High school firefighter program paying off as Saint Louis hires Alma High School senior

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis has a new probationary firefighter, thanks to a new wrinkle in the Gratiot-Isabella Technical Education Center’s public safety program.

Alma High School senior Zoe Hedrick was among 36 area high school students who had hands-on training for two hours a day at the St. Louis Area Fire Department over the last two months.

“Before this class I had no interest in being a firefighter,” Hedrick told the Fire Board Tuesday, May 9. “After the class and getting hands on experience it was much more interesting than I thought it would be. And I’m glad I continued with the class.”

In addition to her regular work, Hedrick completed an independent study program that “consisted of reading four chapters of the Essentials of Firefighting text book, doing the assignments and taking the test for each chapter,” said GI-TEC instructor Bob March. “She also had to plan and conduct a special project in which she taught the other students a firefighting skill, and gave them a hands-on drill to practice it.”

“Before this class I had no interest in being a firefighter. After the class and getting hands on experience it was much more interesting than I thought it would be. And I’m glad I continued with the class.”

Probationary Firefighter Zoe Hedrick

That work paid off when Hedrick became a probationary firefighter for St. Louis on May 1. “As a probationary firefighter she has a radio, pager and full set of gear,” said Fire Chief Bill Coty. “The tasks she may be asked to do are limited to her level of training. But she is a rostered, valuable member of this department.”

Students learn how fire behaves with the use of a “doll house” built by St. Louis High School wood shop students.

If Hedrick still wants to be a firefighter after her probation is over the department will pay her way through the fire academy, Cody said. Hedrick could start her academy training as early as September.

Alma High School senior Mallory Apple also attended the Fire Board meeting and enthusiastically endorsed the training she received over the last two months.

Among the things the students did was practice with thermal imaging equipment, learn how to drag a disabled firefighter from a room and study the movement of fire in a building through the use of a “dollhouse” built by students in the St. Louis High School wood shop.

“It was really cool to watch how (the dollhouse) worked,” Apple said. “You could really see how the fire moved.”

This year’s program consisted of 13 girls and 15 boys in the first year class; and seven girls and one boy in the second year class.

There were 36 students in all with 15 from Alma High School, eight from Shepherd, seven from Mt. Pleasant, four from Fulton, one from Breckenridge and one from St. Louis (Eduardo Memije-Ramirez).

GI-TEC instructor March predicts that more students will participate in the next school year. “Now that students are aware that the fire curriculum is part of it, we’re going to have students who are joining the class for that very reason,” he said.

Chief Coty is himself 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.

Rescue Task Force equipment

Fire departments in St. Louis, Alma and Ithaca have received $21,000 from the Luneack Family Foundation to create “rescue task forces” to respond to mass shootings.

The money will provide “enough funding for a Rescue Task Force team for all three fire departments along with ballistic helmets for Alma and Saint Louis police departments,” Coty said.

Firefighters on the rescue task forces will be provided with ballistic helmets, bulletproof vests  and triage kits.

“We are not immune to this here,” Coty said. “Nobody is. So we are putting the proper equipment together. There will be no out of pocket expenses to our fire department, but we will end up at the end of the day with multiple ballistic helmets, multiple bulletproof vests and triage kits. So if the shooting does happen anyplace we have the ability to go in with the police units with protection and hopefully save lives.”

New rescue truck

Last month the Sentinel reported that the fire department bought a 2023 Ford F-550 chassis for $61,705 to replace a 20-year-old F-550.

That chassis has been delivered but must be taken to Apollo Fire Service of Romeo, Mich. so it can be fitted out with a rear section (poly body) containing the compartments and fixtures a rescue truck needs.

The only question was whether to buy that stuff new or refurbish the poly body of the departments older F-550 and transfer it to the new chassis.

That became easy to answer after Coty explained that it’s cheaper to buy new because the department stands to get $35,000 by selling the old rescue truck with its poly body as opposed to $10,000 for the chassis alone, Coty said.

There are a lot of numbers involved in the calculation, including purchase prices and grants, but Coty said the total savings from buying a new poly body should be around $12,000.

Fire Board members Kevin Beeson (Pine River Township supervisor), Greg Mikek (Bethany Township supervisor), Carmen Bajena (Jasper Township supervisor), Kurt Giles (St. Louis city manager) and Bobbi Marr (St. Louis finance director) approved the proposal unanimously.

“We will order a new poly body tomorrow, and it will be here in 12-16 weeks,” Coty said.

New firefighters

Firefighters Josh Hitsman and Tailer Lange have completed the study necessary to earn Firefighter 1 & 2 status. The received their new helmets on Monday, May 8.

Editor’s note

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2 replies »

    • Thanks, Julie! I do plan to keep writing Sentinel articles if elected mayor in November but will probably have to make changes to ensure that journalism doesn’t make my role as mayor problematic.


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