October 26, 2023

Fire Academy 13-14-15: VBFD Holding Three Concurrent Academies to Help Reduce Attrition

With approval from city council and the city manager, the Fire Department was allowed to “overhire” due to anticipated vacancies.

VB Fire Academy cadets gathered in group

The Virginia Beach Fire Department is doing things differently with its fire academies that began in late September. The department has three concurrent academies at the Harry E. Diezel Fire Training Center: two regular academies—VBFA 14 has 24 firefighter recruits, while VBFA 15 has 18—and the certified VBFA 13 has eight firefighters going through a “mini-academy” that is shorter than the full six-month recruit academy. VBFA 13 will graduate this Friday, Oct. 27. VBFA 14 & 15 will graduate in April 2024.

It’s uncommon for more than one academy to be ongoing at the same time but with the support of the Virginia Beach City Council, City Manager’s Office and Fire Chief Ken Pravetz, the department was allowed to “overhire” due to anticipated vacancies and employee attrition, Battalion Chief Mike Carter said. Some of those vacancies include firefighters retiring from the department.

“City management is supportive of public safety as a whole,” Carter said.

An Environment of Success

Capt. Dustin Lyle is a main instructor at the fire training center and oversees VBFA 15 and certified VBFA 13. Because of the size and scope of the academies, the department brought on Capt. Adam Ritsch to oversee VBFA 14.

With the large number of recruits in both academies, the training center is doing things differently by having VBFA 15 start fire school while VBFA 14 begins EMT training. This gives firefighter recruits the opportunity to get more “reps and sets,” which Carter explained is the best way for recruits to learn and get better.

“The more opportunity to get to the skills or even the education, the better it is—so that’s why we break that up into fire school and EMS,” Carter said.

This also means a better graduation success rate.

And there are a lot of other instructors that ensure firefighter recruits and certified firefighters are given the best training in the region. In addition to each class having a lead instructor that is a master firefighter, outside instructors are brought in to teach specialized classes or special operations including paramedic, EMT, hazmat tech, marine tech, rescue, etc.

Capt. Lyle said training staff methodically thought about ways to compress the lectures and give enough time for recruits to be fireground ready.

“It’s kind of an experiment, but we took the first two to three days as an instructional staff to figure it out—we did a physical performance evaluation; we had a few classroom-based evaluations on the academic side. Do they look like they were able to retain that information? We had them come back take a quiz, how successful were they on the quiz?” he said. “We’re trying to create an environment where everyone is successful here.”

‘It is Intense’

Capt. Adam Ritsch’s firefighter recruits have started EMT training, which is typically 11 weeks. In the morning, the class will sit in on a lecture and in the afternoon, breakout sessions are formed with six squads assigned to six different skill rooms. They will then rotate until they’ve completed all skill rooms.

To ensure firefighter recruits have retained the information and are proficient in that skill, instructors will do a final test. Capt. Ritsch said the physical training, lectures, constant reps and testing may seem excessive, but it’s for a reason. Despite that, he comes across recruits who tell him they do it because they want to “help people.”

“At the root of it is why we are here. It is a chance to give back to our community, especially for people who are from here and love our community,” he said. “It is a way to give back, but it is intense. It is a long seven months.”

This one of several blogs in a series that will highlight the fire academies, firefighter recruit training, pre-hire prep and fire explorer program.

If you are interested in learning more about the Virginia Beach Fire Department and what the day in the life of a firefighter is like, visit fire.virginiabeach.gov/careers. Email hireVBFD@vbgov.com if you have any questions regarding the hiring process or to be added to the interest list for next year’s hiring process.

Contact Information

Virginia Beach Fire Administration

Keep Reading

See All Posts