ELKHART — Back in the day, John Whitmar’s training as a volunteer firefighter didn’t go much further than making sure his boots fit, he told a graduating class of firefighters this week.

The Paramedic program chair at Ivy Tech Community College spoke at the graduation ceremony for 29 students who completed Firefighter 1 and 2, a six-month program hosted by the Goshen Fire Department. He also helped announce a partnership between the department and the school to award college credits to training program grads.

“You’re gonna see that after you get your prior (certifications), you are professionals. And on that end, sometimes with that professionalism goes college credits for that,” he said. “Back when I became a volunteer firefighter, my training was, ‘Do your feet fit the boots? Does the jacket fit your shoulders? Here’s a helmet. Welcome aboard.’”

Fire training has come a long way since then, he said.

“We can offer you college credits for those firefighter certificates that you just earned tonight,” he said. “You roughly earn about 15 credits, so you’re about a third of the way toward a degree already. You’re closer than you think.” 

During the 200-hour program, trainees climbed ladders and scurried through tubes, hosed down a burning car and ventured into smoke-filled rooms. On the last day they played dodgeball with air tanks on their backs, Goshen Fire Capt. Shane Heeter said. 

He said planning for the training program started five years ago. Future courses will make use of training grounds currently being built on the south side of the city, which are designed to simulate real-world conditions, while the in-class portion will be held at Ivy Tech.

Thirty recruits signed up for the first class, which Heeter said was three times more than expected. They represented fire departments throughout the county.

He remarked on the bonds that formed among participants during the program. He said it was helped by mixing firefighters from different units, which he hopes prepares them for what they’ll encounter out in the field.

“You guys are the future of the fire service, you really are,” Heeter said. “And you guys are going to be doing this for years, I hope. And I want you guys to know, when you arrive on a scene with a different department, that you know somebody. You have that mutual friend. That person that you went to class with, that you know what their training was, and hopefully that calms you.”

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