Air tanks, hoses, CPR dummies and other equipment line the walls (and some of the floors) at Broadmoor Technical Center. It’s all with one purpose in mind — giving vocational training to high school students who want to work in law enforcement or become first responders.
Project Blue Eagle is the larger title for a series of programs within the Shawnee Mission School District that provides career training for future firefighters, police personnel, paramedics and lawyers. The district offers some of these classes at each of its five high schools — including first aid, forensic science, business law and more.
However, you can’t park an instructional fire truck at every high school. Courses that require more specialized equipment and instruction are taught at Broadmoor Technical Center.
Ed Morrison, who spent 27 years as a firefighter in Olathe and Overland Park, teaches fire science at Broadmoor.
“At the fire service, when we teach adults, it’s, ‘Here’s the way it is. You do this. It’s part of your job,’” Morrison said. “... You have no tolerance for someone who’s not paying attention in class, and your job depends on it. Here, some students take as, ‘It’s just a high school class,’ and other students take it just as serious as any adults that I’ve ever taught.”
One of his students, Shawnee Mission Northwest sophomore Megan Alexander, found her first-aid skills put to the test when a friend she was with began “having an active seizure in class,” Morrison said. “We’ve talked often about how it’s the patient’s emergency, but it’s our job.”
Alexander said her friend had mentioned that she was taking a new medication and wasn’t feeling well.
“She actually collapsed, I told everyone to (give her space), and I turned her up on her side and made sure she didn’t hit her head,” Alexander said. “I wouldn’t have known to do that without Mr. Morrison. It wasn’t scary. I felt very calm. Afterwards, I immediately went and said, ‘Thank you,’ to Mr. Morrison. I don’t think I would’ve been so calm if he hadn’t told us what to do.”
Alexander, 16, is the only girl in the fire-science class right now. Students learn a wide range of skills from how to get someone safely out of a burning vehicle to how to calculate if a structure is likely collapse. Sometimes, those lessons are full of fire hoses and air tanks, but other times it’s reading a book and diving into math and physics.
“A lot of the guys in my class, they’re a bit stronger than me,” Alexander said. “The hardest part has been keeping up physically, but they definitely do their best to help me. I would call myself equal. It’s helped me gain muscle and strength.”
Right now, there are 14 students between Morrison’s two fire-science classes. Students can choose a two-hour block either in the morning or afternoon. They spend the rest of the day at their own school, taking a normal schedule of high school classes.
John Douglass, director of Project Blue Eagle and Shawnee Mission’s director of safety and security, said about 2,000 students in the district are taking at least one Blue Eagle class. Most of them are in classes that meet at their regular high schools, such as the first aid and law courses.
Project Blue Eagle started last year when district officials noticed that local police and fire departments had plenty of openings but not enough qualified applicants.
Douglass is promoting the program not just as a way to train uniformed police and firefighters but also to get students who may be unable or uninterested in those jobs to take another look at related occupations. That might include being a dispatcher, a forensic scientist or a computer technician.
Local departments have been supportive of the program, with many donating old equipment for students to use while practicing their skills. The district also plans to transform an old operations and maintenance building at 11475 W. 93rd St. in Overland Park into a practice fire station.
Although the programs give students good experience, most students can’t go directly from the program into one of these professions.
Depending on the field, they may need to attend college or another certification program. One exception, Morrison said, is the Kansas Forest Service, which will take 18-year-old applicants who have completed both years of the fire-science program.