Answering the Call

The North Richland Hills Fire Department’s new firefighter/EMT, Grayson Smith, is a recent graduate—of high school. Thanks to a partnership with the Birdville ISD, North Richland Hills Fire Department (NRHFD) and Tarrant County College, the Birdville ISD Fire Academy prepares students for an entry-level position in municipal firefighting.

Grayson, who is 18, graduated in May 2022, and was the first graduate hired directly from the program by the NRHFD. “We were just missing out on him because we were hiring firefighter/paramedics, and this is our first year to draw from firefighter/EMT Basic. Grayson is our first one,” said Cole Wilson, Birdville ISD Fire Academy coordinator. “He was one of those students—we were like, we’ve got to pick this kid up.” He started with the NRHFD at the end of August.

North Richland Hills Fire Chief Stan Tinney approached Birdville Career and Technology Education (CTE) about the opportunity to start the program, which led to Birdville CTE reaching out to TCC. Classes began in 2016.

Tinney says, “the most important element the program provides to the NRHFD is a candidate pool of local, homegrown candidates. They are familiar with the area, close to family, work in an area they are very familiar with (and are) great overall candidates.”

During the two-year, dual credit program, students gain academic knowledge and develop specialized skills required to work in the field of fire service. Classes are taught daily at the Birdville Center of Technology & Advanced Learning (BCTAL) with additional Saturday classes at TCC Northwest and the North Richland Hills Fire Training Center to complete training exercises. In addition to providing facilities for training exercises, TCC also provides the curriculum and instructors.

Once students successfully complete the program, they take the Texas Commission on Fire Protection certificate exam and the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification examination. After passing these exams, students are eligible to pursue a career in firefighting in the state of Texas.  They can work toward associate degrees in Fire Investigation or Fire Protection.

Mark McCanlies, principal of BCTAL, says approximately 100 students have gone through the program since its inception and serve as firefighters or EMTs throughout the area and the state. Some students have continued onto their post-secondary education, while others have enlisted in the military.

McCanlies credits Grayson’s success as “due to an intrinsic motivation to be successful and to be a firefighter.”

Grayson’s motivation may stem from a family legacy of public service.  His grandfather was a deputy sheriff and his father, Aaron, is an assistant fire chief for DFW Airport. “Being able to follow (in) my father’s footsteps in such an admirable career has been a dream come true,” said Grayson, who says he knew from the time he was a child that firefighting was his calling.

Aaron Smith says he is proud of the man his son has become. “The calling to help those in need and serve others is not answered by many, especially at 18 years old.”

Grayson says, “The most amazing part about being a firefighter is being able to have a community that you make an impact in every day.” He encourages anyone considering signing up for the Academy “to take more away from the Academy than just the how to fight fire aspect. Rather take the opportunity to learn what a good work ethic, teamwork, dedication and leadership looks like and implement that into your life to become the best version of yourself moving forward.”

See Grayson’s story on CBS 11 News:

North Richland Hills fire hires first high school graduate from Birdville ISD academy – CBS DFW (