New program will train first responders

Upcoming capital projects are projected to bring an influx of new residents to Baytown, and with them, a need for qualified emergency services personnel. Lee College is stepping up to meet this need, partnering with the City of Baytown Fire Department to provide cutting-edge, industry standard training in a new state-of-the-art facility.

Approved by the Lee College Board of Regents in Dec. 2012, the new Fire Science program — which provides firefighter and rescue training to new and incumbent emergency personnel — is the culmination of a three-year effort by the college and the city to prepare for the influx of emergency personnel projected to accompany the anticipated growth in the area’s petrochemical, healthcare, maritime and logistics industries.

“In addition to the 131 emergency responders currently employed by the City of Baytown, there are approximately 700-1,000 emergency response personnel working at local plants and in neighboring communities,” said Lt. Charles Murrell with the Baytown Fire Department. “The city will add 26 additional emergency personnel over the next two years, and there is a projected increase of several thousand during the construction phase of the many industrial facilities in this community.”

Additionally, Lt. Murrell says, beginning this year, all new hires must be dually certified as firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and advancement for existing officers will be contingent upon EMT certification. Although neighboring colleges offer training programs, most are either too expensive or too limited in scope to meet the new requirements, he adds.

To meet this demand, the city and the college will partner to offer courses at the new 21-acre Baytown Fire Training Complex, currently under construction. Phase one of construction is anticipated to be complete in 2013; Murrell says portions of the facility opened in the first phase will allow students to participate in basic structural firefighter training and certification courses.

Once complete, the state-of-the-art facility will be equipped to replicate emergency scenarios ranging from residential, commercial and industrial structure fires, high-rise rescue, structural collapse/heavy rescue and other mass-casualty emergencies, as well as ship fires and rescues, and will be the only facility of its kind between College Station and New Orleans, La.

Drills conducted at the complex will include exercises designed to sharpen survival skills, search and rescue techniques, and a variety of tactics to be used in specific life-threatening situations.

Courses will be taught by Lee College instructors and will implement standards set by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) and the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE).   Credentials offered through the program will range from certificate-level and continuing education courses — which are anticipated to begin this summer — to a two-year associate degree in Fire Science, to be launched in the Fall 2013 semester. Additionally, articulation agreements with the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) will provide a smooth transition for Lee College students seeking bachelor and master’s degrees in Public Service Leadership, credentials necessary for promotion to fire chief status.

Combined, these efforts will provide a fast track to a career field that is here to stay.

“As societies grow and change, the need for qualified, emergency first responders will always remain consistent,” said Lee College Vice President of Learning Dr. Cathy Kemper. “Working together with our partners, we will ensure our students are prepared to meet the demands of serving and protecting our community.”

For additional information regarding the Fire Science program at Lee College, contact the Community Education Department at 281.425.6311.