Citizens Fire Academy Director Tim Szymanski (left) and Las Vegas Fire
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Las Vegas Fire
Participants of Citizens Fire Academy have the opportunity to work with firefighters using rescue tools during a trip to the fire academy.
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Las Vegas Fire
The class schedule consists of speakers, tours, demonstrations and classes.
When I first moved to Las Vegas in 1996 to accept the position as public information officer (PIO) for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, I moved to a community that I was not familiar with and did not know anyone. Actually it was the first time I had ever been to Las Vegas, so I knew little about it.
In the first few weeks on the job, I heard that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had a "Citizens Police Academy" which had a long waiting list to get into. I heard many good things about it, so I applied along with my wife and did not expect to hear anything for at least a year.
Within two weeks I was notified that the both of us were accepted and class would start in a few weeks. Both of us did not miss a single class. We learned so much about the department and the community. It was an extremely worthwhile experience.
After we "graduated" from the academy, I thought to myself, "Why doesn't the fire service have such a program?" So I asked the fire chief if I could put one together and give it a try. He gave me the go ahead, so I started to put a plan together.
My first Citizens Fire Academy (CFA) was in 2000 and I have had a CFA every year since. Some years I have been running two classes at the same time because we had so many people apply.
Within the past few weeks, I have received several calls from departments across the country wanting to know how to put a Citizens Fire Academy together and what classes should be held. Here is what I have been using for the past eight years. It doesn't matter what size department you have, whether you are volunteer, combination or professional, you can use the same format. The length of the academy should be set by you as to how much material you want to cover. If you are a small volunteer department, it could be held on the weekend for just a couple of weekends. What ever the size or type of your department, it can be done.
The Las Vegas Citizens Fire Academy
I start to accept applications from the public the week of Thanksgiving each year. Applications are available at all city fire stations, at headquarters and online at the department's website at www.lasvegasfire.org.
During December and January I receive applications and notify those selected.
Classes run from the second week in February through the first week in May. We meet once a week on Tuesday evenings, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Usually during the second week in May, I schedule the graduation ceremony.
The class schedule consists of speakers, tours, demonstrations and classes. I am asked many times, "What are the subjects and how do you schedule them?" Below is an abbreviated class schedule that is planned for the 2007 Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Citizens Fire Academy. Click here for the entire class schedule in PDF format.
- Class 1: Welcome, History, LVFR
- Class 2: Operations
- Class 3: Fire Communications
- Class 4: Fire Prevention & Education
- Class 5: Juvenile Fire Setter Program
- Class 6: Budget & American Red Cross
- Class 7: Administration & Emergency Management
- Class 8: Homeland Security, Investigations
- Class 9: Demonstrations and hands-on fire simulations
- Class 10: EMS & CISM
- Class 11: Hands On Training - CPR & AED Training & Certification
Ride Alongs: Each Citizen will have the opportunity to do a ride along with an engine company. Minimum time is two hours (or at least two responses), maximum time is four hours. There will be a special schedule to set up your ride along times. The calendar will be available each class. Each sign up must be approved by the Academy Director.
I teach many of the classes myself. I also have guest speakers from various divisions within the department and from outside agencies that assist our department such as the American Red Cross and Trauma Intervention Program. Each speaker has approximately 45 minutes for their presentation and can do what they want during their period. Many use power point or videos during their presentations.
Some of our classes are instructional in nature such as the AED/CPR training, fire extinguisher class and fire safety education.
Two of our more popular classes is the tour of the 9-1-1 Fire & Medical Communications Center and the presentation by the Las Vegas fire investigators. LVFR fire investigations is also the only certified bomb squad in Southern Nevada and the unit not only does a presentation about how they investigate fires, but also a tour of the bomb squad and demonstration. This is our most popular class. The class gets to see things that the public would never see. And that is what the CFA is all about.
Notebook: A notebook is given to each student at the first class. I use a regular three-ring binder purchased at the local office supply. The binder has pockets on the inside. The pockets are filled with fire safety material, pamphlets about our department, a patch from our department and a past copy of Firehouse Magazine. You can put anything you want into the notebook about your department and it gives the participants a place to keep their handouts.
Class Shirt: For our academy I decided to have a class shirt. Students may purchase a special polo shirt that was designed especially for our academy. We take orders the first night and the average price for the shirt is $30. It has the department logo with "Citizens Fire Academy" below it and the person's name. When the shirts come in, the students then wear them to the rest of the classes and on their ride along. It looks very good for the class photo we take and for the graduation ceremony. Ironically the shirt looked so good; it has been adopted as the department's uniform shirt.
Class Plaque: We make a class plaque that has the class photo and the names of the participants on it for each academy. The plaques are on display at fire headquarters. The cost of the plaque is divided among the participants of the academy.
Ride Alongs: We make arrangements for each participant to do a ride along with an engine company for four hours. During that time the crew shows them around the station, what station life is like, usually they are invited to stay for lunch or dinner, and to go on any runs that come in. We have some basic rules for the ride alongs: they can not directly participate in any activities while on a run; they are not allowed in a private home or business while on a run (unless we escort them in special for educational purposes); they are not permitted to talk to anyone or the media while on a ride along (this way they can not be quoted); and they must adhere to all safety regulations such as they must wear their seat belts while in the apparatus and it is in motion. The word has gotten out from previous academies that if you bring a lot of goodies with you, such as cookies, cake, ice cream and the like, you may be asked by the crew to stay longer than the normal four hour time period. Some academy participants have even brought in dinner for the crew and cooked it. In many of those cases it created an extra special relationship between the firefighters and the citizens and that what the citizens fire academy is all about.
Field Day: We have one day at the Fire Training Center in which our Hazardous Materials Team and Technical Rescue Team comes in and does an extra special demonstration for the class. Wrecked cars are brought in and each student has a chance to try extrication equipment working with some rescue crews that are brought it. Each gets a ride in the tower ladder and tour of the department's mobile command post. They try using a fire hose and a live fire exercise using fire extinguishers. Lastly, they are put in full protective clothing with SCBA and crawl through the burn building during a simulated building fire (it is dark and a smoke machine is used, no live fire is ever used.) When they come out, we take their photo so we can use it at the graduation ceremony and for them to have. Most of the time the participants are extremely tired when they leave in the afternoon.
Graduation ceremony: The last night is the graduation ceremony with full honors. The department honor guard starts it off with the Fire Chief congratulating them and usually a high city official, such as the Mayor, City Manager or City Councilperson also making comments. We then have dinner, which has been a pot luck dinner (everyone brings in something). Friends and family of the participants are invited and this has always been a very special night for everyone involved. After dinner, the graduation certificates and a miniature CFA badge pin is awarded to each participant. They are photographed with the fire chief and academy director and it is mailed to them. We also video tape the event and mail them a finished video of all the activities they participated in along with the graduation ceremony.
U.S. Fire Corps: The Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Citizens Fire Academy is now a part of the U.S. Fire Corps program, which we call the Las Vegas Fire Corps/Citizens Fire Academy. Since the past graduates have a very good working knowledge of how the public safety system works in the Las Vegas Valley, especially the fire service, we have extended an invitation for them to continue on and become a member of the Fire Corps program. The U.S. Fire Corps program encourages participation by citizens in their community to assist their local fire service. The Las Vegas program has used CFA members at various Fire & Rescue activities such as graduation ceremonies, open houses' and the like. The can assist during disasters or large emergencies by working in the Joint Information Center or Emergency Operations Center answering telephones, directing traffic, assisting at shelters and many other duties. Many have volunteered to be victims at a number of various simulations the department has participated in. In any event many want to continue to give back to the community and being a part of the CFA/Fire Corps program is one way to do it.
The Las Vegas CFA has proven to be a very worthwhile project. Nearly 400 citizens have graduated from the academy since 2000. Twelve past graduates have gone on to become professional firefighters, three have become wildland firefighters and a number of others have volunteered to work with organizations such as the American Red Cross and Trauma Intervention Program.
We have had a wide variety of participants such as attorneys, judges, physicians, students, housewives, retired people, teachers, city officials, media and city employees ranging in age from 15 to 88 years who have participated. Some have attended twice. One student lived in San Diego, would fly to Las Vegas each week just to attend class and return after class in time for work the next day in San Diego.
And the best part is the firefighters had just as much fun working with the citizens as the citizens did participating. It is a very worthwhile project.
Tim Szymanski is the Fire - Public Information Officer for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue. As the Fire-PIO he is in charge of public information, public relations, fire safety education, Citizens Fire Academy and the Las Vegas Fire Corps program. He is also in charge of photo and video services and manages the "Fire Channel" which provides cable educational services to over 50 fire stations of five fire departments in Southern Nevada. He has been in the fire service for 35 years serving in every position from firefighter to fire chief. Nearly 20 of those years have been working with the media. He was the Fire-PIO for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He is a nationally known speaker on media relations and is now teaching public information and media relations at area colleges in Las Vegas and host a seminar each year in Las Vegas for Fire-PIOs. He is also a Fire-Photojournalist, much of his work has been seen on various TV programs and in trade magazines. Please visit Tim's website at www.Fire-Pio.Com. Or contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.