Derek Fladand loves to fight fire.
He remembers the adrenaline rush while helping put out a tractor fire near his hometown of Gilby. During his junior year of high school, Fladand learned about a program called the Fire Academy of North Dakota that introduces students, ages 16-22, to the professional side of fire service.
That summer, he suited up and began training through the academy’s summer camp in Medina.
“It was the best experience,” he said. “I built so many friendships and learned this is what I wanted to do.”
After 14 years of training students in Medina, the Fire Academy is now seeking land in Mandan so it can move its operations closer to the oil activity in western North Dakota. To make the move a reality, the academy will need 4-10 acres and a spot where students can perform pump operations.
“We want to expand. Our goal is to put together two to three camps on a summer,” said Darrell Graf, the chief instructor at the academy. “Our classrooms and training grounds are in the exploratory states at this point.”
Right now the academy trains about 15 students at a time. The academy allows students to learn about fire behavior, participate in live drills and train on the technology used to fight fires. The training equipment includes three fire engines, an aerial ladder truck and fire suits.
Until land can be secured for a training facility, Graf said he hoping to team up with an educational facility, such as the Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy at the Bismarck State College campus.
“We have been looking into a lot of different ideas to assist us,” he said. “Teaming up with an educational facility would really help.”
The training program began when Al Kirshner, the superintendent of the National Fire Academy, traveled to North Dakota while visiting fire schools across the country. His stop in North Dakota resulted in a limited amount of funding from the Marine Corp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to launch the academy in 1988.
“It was exactly what the state needed,” Graf said. “We were out of date on a lot of our fighting techniques. We have established a program that provides opportunities in the state that haven’t been available to this degree and this amount of professional guidance.”
Tuition for students ranges from $175-$250 a year. Volunteer instructors help keep the costs down, Graf said.
Fladand, who is continuing his training at Grand Forks Northland Tech, returned to the academy this summer to be an instructor.
“It was my second year and I learned so much, but I am always learning in this profession,” he said. “And it’s exciting to share what I know with others who share the same interest.”
For more information about the Fire Fighting Academy of North Dakota, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ndfire.com.
-Kristin Grace is a freelance writer for the Great Plains Examiner.