New Firefighting Class Ignites Spark Among Students

By Caitlin Davis, HCPS Communications Specialist 


HOPEWELL -- On an early Friday morning in August, several teenagers gathered at Hopewell’s Fire Station One to be measured and fitted for turnout gear. The suits and boots the young people donned were remarkably similar to those worn by the department’s regular responders, with one notable exception: their orange helmets, which bore a special insignia that identified them as Hopewell High Fire Academy students.


This summer, Hopewell City Public Schools laid the groundwork for a new firefighting class that will be added to the division’s career and technical education roster this fall.


For many students, the excitement for the new program was clear. Rising junior Brenda Brumbley arrived 30 minutes early for her fitting, while rising junior Patrick Despencer eagerly anticipated the opportunities that learning about firefighting would bring him.

“I like the dangerous part,” he said.


For Brumbley, the attraction was different, although no less strong.

“My goal in life is to inspire people in whatever I do, and I just want to gather as much experience as I can so that whenever I go into this big world, I can just go ahead and have some stuff underneath my belt,” she said.


According to Supervisor of Secondary Instruction Janice Butterworth, preparation for the firefighting program began last year under the leadership of former CTE Supervisor Betty Ware, who has since retired. After surveying students, said Butterworth, “we discovered, to no great surprise, that our students want more opportunities for CTE courses that will lead to jobs …and firefighting was a popular choice.”


Coordination between the schools and the Hopewell Fire Department soon led to the creation of a curriculum and a new hire within the fire department, Capt. Danny Jarrell, who previously started a firefighter class at Colonial Heights High School Technical Center and taught emergency medical technician and firefighter classes at Rowanty Technical Center.


“When I graduated high school many, many years ago I had two things I wanted to do,” Jarrell recalled. “Firefighting was number one. I wanted to become a career firefighter and if that didn’t work out, I wanted to become a history teacher.” As it turned out, he has the chance to combine both of those career aspirations in one role.


Hopewell’s new course, said Jarrell, will be similar to the high school’s JROTC class in that students will be required to meet certain dress, physical and cognitive learning standards. From an administrative point of view, Butterworth described the class’ curriculum as thorough, aggressive and in need of a high level of student commitment.

“There’s more to it than putting the wet stuff on the red stuff,” said Jarrell.


The students, who must be 16 years of age to enroll in the class, will also learn what Jarrell called “fire behavior,” the science behind firefighting, as well as the use and maintenance of various types of equipment.


Leadership, too, will be a particular emphasis of the course. Students will have a chance to obtain national Firefighter I and Hazardous Materials Operations certifications, and even to apply and interview for promotion to lieutenant.


“We are anxious to provide opportunities to kids that will perhaps yield community service, and if we have students who graduate and are able to go right into a firefighting career, perhaps they’ll choose their Hopewell community to live and work,” Butterworth said.


As the first day of school draws near, Jarrell is ready to get in the classroom.

“I want a 100 percent success” rate, he said, smiling. “I want all of them passing the certification exam, and my ultimate hope would be (that) if they desire to work in the field, that they will work with me in Hopewell.”


For Brumbley, Hopewell’s new firefighting course is just the first step toward her dream of helping others.


“I just want to learn everything that I can,” she said as she waited to be measured for her new uniform. “I can do this if I put my mind to it.”