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Firefighters, EMTs hired after completing CMC programs

Photo of Fire Academy graduates

At December’s Fire Academy I graduation at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, graduates finally were able to wear the blue shirts the students made. Students wear red shirts until they graduate and become firefighters; then they can wear blue. Left to right are graduating students Blake Kerrigan, Jon Orthmeyer (with back to camera) and Phillip Porter.

The first responder to the next fire or medical emergency in Lake or Chaffee counties will likely be a graduate of Colorado Mountain College.

Since 2012, many area firefighters and emergency medical technicians have taken classes or graduated locally from either the college’s fire science technology or emergency medical services programs, providing essential services to their hometowns.

Colorado Mountain College offers fire science classes at its campuses in both Leadville and Edwards. Certificates in Fire Academy I and an Associate of Applied Science degree are available through the college, in a hybrid format, a combination of in-person and on-line learning.

In December 2015, 18 students graduated from the Fire Academy I in Leadville.

Students can also earn certificates in EMT Basic in both Leadville and Buena Vista.

And it’s not unusual that many of these students are local. In 2014-15, 75 percent of all students at the Leadville campus came from within the Colorado Mountain College district.

 Hands-on training leads to quick employment for firefighters

Andy Majeski works for Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue and said he was working for Salida Fire Rescue when he obtained a grant through the Colorado State Firefighters Association to further his education at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. The STRIVE grant covered up to $5,000 in tuition and books for an academic year.

At CMC, in his late 30s, he earned certificates in both Fire Academy I and EMT Basic. A resident of Poncha Springs, he currently is also an assistant fire instructor in the program.

“I know a lot of other fire science programs don’t have nearly as much hands-on training and fire burn experience,” he said. “Last year we had 13 live-fire days, and other academies may have only one.” The CMC program features a live-fire training facility in Dotsero, Colo.

Majeski said having instructors with real-world firefighting experience is another plus. “That also helps you get a leg up when it comes to finding a job,” he said.

He had intended to return to Salida, but a few openings surfaced in Leadville. “I’d worked with some of the guys on the department through the CMC program and I liked how they did things,” he said. “I’m planning to stick around now.”

Dave Truesdell has worked for Leadville Fire Rescue for the past several months, after earning a Fire Academy I certification from CMC. He is working toward earning his associate degree in fire science technology, and afterward wants to stay in the Leadville area.

“I think the program has been a big plus because it helps bring more people to Leadville,” Truesdell said.

 EMS grads find their niche

Photo of fire science graduates

CMC faculty member and Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue Capt. Sean Simon hands out awards at the December Fire Academy I graduation at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. Behind him, left to right, are instructors Brandon Drury (partially visible), Taylor Reifschneider and Andrew Majeski. Majeski and Drury also work with Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue and Reifschneider is with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. Graduating students are, left to right, Tony Crisofulli, Devin Parker, Justin Boyd, Benjamin Lysdahl, Jon Orthmeyer, Keith Dudley, Phillip Porter, Jonathan Fisher, Joshua Wolf and Blake Kerrigan. Eighteen firefighters were in the 2015 graduating class.

The experience was similar for graduates of the college’s emergency medical services program in Leadville.

Elise Guidry, who received a certificate in EMT Basic and continues to take courses at CMC, is a full-time EMT with St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville. “I’m not sure anyone would ever regret getting emergency medical training,” she said. “If you’re on the ski slopes or back-country skiing, you can use those skills to help a friend who gets in trouble.”

Shaun Christiansen is also a full-time EMT with St. Vincent Hospital. He originally thought he would find work in Chaffee County, closer to his home, but calls working in Leadville for almost two years “great.”

He received a certificate in EMT Basic from Colorado Mountain College in 2014, and has been studying outdoor recreation leadership. Noting the high hiring rate for EMS graduates in Leadville, Christiansen credited assistant professor Roger Coit for helping him and others land jobs in the field.

“Everyone in the EMS community knows Roger and the CMC program,” Christiansen said.