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Texas city FFs, student FFs will share new training site

“It’s not only a burn building, but it also has a lot of props on it so we can train,” said Harlingen Fire Chief Rafael Balderas


Photo/City of Harlingen

By Rick Kelley
Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN, Texas — The city’s school district and fire department proudly unveiled a new shared training facility Monday that will allow high school students to work toward certification as firefighters, as well as help city firefighters with training.

The new Firefighter Academy at 24200 FM 509 was funded with a $350,000 Jobs and Education for Texas (JET) grant from the Texas Workforce Commission.

“It’s a collaboration between the school district and the city,” said Fire Chief Rafael Balderas. “It’s not only a burn building, but it also has a lot of props on it so we can train. And we’re going to take advantage of that, not only as a department but also the academy and the school district.”

The chief said that up until now Harlingen firefighters had to travel to Hidalgo County to be certified at a live burn, and “now we can do it here.”

The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District already has a training program for high school students interested in becoming firefighters.

Now, the district can offer live training leading to certification right at home.

“We’ve been through it in our junior year, and we’re currently in our senior year,” said firefighter cadet Joseph Colon.

“It’s really a good opportunity that I was given, and I met a lot of friends along the way as well,” he added. “It’s a lot of studying, but it’s the most fun I’ve had in the last four years.”

TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez III, a Harlingen native who this week will end his tenure on the commission after six years, said the new facility is the only one of its kind in the state and is a testament to the innovation Texas is bringing to its workforce.

“During the pandemic, we had 70 companies that came over. Some of those you may have heard of, like Oracle, Amazon, Tesla, SpaceX, all of those companies are now in the state of Texas, not only national but globally,” Alvarez said. “And why is that? Because we actually provide training early on, and it’s evident by what we’re doing here today.

“These seniors that are here today are receiving credentials that right now these students will be employable once they finish their state exam,” he added. “That is amazing what we’re doing in this great state of ours, and so you can see why these companies are actually coming over to us, because as I’ve been trying to convey to business owners, anything after high school is considered college.”

Mayor Norma Sepulveda said the new firefighter training facility shows a city committed to public safety.

“I want you to know the City of Harlingen is committed to quality of life of its residents. If you want to live her, work, pray, play, raise a family, we want to make sure you’re doing that safely,” she said. “And that’s why you’ll always have in your government individuals like myself, and the commissioners that are here, your city management, always willing to invest in public safety, always willing to invest in our youth.”

HCISD School Board President Bobby Muniz said the facility is just the kind of thing his kids would immediately take to.

“I love this because I think of my children. I’ve got an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old, 8-year-old, 7-year-old, and this is the stuff that makes them excited ....,” he said.

“On behalf of the school board, I would like to say thank you to the Texas Workforce Commission and the City of Harlingen for partnering with HCISD so that together we can provide this opportunity for our students and community,” Muniz added.

The new firefighting facility will prepare first-responders on how to respond to structure fires, including making forcible entries, wall-breaching and search-and-rescue operations.

HCISD Superintendent Alicia Noyola said her district was “incredibly proud” of its partnership with TWC and the City of Harlingen.

“We were discussing what would be the next JET grant that we would apply for, because we’ve been fortunate, very fortunate, in Harlingen to have had a number of JET grants come into our school district .... ,” Noyola said.

“Ultimately, as we sat and discussed what JET grant, the proposal we were going to bring forward, one thing was clear for us: Whatever it was could not just impact our school district but had to impact our community. So this fire simulator was the answer,” she said.


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