All public safety jobs are essential for a community to thrive. But the education that each individual receives for these careers is special. There has been word throughout Mineral Wells and Weatherford that our beloved Fire Academy at Weatherford College could be closing. The proposal is set to be presented to the Board of Trustees at Weatherford College, on Thursday, June 10th, 2021.
This Academy originally began at the Mineral Wells campus in 1999. This program has been home to many students through the decades for FireFighters and EMT students alike. The program has completed 63 successful courses and 100’s careers for young men and women who became certified.
Steve Malley, the program’s Director of Public Safety, tells us how the program has changed. “I came to the Fire Academy a little over 16 years ago. We have turned out hundreds of firefighters all over the state and other states. Because the fire certification and EMS certification are transferable to other states as well. Our latest firefighter went on to get hired in Nashville, TN.”
Instructor Dusty Benthall has a personal connection to the Fire Academy and would hate to see it go. “I went through the academy when it was still at the Mineral Wells campus back in 2001 to 2002. And I have been an instructor there since 2005-2006.”
The reasoning behind the possible shutdown is the issue of cost, but the benefits of keeping the Fire Academy seem to outweigh the expense in Dusty and Steve’s opinion. Dusty notes that the Fire Academy excels, but so do other related programs because of it. “The Fire Academy is expensive. It’s just like running a fire department. They are held to the same standards that a Fire Department is held to. But there are benefits to it: just about everyone who completes the class; also goes right around into EMT Basic and EMT Paramedic afterward. They are looking at a year and a half worth of classes that come from one Fire Academy class.”
We wondered if it could be as simple as raising the cost of tuition but Steve makes a valid point on why that is a delicate subject, “There are some students that come to Weatherford College because of the cost; they choose to come here. So tuition has to be a consideration when we look at what’s charged for the program. We can charge a little bit more, but we can’t charge a lot more.”
Dusty tells us that most of our local firefighters were students of The Fire Academy at Weatherford College, and potentially more students would attend if the program is saved. “All the local communities will be affected. For example, Mineral Wells Fire Department has twenty-seven people on staff, including the Chief, Deputy Chief, and Fire Marshal. And of those twenty-seven, fifteen of them came from the Weatherford College’s Fire Academy.”
Steve encourages everyone to reach out empathetically about the situation. “I will say this, Firefighters and anyone in public safety are passionate about their careers. I have encouraged everyone to approach this in a positive manner. What does the Fire Academy mean to you? What did it mean for you to get your start here? What did it mean to you, to be able to walk into a job that allows you to raise a family? To live in a decent house? Buy a decent car at the age of twenty-five when other kids are still figuring out what college is like. While they are trying to figure out how to pay sixty, eighty, or a hundred of thousand dollars worth of college debt. Approach it as to; why this program is a benefit, and why we need to keep it.”
Writer | I graduated from Weatherford College with an Associates in Art, focusing on history, creative writings, sociology, and humanities. Experience in child development, client care, and runs local Spoken Word Poetry group for young teens.