Each fall, the Estes Valley Fire District welcomes a group of trainees eager to become state-certified firefighters. These trainees often return to Estes Park to help keep residents and guests safe during emergencies.
Set against the backdrop of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Estes Valley Fire Academy, where trainees gather to master the job performance requirements to become an exterior, fire I or fire II-certified firefighter. It’s an incredible place to train. The highly-experienced instructors, the training facility’s realistic props and the view make it an obvious choice when choosing a fire academy.
Okay, the view doesn't factor into choosing Estes’ fire academy so much as the quality of instructors and the training facility, but the location of the view certainly does. Estes Park may be a remote mountain town, but it is conveniently located for many volunteer fire departments surrounding Estes Park. These agencies send their volunteers to the academy to become state-certified firefighters.
“Our academy was built to cater to the volunteer,” said Paul Capo, academy lead and Interim Fire Chief of the Estes Valley Fire Protection District. Classwork and hands-on training “take place on weeknights and Saturdays to allow the working volunteer to attend,” he said, which is necessary for remote mountain fire departments that rely mainly on volunteers to staff their departments.
At the academy, students engage in 17 weeks of online, in-person didactic and hands-on training. The comprehensive curriculum covers fire behavior and science, defensive firefighting, support roles, motor vehicle crashes, firefighter safety and health, interior firefighter roles and hazardous materials operations. It even certifies trainees in basic wildland fire operations. A diverse roster of instructors from multiple departments ensures the trainees are well-equipped to face the realities of the job. And to pass rigorous state certification tests.
Many agencies that send their members to the academy are mutual aid partners of Estes Fire. In the world of emergency response, fire departments form mutual aid agreements with nearby agencies. That means agencies call on mutual aid for help in emergencies when local departments are overwhelmed. Like during the fire that destroyed the main building of Estes Park’s iconic Mary’s Lake Lodge in 2018 and the wildfires of 2020.
During those incidents, Estes Fire called on mutual aid and fought with the help of firefighters who had graduated from the Estes Valley Fire Academy. While all state-certified firefighters must prove mastery of the same job performance requirements, graduates of Estes’ academy have an invaluable advantage when working together. They know each other personally, have trained together and are familiar with the leadership that commands them during a live incident. This is an incredible asset to the Estes Park community, where a structure fire could quickly turn into a devastating wildland fire, greatly impacting our community’s quality of life and ability to support itself.
“One of the benefits of having a regional fire academy is that all of our mutual aid fire departments attend the same academy each year,” said Capo. “This allows seamless operational tactics to be performed on scene. The firefighters from neighboring agencies have trusted relationships with each other that were forged through intense training.”
The academy’s current cohort of trainees started their journey to certification in August of this year and will complete it in January 2024. The next cohort will begin in August of 2024. Learn more about the Estes Valley Fire Academy at estesvalleyfire.org/fire-academy.