Saturday, July 13, 2024

New NHCS program aims to pique student interest in emergency response careers

Members of New Hanover County Fire Rescue speak to students about their jobs during an event at SEA-Tech High on Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A new program in New Hanover County Schools is introducing high schoolers to emergency services careers.

In the public safety program, students learn what the job of a first responder entails, by taking field trips to different departments and hearing firsthand from professionals. After a semester-long introductory class, students may move onto advanced courses to work toward certifications.

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Michelle Whitaker, public safety and firefighting instructor at SEA-Tech High, said her goal for the program is to build employment for the local departments.

“It starts here,” she said at the campus Tuesday. “This is where they get that interest. It is the future of our emergency services.”

The first course, Public Safety I, is currently taught at SEA-Tech High. Students may advance on to Firefighter Technology I, sponsored by New Hanover County Fire Rescue. The high schoolers will earn certifications by the Office of State Fire Marshall in the class.

Seniors also have the option to enroll in the Emergency Medical Technician class at New Hanover High. In that course, students prepare to take the state Department of Health and Human Services Office of Emergency Medical Services EMT certification exam after graduation.

To publicize the program, on Tuesday SEA-Tech had various emergency professionals on campus, from firefighters to police officers and even a therapy dog. Each demonstrated and explained their jobs to students.

“I’ve heard from quite a few of them that decided ‘this is where I want to go’ and ‘this is what I want to do,’” Whitaker said, “and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Tenth graders Layla Hanna and Brendan Guinup are already leaning toward the public safety field after a short time in the introductory course.

“I’ve always had that thing in my heart that I knew I wanted to do firefighting and something like that,” Hanna said.

Guinup explained he took the opportunity to enroll in the new program because his dad and grandfather were firefighters.

“I should probably want to carry on tradition,” he said. “I got more into [the class] and now I’m really liking what I want to do.”

The program is open to all high schoolers in New Hanover County and Pender County schools. Interested students should reach out to their guidance counselors to discuss scheduling and transportation to the classes.

Whitaker hopes to add more courses to the program as it grows, including Firefighter II and III.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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