Fire Board approves program to teach firefighting skills to teens in St. Louis

By Ralph Echtinaw

Students in the Gratiot-Isabella Technical Education Center’s public safety program will get firefighter training at the St. Louis fire station following Fire Board approval Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Students will spend two hours a day during one trimester of the 2022-23 school year at the fire station. 

There will be one class in the morning for first-year students. GI-TEC instructor Bob March estimated that 30 kids would be in that class. Second-year students would meet in the afternoon. March figures 15-20 students would be in that class.

Students who do the whole two years could qualify for Firefighter 1 certification, which would make them employable at fire departments all over the state right out of high school.

Fire Board members expressed concern when this was first presented to them last May over misbehaving kids who could potentially damage or steal fire department equipment. March said that’s unlikely. “Students with behavior issues are usually not the ones signing up for the criminal justice public safety program,” he said. “We can pick and choose. So if I feel like a student isn’t ready or shouldn’t be in the program I can say ‘This student needs to go,’ and admin will remove them from the program. We’re not dealing with the difficult students that other teachers HAVE to deal with.”

Fire Chief Bill Coty is excited about this development. “You can’t do this anywhere else,” he said. And “in the long term it could definitely help with recruiting.”

Pine River Township Supervisor Kevin Beeson said “GI-TEC is a great program, and we can help make it a better program.”

Coty himself is a GI-TEC graduate, class of 1994. “When I graduated high school I was a certified mechanic with nine certifications,” he said via email. “The GI-TEC program provided myself and many of our firefighters lifelong skills and a great start in life without a massive amount of college debt. They’re turning out great welders, mechanics… along with so many other technical skills. Hopefully soon they will be turning out firefighters. Thats would be an amazing way to support our community and profession.”

GI-TEC encompasses school districts in Alma, Ashley, Beal City, Breckenridge, Fulton, Ithaca, Mt. Pleasant, Sacred Heart, St. Louis and Shepherd.

Investment policy updated

Fire Board members unanimously approved a proposal by St. Louis Finance Director Bobbie Marr that authorizes her to transfer some or all of the Fire Authority’s investments from certificates of deposit, which aren’t paying much at the moment and have penalties for early withdrawal, to Michigan Cooperative Liquid Assets Securities System.

According to the Michigan CLASS web site, the agency  “strives to offer public agencies in Michigan a safe, liquid, and competitive investment option. CLASS welcomes all legal public entities without favor to one type. The Board membership represents the diversity of such agencies and works to maintain a product that services the needs of all Michigan public agencies.”

Marr said the City of St. Louis “has a decent amount of money in (Michigan CLASS), and the earnings are going up significantly.” Money can be withdrawn at any time without penalty.

Pine River Township Supervisor Kevin Beeson said the decision to approve Michigan CLASS is “an easy lift.”

2022 activity report

Coty reported that the department had 246 alarms as of July 31, which is roughly equal to last year at the same time.

The breakdown on that is 48 general alarms, 12 mutual aid alarms (assisting other departments) and 198 medical alarms.

The department has conducted 46 investigations so far this year, up from 14 at the same time last year.

There are currently 24 firefighters with the department, but three are on leave with injuries or other issues.

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