CPFTA - Chicago Police and Firefighter Academy

Chicago Police and Firefighter Training Academy

Program opens student's eyes to police, fire careers

Stephanie Gehring, Staff Writer
Tue, 07/08/2008

As a youngster, Deonte Collins used to visit his father at the fire station where the 18-year-old Southwest Sider said he saw the fun side of the Chicago firefighter's job - like cooking and playing basketball.

Fast forward many years, and the recent Morgan Park High School graduate has learned otherwise.

Collins recently graduated from the Chicago Police and Firefighters Training Academy program through the Chicago Public Schools.

'Going through the program, I see it's not all fun and games,' he said.

In the four-year academy program, cadets spend two years in an after-school program with the Chicago Public Schools and another two years at the City Colleges of Chicago with the goal of achieving an associate's degree.

Collins entered the two-year-paramilitary program as a junior. He and other cadets spent six hours a week in training at the police and fire academies for two years.

'The first year I didn't know what to expect,' Collins said. 'It was different than what I thought. We were like brothers and sisters each time we came together.'

Sophomores from both public and private high schools who live in Chicago can apply for the program. To be eligible, applicants must have a minimum of a 2.0 grade point average and a 95 percent attendance rate. All students have to be interviewed, undergo a background check, a drug test and physical examination and meet some other requirements.

The program, which began in 1999, has about 125 students in each class. Officials say it is difficult tracking students after they leave the program, so they do not know how many go onto careers in public safety.

But David Pappas, who is the program's on-site coordinator and a full-time counselor at Taft High School, said he has seen officers on patrol and met up with firefighters who went through the program.

Ron Robinson, a firefighter/paramedic with the Hazel Crest fire department, is a 2002 graduate of the program. He spoke at the program's graduation last month.

Collins said the program taught him discipline and respect, and he finds that he is focused on being on top of his game.

He liked the idea that he and his peers ran up the same stairs and were taught by some of the same instructors who teach police and fire cadets.

Collins plans to study occupational therapy at Daley College in the fall. He hopes that he also will be able to pursue a career as a firefighter. His father, Brian Towers, is a firefighter and Collins still visits him at the firehouse.

Pappas said all students in the program go on to higher education, and 90 percent of them use a scholarship they earn to the City Colleges of Chicago.

Many of the students are like Collins, Pappas said.

'He's representative of a lot of the students we get,' he said. 'They all seem to be highly motivated, driven, good students academically. Working with these students has given me faith in American youth. They are an outstanding group of students.'

Stephanie Gehring can be reached at sgehring@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5971.