WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Learning to fight fires before leaving high school.
Palm Beach Lakes Community High School in West Palm Beach is home to one of two Fire Science Academies in the School District of Palm Beach County, giving students hands-on training to become a first responder.
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For Deborah Warren, there's nothing like setting up that ladder.
"Just something about raising it up, it’s fun," Warren said.
The Palm Beach Lakes Community High School senior will become the first student to graduate from the school's Fire Science Academy, and she has some extra motivation pushing her forward.
"I've always wanted to be a firefighter. My dad wanted to be one, but he couldn’t due to cancer. So I decided to finish off for him," Warren said. "We used to always talk about how we are going to have this father-daughter thing going on in the field. But since now he can’t, I have to do it for him."
Warren's father passed away in 2018, the same year her high school started a firefighter training program.
"I didn’t want to take no for an answer. So either you’re going to take me or you’re going to take me. There’s no other option," Warren said.
Students learn the ins and outs of what it takes to be a first responder through the four-year academy program at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School.
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Instructors like Lt. Gregory Jackson with Boynton Beach Fire Rescue make sure students have what it takes.
"No, we don't take it easy on them, and it's because there are certain expectations that they have to meet," Jackson said. "So if we are light on them, I feel we are setting them up for failure."
When he's not fighting fires himself, Jackson is training the next generation to do the same.
"I can say 100% they will be ready to go on someone’s job," Jackson said.
Through a partnership with Palm Beach State College.
"It's a true passion to watch these individuals grow and especially to want to be a part of the fire service," Jackson said.
"This is what they come to school for. This is what they’re excited for," said Michael Martinez, the chair of the Fire Science Academy at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School. "It's not your average class. It's hands on, it's a skill."
Martinez said about 70 students are enrolled right now, giving them a leg up on the competition when they get out of high school.
"This definitely gives some students options they may not otherwise have," Martinez said. "Every day they come in and they show that they want it. They’re here to work for it and their instructors see that and they’ll put in a good word for them."
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For Warren, it's not just a job opportunity. It's a calling.
"I don't have a word to say about how happy I am to work with that young lady. She’s truly something special," Jackson said.
"It's giving me a sense of security to know, at this point, I'm set in my career," Warren said. "I'm ready, I got the experience. I can start as soon as possible."
With an extra set of eyes watching her succeed.
"I think he would be proud, just thinking about it," Warren said.
Because Warren started the program late, she has a little more schooling to do before she can join a fire department. She hopes to eventually work in West Palm Beach or Palm Beach Gardens.
Wellington Community High School also has a Fire Science Academy.
The Education Foundation of Palm Beach County secured funding for the program through a grant from JPMorgan Chase and Co. The money provided all the equipment students use for training, including the fire engine.
You can learn more about the Education Foundation and its supported programs by clicking here.
To learn more about the program at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School, click here.
For more information about all the Choice Programs in the School District of Palm Beach County, click here.