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College Level Fire Science Now At OHS
Mustangs Turn Up The Heat
Oakdale High School Fire Science students get their first go at the hose line while visiting Stockton Fire during a recent class field trip. Photo Contributed

The administration and staff of Oakdale High School are continuing to raise the bar as they enter into the next decade of the millennium. Proving not to be prohibited or shy about growing the curriculum and opportunity for its student body, the area high school recently partnered with Columbia College in The College and Careers Access Pathways Partnership Agreement (CCAPPA).

A long title with a dizzying acronym, quite simply Oakdale High students now have the opportunity to participate in college level Fire Science courses without leaving the OHS campus.

“Meaning the student is enrolled as a community college student, while earning elective credits,” Vice Principal Shannon Kettering said of the program, now in its second semester.

First approached by Columbia College, the vice principal shared she knew the direction she wanted to go with the program, as well as the person she wanted to lead it. Kettering said the campus addition took a lot of collaboration to implement. The CCAPPA program offers a large variety of course options including: child development, forestry management, fire science and more.

“I want to make sure we’re always supplementing and you have to have the right person for the job. He’s teaching a college level class to 17-year-olds and the work is hard,” Kettering said of class professor Brian Elting. “Fit is important.”

Elting, a retired firefighter of 29 years, as well as seasoned paramedic, first crossed paths with Kettering as a parent, while his son was attending OHS.

“He’s just super gregarious, so when I learned he was retiring I wanted to have him work with our kids,” the vice principal said.

Elting retired from Stockton Fire Department in January 2019. He began his fire career in 1986 and completed Paramedic courses in 1995.

“As of 1995 I was a Fire/Medic,” Elting said.

He has coached soccer, as well as taught paramedics school for almost eight years. He currently owns his own CPR business.

What Elting thought was a simple trip to Columbia College to discuss the scope of the class with its staff and administration, resulted in a job offer while traveling from the meeting back to Oakdale.

“It’s an actual college course, through Columbia College,” the instructor shared. “The great thing about it is it offers college credits toward their fire degree before they get there.”

The college course opportunity has been opened up to OHS junior and seniors. The first semester course was Fire 1. The class is now studying EMS 157, as a pre-EMT class. The class began the school year with 21 enrolled and is now at 23. No students have dropped the class.

“He is employed as a Columbia College Professor and he teaches on our campus,” Kettering shared. “We’ve had a lot of kids who have told me, it’s a defining moment in many ways.”

As Elting discusses the class and his students, he is clear on one thing: he’s not easy on them. The retired firefighter shared his belief in preparing the students not just with book studies, but practical application of what it means to be a firefighter.

“I’ve really pushed the old school para military style,” he said. “That’ll work in the ambulance, that’ll work in the fire service, that’ll work in the police if that’s your chosen endeavor. It’s all based on what I think we’ve gotten away from, the para military style.”

Elting shared he’s also felt “blessed” by the support of Modesto Fire, as well as his former station with Stockton Fire Department.

“We’ve been extremely blessed, because we don’t just grab a book. The book is the easy part to me,” Elting stated. “(Battalion) Chief (Ryan) Winton of Modesto Fire and the Modesto guys have been phenomenal. They come over once a week and bring a new engine once a week for the kids to go over.”

The class was also treated to a field trip to Stockton Fire. The OHS students spent seven hours running drills, working a hose, climbing an aerial ladder and just doing ‘firefighter stuff.’

“One kid conquered his fear of heights, because we get them involved and doing it,” the Fire Science Instructor said.

Adding to the hands on experience and preparation portion of the class, Elting arranged mock interviews for each student with a panel of three active firefighters. The exercise not only taught the students essential skills for a good interview, it challenged them with tough questions, reinforced eye contact, as well as proper grammar and speaking with confidence.

“The cool thing was, they did their interview, I took my notes. We did three interviews a day, it took nine days and when they were all done they had six minutes each with the panel for feedback,” Elting shared.

Kettering added that OHS pays for textbooks and materials, as well as incidentals for the 23 students. She also shared she has been pleasantly surprised at the ease the program has transitioned in once all the pivotal pieces were in place.

“Because it’s all new,” she said of her reasoning at the surprise. “Columbia College has been wonderful. We’re even talking about adding another class next year.

“I really believe it’s the person not the program that grows it,” she continued. “So he’ll (Elting) continue with fire and I have a guy from the Forest Service who’s retiring, so we’re going to add a class. It’s a 167 hour class, which at the completion of it they’ll be employment ready.”

As a first time instructor of high school students in this capacity, the retired fireman turned professor shared he couldn’t be more pleased with the professional support, as well as the caliber of students that have stepped into his classroom.

“I’ve been so blessed by these kids,” he said. “They’ve responded so well. Even when they get their butt chewed, it’s not a bad thing to me. They respond well and they’re just awesome.

“The Fire Department, plus Columbia College came into to watch my class,” he continued, “and they’re chomping at the bit. They want these kids in their academy.”

“The thing about Oakdale that makes that work, is that you do have parents that will make the call, but there are just as many parents that will say figure it out kid,” Kettering said of the program success. “Any kid that completes this will be able to attend the Columbia College Fire Academy, they’re eligible.”

“It’s not me,” Elting said of the program’s success and student retention. “It’s all the people that I know that bought in. I love working with kids. Their journey doesn’t stop here. Any kid that wants to work hard, we’re going to help that kid.”

During a first semester field trip to Stockton Fire Department, OHS Fire Science students were treated to a number of experiences during their seven-hour visit to the station. One of those included climbing the aerial ladder. Photo Contributed