Phoenix fire academy resumes classes after coronavirus break

(KTAR News Photo/ Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Fire Department on Monday will host its first academy class since the start of coronavirus outbreak in Arizona.

Comprised of forty recruits from four different cities, the department will train the class over the next 16 weeks as they prepare to start their career in the midst of a pandemic.

“We were concerned about the numbers that we would normally take in an academy and we put a cap on it at 40 – that had a lot to do with the space and availability in the classrooms,” Mike Billingsley, Phoenix Fire Division Chief at the Regional Training Academy, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday.

Because of the risk of gathering the groups, the class of aspiring firefighters started their academy with a COVID-19 test.

“It’s an interesting environment because not only do we have didactic training that we do, but we have physical hands on training that we have to accomplish to train firefighters,” Billingsley said.

He pointed out the decisions made for this academy weighed heavily on the department ahead of the start date. However, the decision to move forward with training did not come without the department taking numerous precautions to minimize the risk of infection and keep recruits and instructors healthy.

The training facility is closed to outside agencies and anyone other than essential training personnel who have been cleared ahead of time.

Following the city’s mandatory mask policy, both the recruits and instructors will wear masks indoors. In addition, the instructional classrooms have been opened up for socially distancing purposes.

Recruits have access to cleaning wipes and disinfectant, and they regularly wipe down and clean their own spaces as well as common areas throughout the facility. The facility has also implemented increased cleaning that is done by custodial services, who thoroughly sanitize the facility with a cleaning fog.

Billingsley accepted the responsibility that comes as the leader of the first fire academy class in Phoenix since the pandemic. Since day one he has worked hard to communicate the importance of health and safety for everyone involved, especially those working to earn the title of a firefighter.

“If you get it, it could potentially omit you or keep you away from the training that is vital to turn out a firefighter,” He said.

As unprecedented and alarming as the outbreak has been for first responders, the department has prepared “buffer time” in the event of a recruit contracting COVID-19. This allows for extra time to be built into the academy class.

“We are no stranger to communicable diseases that are out there always, but this one is interesting with a lot of unknowns,” Billingsley said.

He described the dialog to recruits has been consistent to stay safe, wear masks, and to protect themselves so they can get graduate the academy safely in the next 16 weeks.

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