The Valley will become host to several trainee firefighters thanks to a new program implemented this week.
On Wed. Nov. 20, representatives from Monterrey, Nuevo León met with city leaders from Mission and South Texas College to discuss the beginning of the International Fire Academy, an agreement between communities in the U.S. and Mexico. The program will allow future firefighters from Mexico to train alongside fire science students at the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence (located at 3901 S. Cage Blvd. in Pharr).
“We want to give all 20 of our sister cities the opportunity to send two firefighters into this academy,” O’caña said. “At the onset it’s Nuevo León, but Fortín de los Flores, Veracruz has already committed, and Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas.”
The event included a presentation from Victor Fonseca of the STC Fire Science program, who showed videos about the training offered at the college.
“Usually colleges are good at creating relationships, so this is an opportunity for us to work with this group from Monterrey to help them develop their firefighters,” said STC Dean of Business, Public Safety and Technology Mario Reyna. “We can teach the lecture part everywhere, but I think they want us to take them out there and show them how to use the equipment to their benefit.”
Reyna said trainees will also have the chance to be taken to live fires and gain additional experience.
“This is going to be beneficial to everybody,” Reyna said. “The idea is that we create this understanding with each other, because we’re obviously so close to each other, and it’s a benefit that we understand each other. Monterrey is a very advanced city, they just need a little bit of help to get their firefighters up to speed.”
The fire science program at STC covers topics including organization and history, fire behavior, personal protective clothing, training on the self-contained breathing apparatus, fire service ladders, fire suppression, ventilation, water supply, fire service hose, hazardous materials and 55 state-mandated objectives.
A video of Fire Academy 13 included pictures and recorded examples of what goes on in training. It showed students conditioning outdoors in full gear, equipment training, safety techniques, working in day and night, crawling in enclosed spaces, putting out actual fires in training buildings and vehicles and hands-on experience.
Currently, the Fire Science program is training Fire Academy 23. They work off a trainee to trainer program, so eventually those learning from the program will be able to teach it. According to Mayor O’caña, this will allow the sister city trainees to take what they learn back to their hometowns to work in public safety and grow the fire training programs across the border.
O’caña acts as the president of the STC Fire Academy board, and noted that the Mission Fire Department is at the heart of instructional training at the college.
Finding the cost of fire training to be expensive, O’caña said funding for the fire department is able to be utilized more toward equipment and employee benefits rather than all go toward training recruits.
“It’s very cost-effective,” O’caña said. “Now we can use that money for growth. All the cities provide STC with additional equipment and instructors hired by STC.”
Representatives from Mexico also joined the city leaders for lunch and toured the RCPSE facilities at STC that are currently available, as construction is still underway.
Once completed, the facilities will be over a 64-acre site, with 180 additional acres available for future expansion. The RCPSE will include 534,385 square feet of buildings, structures & driving track, and will be completed in three phases over the next decade (in 2030).
Phase One of the project includes a training center for Law Enforcement, Public Safety and Criminal Justice students, a driving skills/skid pad, a shooting simulation lab and a driving simulation lab. Phase Two is focused in Fire Science and Homeland Security, including the construction of a multi-story fire training structure, two-story residential training structure and a confined space/search and rescue training area, flashover training and a flammable liquid and gas training pad.
Phase Two also includes an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC), a cityscape with non-lethal simulation training capacity, and a covered shooting range with a firearm training classroom.
Phase Three will include a Physical Plant and expansive growth with the addition of several education and student services buildings. The $71.28 million project will make STC the first college to establish an integrated public safety program in the country.
Students attending RCPSE will attain the Basic Firefighter Certificate, which will be earned during the International Fire Academy training, a certification higher than that mandated at the state level.
It is designed to prepare students for their careers as firefighters, including the functions of all fire equipment (including the fire apparatus) and the theory and practical application of firefighting technology. The RCPSE also provides training to newly hired firefighters and current veteran firefighters.
STC hopes to begin implementing the International Fire Academy in the upcoming semesters next year. The additional training will be categorized as continuing and professional education.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 22, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.