DANBURY — When students went back to school last week after their Christmas break, it also meant the start of something pretty important: The Stokes County School System’s new Fire Academy, something that’s been dreamed about for quite a while.
Twenty-nine students have signed up for the program. Classes are being taught at South and North Stokes high schools by Mark Thorpe, who has been with the City of King Fire Department as a firefighter since 1996.
The introductory class, Public Safety I, is being offered this semester and the district hopes to expand the program later on.
“The goal is to build up the number of volunteers and meet a need in the county,” Stokes County School’ Chief Academic Officer Doug Rose told the Board of Education Monday night.
Rose said more marketing of the program, including specifically recruiting students from West Stokes, will be done in the spring.
The program is being set up on the model from Walkertown, and the instructor there, Eddie Green, has been working with the Stokes County academy.
Thorpe holds multiple firefighter certifications including: basic wildland fire suppression, driver operator pumps, emergency vehicle operator, NC EMT, American Association CPR, Fire and Life Safety Educator 1, Fire Officer 1, Fire Officer 2, Firefighter 1 and 2, General Instructor 2, Qualified Instructor 2, Hazardous Materials 1, Rapid Intervention Team, Technical Rescuer, Technical Rescuer Ropes, Technical Rescuer Water and Car Seat Safety Technician.
In addition, he taught continuing education classes for local fire departments and has served as the Emergency Service Training Facilitator for Forsyth Technical Community College since 2018.
“I’m highly encouraged in everything I’ve seen about his professionalism,” Rose said. “Mark is a spark-plug.”
Thorpe came to this newly created position highly recommended as a fire instructor, having coordinated the training and work with the Junior Fire Program. He is a known leader in the area of fire safety and training and the right person to start this new program.
Thorpe is already working with local fire departments, Rose added, and collecting equipment that can be used in the program.
Rose added that he appreciates the collaboration with the commissioners, the Board of Education and the local fire departments in creating this opportunity for our students.
The academy was started in part to address the falling numbers among volunteer fire fighters, to get young people interested in joining one of the local fire departments, or law enforcement or becoming an EMT.
Addressing the County Commissioners last year, Will Carter, the county’s director of Economic Development, cited a study that showed the state is losing an average of 600 volunteer firefighters a year. Having volunteers of course means the county does not have to hire paid staff persons to be on call 24/7 to respond to fires and other emergencies.
The program requires four semesters of class work to complete, and a new class will be added each semester, Rose told the school board members. He added that there is plenty of room for growth, with space for up to 60 students from each of the high schools.
During questions for Rose Monday night, Board of Education member Mike Rogers said he hoped the program will provide entries for all first responders, not only fire-fighters. Dwayne Bryant also mentioned the Iredell County Career and Technical School model.