The first class of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District Citizen Fire Academy graduated Thursday, and many of the participants said they gained a renewed sense of appreciation for firefighters and learned the various tasks that go along with their job.

“TV makes firefighting look easy,” said Citizen Academy student Brad Gilkeson.

Twenty regular, everyday citizens, who lived within the CJC district boundaries, graduated the district’s first academy in a ceremony held at CJC’s Training Facility in Blue Springs. CJC Assistant Chief Eddie Saffell, who was also the coordinator of the academy, gave an overview of the 10-week program to the students’ family members and friends who attended the graduation ceremony.

Students met once a week for three hours in the evening over the past three months at various CJC fire stations to learn fire science, try out heavy firefighter equipment, ascend an aerial ladder, shoot fire hoses and even enter a burn cell, a structure containing a simulated fire. Not only did they learn and experience firefighter skills, but also EMS training, such as CPR and other life-saving techniques.

“They exceeded what I expected with the first class,” Saffell told the ceremony’s audience.

Deputy Chief Todd Farley also said the academy changed the perceptions of some about life in the firehouse.

“In a 24 hour shift, there is a lot of work they (firefighters) do,” he said. He pointed out that firefighters perform upkeep on equipment, fire prevention duties and maintenance on firetrucks in addition to running emergency calls.

Gilkenson and Erik Grotenhuis, another academy member, said the most important thing they learned while attending the Citizen Academy was to never underestimate fire.

“If there is a fire, don’t get a fire extinguisher,” said Gotenhuis. “Get out and call 911.”

The two said they learned fire spreads more quickly than one would think.

Saffell said the idea behind his fire district’s citizen academy came about a couple years ago due to the popularity of the Blue Springs Police Citizens Academy. After arranging funding from the district’s budget, it was able to debut it this summer.

“It’s not giving someone a certificate or making them students,” he said about the Citizen Academy’s intent, “it’s about showing who we are and what we can do for communitites.”

And Saffell said another Citizen Academy is planned for sometime this October. If you’re interested in learning the role of a firefighter through hands-on experiences, such as automobile extrication scenarios and ride-alongs during actual emergency calls, call the CJC Fire Prevention office at 816-229-2522. The program is free to those 18 years and older who live within the fire district.

“We appreciate the support of all the citizens within CJC,” Fire Chief Steven Westermann told the graduation audience.