By Danika Beaton, Kaitlyn Henscheid, and Olivia O’Connor, Woodstock High School

The students at Woodstock High School are always striving to learn and improve their understanding of the world around them. Our students learn to take fingerprints in the criminal justice class, design T-shirts for clubs in graphic design, and have access to many different pathways and careers, helping them learn more about the opportunities the world has to offer. A new program was added to Woodstock High School this year: the Fire and Emergency Services pathway.

Jason Watkins, a certified firefighter who worked with the Cherokee County Fire Department for several years, is Woodstock High School’s newest instructor. He teaches students all they need to know to become a firefighter and be successful in the field. The class is very hands-on and physically demanding at times, but extremely rewarding and engaging for students. This pathway gives students the opportunity to have numerous learning experiences with practical skill assessments and opportunities to become certified in different areas. Not only does this program teach these kids important lessons and life skills, but it also gets them ready for a career in firefighting.

Out of all the schools in Cherokee County, Woodstock High School is the only school that offers the Fire and Emergency Services course. Students are recommended to take the prerequisite course starting their sophomore year to participate in the Fire and Emergency Services class their junior year with the Essentials of Firefighting. The course is offered as a three-year program. In the students’ third year, they can enroll in Worked-Based Learning as a Youth Apprentice to study at the Cherokee County Fire Department, where they can leave school to receive hands-on experience at different fire stations and in the training center.

First, students must take the prerequisite course, Intro to Law, to get into the Fire & Emergency Services course. Once the students have passed the prerequisite course, they can enroll in the first Fire and Emergency Services class in which they begin learning about all the skills they need to become certified.

The goal of this course is to get students NPQ1, National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications, certified. The students can take this test in their senior year and can use this to their advantage after graduation. Students going into this field after taking the Fire and Emergency Services course in high school are one step ahead of their peers and have a higher success rate and a better understanding of what it takes to become firefighters.

Woodstock High School | Schoonmaker, Duet | Photo Credit: Jason Watkins

Students Tatum Schoonmaker and Merrick Duet suited up and ready to train! (Photo Credit: Jason Watkins)

One day a year, the Fire & Emergency Services class takes an informational, hands-on field trip to the Cherokee County Fire Training Center for a live burn in the burn building. To participate, students must be 18 years old. They have an opportunity to enter the burn building while the building is on fire. During the live burn, instructors that are licensed firefighters teach the students the intricacies of a fire. They learn the different stages of a fire, how it grows and develops, and how to properly use a hose to put out the fire. They learn different hose patterns when entering the live burn, where temperatures can get up to 1,000 degrees.

Woodstock High School | Fire Safety Pathway | Photo Credit: Merrick Duet

Students experience a live burn at the Cherokee County Fire Training Center. (Photo Credit: Merrick Duet)

Two students from Woodstock High School in Cherokee County are working hard trying to earn a spot amongst the recruits. Tatum Schoonmaker and Merrick Duet are two outstanding students extremely involved in this program. When experiencing the heat, Schoonmaker added “It was hot but not bad. It was just something I’ve never felt before.” During the live burn, Schoonmaker and Duet gained invaluable experience and learned from professional firefighters.

Woodstock High School | Schoonmaker, Duet | Photo Credit: Jason Watkins

Woodstock students Merrick Duet and Tatum Schoonmaker learning from the chief about how to properly use secure compressed oxygen tanks. (Photo Credit: Jason Watkins)

When asked why they became involved in this program Schoonmaker replies, “I originally took the course because I thought it would be an easy A, but as the semester progressed, I realized how fun it was and loved the atmosphere. It feels like a family.” Duet emphasizes the family aspect of being a part of the firefighting program and enjoys “hanging out and setting things on fire.”

But what’s the true advantage of becoming a member of this pathway? The skills and experiences these students learn from their short time in the program are unmatched. These kids can go through the same training courses and simulations as actual trainee firefighters, allowing them to have exposure to everything they would learn if they were a trainee. Another positive is that as soon as students are finished with high school, they can go straight into their work to becoming a firefighter.

Starting as a recruit, the salary is $49,000 a year right out of high school. As soon as they are out of their training and recruitment period, they can become full-fledged firefighters, ranging from $53,000 to $59,000. Along with steady and immediate pay, they typically get to work only a few days a week, practicing a 48-hours-off, 24-hours-on schedule, giving them lots of flexibility and time.

Ultimately, these kids can find such a loving and supportive community with this job, allowing them to make a difference in their community and pursue their passion.



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