ARLINGTON — The graduation ceremony Saturday night had distinguished speakers, praise for the students’ hard work and proud parents in attendance.But the 16 young adults being honored on this night had, in recent days, already gone through their high school commencement exercises. This banquet, instead, was for the inaugural class of the Arlington school district Fire Academy, established two years ago in partnership with the Arlington Fire Department and Tarrant County College.Twenty-three students started out in the first academy class two years ago. Sixteen made it all the way to the ceremony Saturday night. A handful of them were among the 1,100 people who recently took the written exam in hopes of becoming one of the Fire Department’s 2013 recruits.Four of them, including recent Martin High graduates Brent Bousquet and Blake Cretsinger, have made it to the fourth stage of the hiring process: a panel interview.Fire Chief Don Crowson and other officials stressed that being academy graduates does not give the four any advantage over other candidates. But it does show that the Fire Department’s secondary goal for the academy of attracting more Arlington residents to the applicant pool may be paying off.Bousquet and Cretsinger, both 18, said they want to give back to the department that made their early training possible and, though neither was born in Arlington, to help protect what is now their hometown. Along with their academy classmates, they now know what the department has to offer.“I want to work for the best fire department in the nation,” Cretsinger said.Their fathers, Rick Bousquet and Dean Cretsinger, said the program helped make the boys into men.On Brent Bousquet’s first day on clinical rotation for his EMT training, his father said, he was called to perform CPR on a patient who would die.“It really hit him in the face what this was all about,” Rick Bousquet said. “He saw that this was life and death. I’m proud of him for pushing through it.”A future fire chiefThe Arlington school district and TCC wanted a program that would prepare graduates to enter the work force right after high school even if they planned to go to college. But officials were unsure how high school students would perform in a rigorous program that demanded college-level coursework and the extracurricular time commitment of a varsity athlete, said Lt. Rob Constantine, the academy coordinator.He and other fire officials, as well as TCC and school district leaders, said they were pleased with the initial results.The new academy graduates now have up to 24 hours of college credit toward TCC’s associate degree in fire professions and can sit for the state firefighter or emergency medical technician basic certification exam once they turn 18.“We might have a future fire chief in this room,” Arlington City Councilman Robert Rivera said Saturday evening.The academy, at Sam Houston High School, is funded by the school district mostly with state money. Nineteen members of the Fire Department, working as TCC instructors, teach the courses during their off time.Getting selected was not easy. Candidates had to write an essay, get recommendations and pass a college-entrance test.Fort Worth academyThe Fort Worth school district offers a similar program. The Fire Science Academy at Eastern Hills High School is one of the district’s Gold Seal Programs of Choice. Retired Dallas Fire Chief Eddie Burns came on board as the instructor last fall.Unlike the Arlington academy, Burns said last week, Fort Worth’s is a four-year program that starts with a broad overview of public safety the first year. Students can branch into law enforcement or fire service their second year. Training takes place at TCC.Burns said he intends to show students the professionalism and conduct that are required to work for a big city fire department.“It’s about improving their character,” he said. “They know they can’t make a bad choice or it reflects on the program. That, to me, is a powerful tool.”The Fort Worth Fire Department provides some support services for the program, spokesman Tim Hardeman said.“Cleaning the firefighting gear is one of the services we provide; other services are considered upon request,” he said.As with the Arlington program, graduates are positioned to take the state certification exam for firefighter or EMT upon graduation. They can also apply to the Fort Worth Fire Department, but as with Arlington, they are not guaranteed jobs. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674 Twitter: @patrickmwalker1