Interest growing in local fire academy

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State could partner with local school to provide additional training to firefighters

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Ask Bronson Volunteer Fire Department Captain Jerry Horton why the program he helped pioneer, the Levy County Fire Academy, is growing in popularity, and he’ll tell you it’s because of the quality of the instructors. “If it wasn’t for the instructors, it wouldn’t be what it is today,” he said Thursday. The program, given its official name this year, has steadily grown since it was started about five years ago and is being looked at by the Florida State Fire College, in Ocala, as a potential partner in providing more advanced training, according to Horton. Horton said LCFA, where he also works as an instructor, currently provides Firefighter 1 training to volunteer firefighters in Levy and surrounding counties.  If FSFC gets involved, Horton said, the LCFA would be able to provide training for Firefighter 2, enabling graduates of the academy to work as full-time paid firefighters once they pass state exams. He said it could happen as soon as September. “The Ocala college wouldn’t come unless they thought this was good.” Besides offering good training, Horton said, LCFA is relatively affordable, about $400 for the three-month program. Also, because classes are offered in evenings and on weekends, people with jobs and families find it easier to attend. But the classes themselves are not easy, Horton said. “We train to the fullest. I’m hands on, and I’ve seen students cry. I’ve had students puke. I’ve had students say they want to quit.” It has to be tough, he said. Students need to come out knowing everything they can in order to save lives. Horton said this year’s program, which began in May, started with 21 people and now has 15. Some were lost because of low test scores, others because of a lack of physical agility. Those who made it took their final exam Sunday. “It’s like a military boot camp,” said Clay Woods, one of this year’s 15 students to make it to finals.  He said he’s had to do lots of physical training, including dragging heavy hoses and 185 pounds of steel weights through the dirt. He’s been dressed in full bunker gear in 105-degree weather and had to enter burning rooms as hot as 700-degree ovens. “But when you reach the end, you just say thanks for pushin’ me. If I could sum it all up in two words, it would be ‘thank you’.” Woods said he hopes the LCFA does offer Firefighter 2 training in the future because he plans to take it if they do. He added that if the state fire college partners with LCFA, certification earned would qualify graduates to work throughout the U.S., not just Florida. Woods, who lives in Morriston and runs a small cabinet shop in Williston, said he highly recommends the Levy County Fire Academy. “Let’s put it this way,” he said.  “My son got wind of this. He’s 21. He watched his dad just about die, and he looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I want to do this’.” For more information on the Levy County Fire Academy, call Jerry Horton at 486-4493.