The Wichita Falls Fire Department is 12 firefighters short. The reasons are many; some of them include a longer class schedule out at Vernon College, cutting down on time for recruits at the fire station and time away from their families while training.
“We’re four people short per shift,” Wichita Falls Interim Fire Chief Donald Hughes said.
That’s one of the reasons Hughes proposed to the Wichita Falls City Council Tuesday to move the firefighter training academy from Vernon College back in-house.
Training moved to Vernon College three years ago mainly for an estimated cost savings of $220,000 in salary and benefits by having recruits attend Vernon’s night school versus paying new recruits while in its own fire and EMS academy.
But it turns out, the Vernon College training took longer at 39 weeks versus 24, more overtime, plus having to operate on Vernon College’s class schedule, as well as recruits not getting used to fire station culture as early as possible. Yet, Hughes said the move back in-house wouldn’t mean an end to a relationship with the college.
“Our EMS coordinators are still at the college. Our fire coordinator is with the college,” Hughes said. “Our relationship has always been there. [It] probably always will be. It’s just [that] we’re going to have to re-work it.”
It’s something Vernon College President Dusty Johnston understands. In a statement to Texoma’s Homepage, Johnston said in part: “Vernon College has no significant issue with the firefighter training returning to in-house training. Vernon College will be prepared to assist the WFFD to successfully complete their training goals.”
Wichita Falls firefighter Jake Abernathy is a product of the Vernon College program. He said the program was successful and he enjoys his job. However, the current shortage isn’t helping.
“There’s a lot more work to be done and a lot of short staff issues we run into. But, hopefully, this next academy will get some new guys out of there,” Abernathy said.
Hughes said there are still details to be worked out. With city council’s approval, the chief said he hopes to start testing in July and have the first in-house recruits in October.
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