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The City of Sumter received a Municipal Achievement Award for its firefighter training program in the school district. Officials were presented with the award during the Municipal Association of South Carolina's 73rd Annual Meeting on July 20. The city won in the public safety category. Thirty-three cities and towns submitted their projects and initiatives.
The City of Sumter's Fire Department struggled to recruit new firefighters. During the past two decades, the city recruited only half of the number of firefighters it had been able to previously. Extensive training requirements made the job a tough sell to college-bound kids, and the department grappled to find qualified candidates while dealing with an ever-tightening budget.
In 2011, the Sumter Fire Department approached the school district to create a training program that would satisfy Department of Education standards while allowing students to earn a Fire II certification. The course is a two-year endeavor designed for juniors and seniors, and takes place at the county's career center.
The school district pays for the costs of the classroom facility and the instructor's salary. The city assumes all costs associated with using and maintaining the emergency vehicles and fire-training grounds. The fire department provides the personal protective equipment and also received a grant from the South Carolina Firefighters Association for medical equipment.
Thirteen students enrolled in the first year. News of the program increased interest in the city's regular certification classes, which saw a 30 percent increase in participation. By hiring from a pool of 25 perspective firefighters trained through the program, the city can cut training costs by 60 percent through partnerships and collaborative efforts with the school district.
Officials anticipate enrollment in next year's class will double based on the interest of area high school students.
"This training effort by the City of Sumter and the local school district is a great example of collaboration to increase the number of jobs for high school graduates and encourage careers in public safety to protect residents and businesses," said Miriam Hair, executive director for the Municipal Association.
Achievement Award winning entries represent innovative projects undertaken by Municipal Association member cities and towns. More information and a video about the project are available on the Association's website.
The Municipal Association of South Carolina initiated the Achievement Awards in 1987 to recognize and encourage innovations and excellence in local government.