Fire authority’s ‘mini-academy’ creates future leaders in the heat of battle

Innovative Michigan program trains high school students for firefighting careers

This is the real deal—no fire station tour, no Milk-Bone for the Dalmatian.

That was the approach the Brighton Area Fire Authority took five years ago, when it proposed and launched a groundbreaking training program in south-central Michigan.

Now, about 20 students a year emerge from nearby Howell High School with their firefighter No. 1, firefighter No. 2 and basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification—fully trained to work as a firefighter anywhere in the state.

“Other fire departments have tried this sort of thing in community schools, but it’s been offered more as a club or a one-hour ancillary program, that sort of thing,” says fire chief Michael O’Brian. “When we had early discussions about this, we said: “Listen, this is not a teaser. Either we’re going to go all in and make firefighters who meet the state requirements, or we’re not in.’ ”

With a dedicated instructor, two class periods a day, and real-world training offsite one Saturday a month, the Brighton Area Fire Authority has equipped about 75 students to date for work after graduation. And it’s not always the hook-and-ladder persuasion, either.

“Our goal is to produce more firefighters, but some have gone into the medical field. Others have gone into armed services,” says O’Brian. “What we’re finding is that we’re creating and building up young men and women who will become leaders.”

Safety is Enbridge’s top priority, and the very foundation of our business. Our Safe Community program awards grants to first response agencies in American and Canadian communities near our operations, and we also donate former fleet vehicles to emergency response organizations once they are retired from service at Enbridge.

Vector Pipeline L.P., a joint venture between Enbridge and DTE Energy Company, recently donated a 2009 Chevrolet Silverado to the Brighton Area Fire Authority for use in its mini-academy at Howell High School. The truck has proven useful in transporting equipment such as breathing apparatus and fire hose back and forth from the station on practice days.

In all, students emerge with 600 hours of training from Brighton Area Fire Authority, whose program has receive strong backing from the school system and fellow fire departments.

“We’re seeing young men and women transform their lives. We’ve heard from parents that this program is giving them purpose, that they’re getting better grades on other classes,” says O’Brian. “There’s been a hidden benefit, in that we are creating great civil servants.”