Bringing the Heat: Fire station on school campus scheduled to be complete this fall

Karley Kent, Online Editor

As of mid-December 2020, progress began on the construction site for the brand new fire station on the school campus. Originally, this building was intended to be built on the cross country course but has since been relocated to the area in between the school and its neighboring middle school, Aubry Bend.

Although the physical location of the station may have little impact on the school community, district executive for career-ready programs Katie Bonnema said this building will bring interested students many opportunities to learn about the science of fighting fires and explore a new career path.

“We are partnering with the Overland Park Fire Department to offer a fire science program that will hopefully be available to students all over the district by [fall] 2021,” Bonnema said. “The program would be very similar to our CAPS program in which eligible students would spend half of their school day at the training facility.”

District director of facilities and operations Jake Slovodnik said the city has been searching for a large plot of land to build a station for some time now and logistically, the construction is projected to be complete by the beginning of the fall semester.

“There’s a number of reasons we chose this location, however, the most prominent being that the response times for fires and other emergencies in the newly developed areas of southern Overland Park were not adequate,” Slovodnik said. “They approached the district and worked with us on some land in return with this fire science program.”

News of this fire station reached students during the 2019 fall semester before the COVID pandemic delayed construction. Junior cross country runner Drew Dombrosky said he was originally worried the station would interfere with the team’s future practices.

“I’m pretty glad they decided to move the location of the station away from our course,” Dombrosky said. “It would’ve really had an impact on the season and I would hate to travel just for practice.”

After making the transition into the hybrid learning mode, Dombrosky said many of his peers, including himself, were surprised to see the progress on the site after ending the first semester online.

“I drove up on the first day back and as soon as I saw the giant pile of dirt I figured it was the fire station that was being built,” Dombrosky said. “I think the new program will be something that makes Southwest unique.”

Slovodnik said an initial concern with the location of the project was how it may impact the schools since it is so close. However, the construction team has managed to keep it confined.

“I don’t think the actual construction will be affecting students at all,” Slovodnik said. “We have tried to be mindful that all deliveries for building materials have been processed to show up on the site at a time that doesn’t conflict with student drop off or pick up times.”

Now that construction is successfully underway, several students, including junior Madi Turner, are curious about the new program and how they can get involved.

“My dad is a firefighter so I’ve always been exposed to the dangers and the rewards of working in public safety,” Turner said. “I think it’s so exciting that they are building a station so close and it would be an amazing opportunity for me to explore something like that.”

Bonnema said although this program is still in development, the district has plans to work with Johnson County Community College so participating students are able to receive partial firefighter certification at the conclusion of the class. Along with the academic benefits, there are many reasons students should acclimate themselves to all the different aspects of fighting fires.

“I would describe firefighters as functional career athletes,” Bonnema said. “The qualifications we are looking for in a student right now is a person who is intelligent and excels when working with a team, along with just a general interest in emergency medical response or fire fighting.”

Throughout this series of classes, students would be taught not only how firefighters protect and rescue people from emergencies, but also how to provide emotional comfort in those times of distress.

“Probably the thing that I am most looking forward to about the program is helping others and learning to give back to my community,” Turner said.

Bonnema said certain personality traits are important to have when it comes to working in public safety. Students would be expected to have a strong sense of empathy in order to find success in the program.

“Not only are there physical demands present when fighting a fire, but students must also acknowledge the psychological impact that high-risk situations can bring to the job,” Bonnema said. “We discuss the mental health of our students quite often as a district, and it is important to note that a student would have to have that same awareness and ability to deal with others in the event of a crisis.”

Regardless of whether or not a student may have a direct interest in becoming a firefighter, this property will be providing new opportunities for the district to grow its unique and experience-based career preparation programs.

“In my mind, high school is a wonderful opportunity for students to explore potential career interests,” Bonnema said. “By doing this program we are not signing kids up for a lifetime of fighting fires, but rather letting them explore in a really hands-on, beneficial way.”