become firefighters.

Onalaska Fire Chief Troy Gudie first joined the department back in 1989, and says the staff consisted of 36 paid-on-call firefighters at that time.

Numbers have dwindled over the last 30+ years, leading Gudie to come up with new ways to recruit fresh faces.

The fire department and Western Tech joined together this past school year to create La Crosse County’s first-ever high school fire academy.

“The vision and goal of this program is to get high school students interested at a young age to enter into an exciting career as a professional firefighter,” Gudie explained.

Western Tech President Roger Stanford says the college is focused on building training courses that make students want to become firefighters.

“We need people that are interested in those career paths, and so a tour is one thing, but really a strong immersion into the curriculum where you come out with a couple of certifications, that’s what Western does,” Stanford expressed.

Nine high school students were part of the academy’s inaugural class, and seven of them graduated.

Gudie says some of the graduates are going straight into the field, while others will be continuing their education.

“We already have two students that are serving on fire departments right now, and we have four others that are accepted into the fire science degree program at Western Technical College,” Gudie detailed.

To ensure the future of the program, the WI Department of Safety and Professional Services awarded Western Tech with a grant totaling more than $22,000 on Tuesday.

Stanford considers the first year of the academy a success, and believes the model could work in other communities.

“I hope it sets the stage for other programs in the state, and I hope it sets the stage for other fire districts in our area to come together and figure out how to get more people in public safety,” Stanford added.

A total of 14 students will be taking firefighter training courses at Western Tech this fall.

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