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Owen Fire Academy: The Future of Firefighting
Owen Fire Academy: The Future of Firefighting
Posted on 10/28/2021
Owen High students are training to become firefighters and first-responders through a new Fire Academy.Featured Photos: 1. (Above) Owen High Fire Academy students spray water from a fire hose during an on-campus drill. 2. Swannanoa Fire Dept. Chief Anthony Penland instructs a student in proper mask usage. 3. Fire Academy students simulate an indoor fire scenario by moving a hose low to the ground. (View/Share the full photo album and watch the video on Facebook.)

Story/Video/Photos By: Benjamin Rickert
BCS Communications Dept.

Fire engines from the Swannanoa and Black Mountain Fire Departments arrived at Charles D. Owen High School just as the morning sun was spilling into the Swannanoa Valley. Firefighters emerged and quickly prepared their equipment for action, but this was no emergency. Class was about to begin.

Swannanoa Fire Dept. Chief Anthony Penland instructs a student in proper mask usage.This school year, high school students are training to become firefighters and first-responders through an innovative Fire Academy program. The unique partnership between Owen High, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and local fire departments is helping students earn high school credits alongside professional certifications. The program gives students a head start toward their futures through professional training, experience, and mentorship. It also creates a path toward serving the community.

“The fire service is the greatest profession out there. You get to serve people,” said Swannanoa Fire Dept. Chief and Fire Academy leader Anthony Penland. “What we’re trying to do is get the younger generation excited about becoming public servants.”

When the students complete both semesters of the academy, they will have all but four classes required to be fully certified fire fighters across the state of North Carolina. Upon reaching the age of 18, they’ll be eligible to join any fire department in the state and pursue the remaining credentials.

“We’re using the fire department’s equipment to teach the students. It would be the same as if a firefighter joined the fire department and started going through the certification classes,” added the chief.

Fire Academy students practice moving a hose low to the ground.On Oct. 14, students practiced using personal protective equipment in a fictional firefighting scenario. In full turnout gear including air tanks and breathing apparatuses, the students exited fire trucks, prepared hoses, and crawled toward targets in companies of three. Upon reaching a safe distance from their target, the crew activated a hose and extinguished the "fire." The drill tested several skills required to enter a smoke-filled structure; it required students to work as a team, properly use their equipment, follow directions from an officer, and keep a close eye on each other’s oxygen supply.

“In my opinion, this is the coolest class at Owen,” said Owen senior Connor Miller. “[In] what other class do you get to sit in a fire truck or spray water?”

After graduation, Miller plans to pursue the remaining certifications needed to fight wildfires as a wildland firefighter. It was 31 years ago that Penland began his own journey as a volunteer firefighter.

“Every day we go to work we get to serve the people,” said Penland. “To me, there’s nothing better than getting to be helpful to others in a time of need.”



    Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin, shanon.martin@bcsemail.org, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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