Joe Wyatt
Published November 4, 2021

Along with the fortuitous arrival of a new and vastly experienced program coordinator, the Fire Protection Technology program at Amarillo College reached a milestone this fall with the advent of its 50th Fire Academy.

Steve Malley

AC established the Fire Protection Technology program in 1998. In just the past 10 years alone, 302 cadets have completed the Fire Academy, and several have gone to work for the city of Amarillo Fire Department and other Panhandle-area departments.

AC graduates presently serve in positions ranging from entry-level firefighter to chief.

AC’s storied program recently came under the direction of Stephen Malley, whose 24-year public-service career includes stints as a firefighter, paramedic and policeman. He then spent the past 17 years in higher education as director of public safety professions at Weatherford College.

“My enthusiasm for the public safety professions is as strong today as ever,” Malley said. “I am excited about what Amarillo College is doing to prioritize the fire technology program because the shortage of fire fighters and fire fighter paramedics is unprecedented right now.

“It’s important that we continue to increase the number of men and women we’re turning out of the program here because the jobs are out there – really good jobs that can change lives, support families and greatly benefit our communities.”

Malley attributes the widespread shortage of professional firefighters to a couple of things: an abundance of retirements, and a decrease in volunteers that has compelled some communities to pay firefighters, increasing the demand for a static supply.

Fortunately, AC continues to be an area-wide leader in producing firefighters with emergency medical services (EMS) certifications who continue to make an impact.

Additionally, even with the routine launching of a landmark 50th Fire Academy, neither the Fire Protection Technology program nor the College are resting their laurels; rather, both are looking forward with great anticipation to the establishment in 2023 to an all-new First Responders Academy.

AC’s emergency services programs are currently spread out over multiple campuses, but soon they will produce first-responders under a single roof.

The College, which purchased the old J.C. Penney building at Sunset Center in 2021, has already begun asbestos abatement and demolition work at the 100,000-square-foot facility. Upon completion in 2023, it will serve as the new home to AC’s programs in Fire Protection Technology and Emergency Medical Services Professions, as well as the Law Enforcement Academy.

“This new state-of-the-art facility will be amazing,” Malley said. “It will allow all the cadets whose goal it is to become first-responders to train together and to build the kind of cohesiveness they need to work together most efficiently as professionals.”

General construction on the building is expected to begin this spring and take a little over a year to complete.

Chris Sharp, vice president for business affairs, said “It’s going to be one of the best training centers in the state, so we’re looking forward to getting construction started on that in the spring. It will be an incredible asset for the entire Panhandle.”

Men and women who are interested in becoming cadets in AC’s 51st Fire Academy – it begins in January and will accept up to 24 cadets – can learn more by calling 806-371-5000.

Malley likes to stress that the old stereotype that firefighters are all brawny males is totally out of date.

“There’s been a shift in the last 20 years,” Malley said, “and while, yes, you still need to have some strength and fitness, being smart and having the ability to specialize are probably more valuable than anything. We can make you stronger, teach you technique, but you need to be intelligent and have good judgement.

“I love working with candidates of every walk, every type, because to watch young men and women walk through the door to start a career that will impact the world, maybe save someone’s home or save a heart-attack victim, helps change the world,” Malley said. “I love it because our graduates do that – change the world – on a regular basis.”