Maritime academy offers firefighting class


 Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadets can now take their firefighting class close to home after years of traveling to Toledo, Ohio, for the mandatory course.

That distance threatened to multiply in June when the Maritime Administration announced that the center in Toledo would close after finishing out its current set of cadets.

“It left us without a fire training center in the region,” said Maritime Instructor and Captain John Biolchini. “We would have had to ship our students to Florida or Maryland.”

The program that once cost cadets around $200 could spike to $2,800 for rates, transportation and lodging at a new location, he said. It also meant students might not meet the requirement to complete a firefighting course in their first year at the academy.

But a solution unfolded surprisingly close to home. The academy developed a new firefighting curriculum with the Northwest Regional Fire Training Center that will save students time and money while completing the course.

“As we got to looking at what exactly was required for fire training, we eyed up Northwest Regional Fire Training and felt they were a strong candidate,” Biolchini said.

It seemed a good fit to Tim Wrede, regional training coordinator at the center in Blair Township. The two drafted a program proposal to include all course standards necessary for the U.S. Coast Guard’s required stamp of approval.

“Tim did most of the writing and I was pretty much the editor pointing him in the right direction,” Biolchini said.

Two months later the program was approved with no corrections, he said. On March 27, the Northwest Regional Fire Training Center will host the first of four Basic and Advanced Firefighting courses, Wrede said. The fire training center will take 60 maritime cadets each year.

The 40-hour course starts with classroom lessons on basic firefighting terminology and putting on a fire suit. It later moves to hands-on training that includes fire extinguishing and conducting limited-visibility fire rescues.

“The difference for us is we have to relate it to ship and board,” Wrede said.

The Maritime Administration will donate $100,000 in equipment from its Toledo training facility for the program. That includes firefighter outfits, self-contained breathing apparatuses, fire hoses and nozzles, an oil-water separator and an air compressor.


“This is all equipment that NFTC would’ve had to lease to conduct this program, so that was a big plus,” Biolchini said.

The course is also expected to attract shipping industry professionals locally and statewide for training, Wrede said. The center would use the additional revenue generated by the course to improve its firefighter training programs.

“We’ll probably have 80 students per year combined,” he said. “Most of that money will go right back into training props for the maritime students and our structural firefighters.”

The five-day program costs $700 per person, but Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadets will receive a yet-to-be-determined discount, Biolchini said. The class will still likely cost cadets more than the original $200 course in Toledo, but it’s favorable to pricier out-of-state alternatives.

“They can come in for half of what it would cost to send the students to another school,” Biolchini said.