Future firefighters honored at Manatee Technical College | From the Observer

MTC honors six students during its Fire Academy graduation

What can you accomplish in three minutes and 25 seconds?

William Thomas, who graduated from the Manatee Technical College Fire Academy March 15 in the Dr. Priscilla Haflich Auditorium at the MTC East Campus in Lakewood Ranch, can complete the firefighter’s Combat Challenge in that time.

Thomas was honored at the graduation for completing the Combat Challenge the fastest (under 7 minutes is the requirement) among his Class 36.

The challenge rules are this: Participants are in full gear, including air tanks (about 40 pounds). They carry a hose roll (about 40 pounds) up four stories to the top of the fire tower.

“I’ve always wanted to help those in need and to help out the community.”

— William Thomas, Fire Academy graduate

When they get there, they must hoist two hose packs (40 pounds each) — they are on the ground and they are raised with a rope — to the top of the building and then carry the original hose pack down to the ground again where they leave it.

Then, contenders take a charged line — a hose with water in it — and take it 100 feet and release some of the water. They then stand on a Keiser FORCE machine and use a sledgehammer to knock a steel beam back to simulate entering a burning building.

When they finish that section, participants carry two foam buckets weighing 40 pounds each 100 feet. Then they take a 170-pound dummy and drag it backward another 100 feet.

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. But for Thomas, it’s all about perseverance.

“By the time you take that hose up to the top of the stairs to begin with, you’re like, ‘Oh no,’” he said.

But he just pushed through it.

“The faster you go, the less time you’ll be in all of the pain,” Thomas said.

All nine people in his class passed, he said.

Bill Kebler, the lead instructor of Fire Sciences, said the challenge is an athletic evaluation of the skills the students learn during their time at the academy.

“It breaks up the monotony,” he said, and helps encourage team spirit.

For Kebler, it fills him with a sense of pride to see not only everybody pass but to see fast times like that from Thomas.

“It shows that they’re learning,” he said.

Thomas isn’t sure what the future holds. Even so, he feels confident in his decision to become a firefighter.

“I’ve always wanted to help those in need and to help out the community,” he said.

Thomas knows that he will regularly be helping people who are experiencing their worst days and that he might struggle, but he said he’ll just remind himself that somebody could always have it worse than he does.

He also said he learned that being a firefighter is far from a single-person job.

“It’s all about teamwork,” he said. “You can’t just do it by yourself.”

Other award winners in Class 36 were Jordan Escher for practical skills performance (98.5%) and Robert Jordan for highest academic achievement.

Two classes graduated. Class 37 award winners were Andrew Lininger for fastest time to complete the firefighter’s Combat Challenge in 3 minutes 10 seconds, Tre Bryant for highest academic achievement award with a 95.6% and Easton Evans for achieving a 99% on practical skills performance.

Students who complete the academy and pass the state’s firefighter certification exam qualify for employment as firefighters in Florida.

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