High school students in Devine, Natalia pursue careers as first responders

DEVINE, Texas – From graduation to a new gig. Students in Devine and Natalia are finishing high school and heading off to become first responders.

The Devine Fire and EMS Academy is training future firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

“I want to make my family proud doing it; they worry about me sometimes, but I also know that I will be there to hold someone’s hand on their worst day, to save someone’s life if I need to,” said Lucas Thomas, a senior at Devine High School.

Thomas is set to graduate on Friday, and he already has a full-time job lined up with a fire department.

“Being able to lock into that younger generation and breathe some life into our industry really provides some longevity with well-trained folks,” said Devine Fire Chief Greg Atkinson.

It’s a program Chief Atkinson calls vital, given a nationwide decline in first responders due to COVID-19.

“So what we lost in about a year, year and a half’s time, it’s going to take almost a decade to completely replace,” said Chief Atkinson.

However, Chief Atkinson wants to make it clear that he still encourages students to continue their education.

“I’m going to go to Tarleton to pursue a degree in biology and animal science to become a veterinarian, so on the side, I can EMT for, like, part-time to just help me get through college,” said Madison Wolff, a senior at Natalia High School.

2024 marks the academy’s first class of high school firefighters and its second class of high school EMTs. The academy started in Devine High School in 2022 and then expanded to Natalia in 2023. The chief hopes to bring in Pearsall students in 2025.

“You mentioned it’s already spreading like wildfire, but I don’t see you in a rush to put this fire out,” said KSAT’s John Paul Barajas.

“I’m not; this is one fire I’ll let burn for a while,” Atkinson said.

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