The first class of the new FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety has completed its freshman year, taking on a regular high school curriculum plus courses in fire and life safety taught by retired FDNY firefighters.
FDNY spokeswoman Virginia Lam said the school is part of the fire department's initiative to diversify their staff by exposing minority students to potential careers in the fire department.
The school was created last year through the city's Small Schools Initiative, Lam said, designed to improve troubled schools by breaking them into smaller, specialized schools. The FDNY school is housed within Thomas Jefferson High School in east Brooklyn, along with three other new schools for civil rights, performing arts and technology, and health advocacy.
The FDNY students have different battalions within their school and wear uniforms like the FDNY work uniform, Lam said.
"The overarching theme of the school is 'Fire Department' and the different tenets that we work by; honor, bravery, and hard work ethic," she said.
Lam said the class is 100 percent minority, and comprised of students who are interested in the fire service, but who generally don't have family members in the department or any personal knowledge of the fire service.
All of the students get certified in CPR, and most participate heavily in the FDNY's Explorers program. They also train as young "fire safety ambassadors," Lam said, in order to help the department during fire prevention week. The students visited high schools, middle schools and elementary schools to give presentations to other students on fire escape planning, first aid, and safety.
Despite their specialized education, however, the students will not be recruited directly into the FDNY after they graduate.
School Principal Raymond Palmer said the goal is to prepare the students for college or to take civil service exams. He said they will also have the opportunity to become EMT-certified when they turn 18. The students can not immediately proceed into firefighting because the FDNY requires a minimum of 30 college credits, he said.
"Our aim is to academically prepare them for college, and we hope they will then look at the fire department or joining on the civilian side," Palmer said. "We explain that they can be involved with the department in other ways as accountants, lawyers, and doctors," he said.
Although the school is diverse, it is mostly male. This year's freshman class consisted of 92 students; 23 young women and 69 young men, Palmer said. Next year's class will be larger, at 126, with 93 men and 33 women.
Palmer said competition for the school is high, and that the new class of 126 was selected from 775 applicants. The students apply through the city's high school enrollment process, which includes 12 other choices of specialized schools, and a match is made between each student and the schools that accept them.
The school plans to fill up over the next few years with 400-500 students in grades nine through twelve.
After the school's grand opening last September, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said in a prepared statement, "The FDNY High School is a critical step towards helping introduce the Fire Department to young men and women as a potential career choice. Regardless of whether or not they pursue careers in the fire department, these students will have a solid educational foundation instilled with an unwavering sense of integrity, honor and duty -- all tenets of the fire department."
Palmer said the response from students, staff and firefighters after this first year has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We are excited about the second year," he said. "We look forward to continuing the mission, which is to ensure our kids not only receive the best possible education, but to go out and help their community."