RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Fire departments across New Mexico continue to see a shortage of firefighters. Now, Central New Mexico Community College is trying to help fill the need, offering a fast-track fire academy.

23 cadets at the Rio Rancho CNM campus grabbed their fire bags instead of school bags, and their timed test didn’t require a pencil and paper but rather tested how fast they could put on all their gear. The cadets are part of CNM’s Fire Academy and the first class since the new accelerated program changed what used to be a two-semester program to 18 weeks. CNM said it’s a way to help meet the growing demand for firefighters across the state.

Story continues below:

“There’s been a dramatic decrease with applicants and finding those qualified individuals that want to be first responders,” said Amy Tixier, CNM’s Associate Dean of Health, Wellness & Public Safety. “There was a dramatic decrease in applicants across the state and we know we could do our own part in helping that.”

It’s a full fire academy from classroom lectures to search and rescue training. CNM also partners with local departments who donate fire trucks and help with training. The departments also sponsor every cadet. “They are employed by fire department so every cadet is receiving a paycheck while they’re attending the fire academy,” said Tixier.

They also earn college credit. “Moving up in the department, it’s crucial to finish that degree and they’re halfway there by the time they’re finished with this academy,” said Tixier.

CNM is accepting applications for next semester. Any department interested can reach out to CNM and any student interested should reach out to their local fire department.