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Longtime Fire Academy instructor set to retire after more than 40 years in the fire service

After 43 years of service as a firefighter, the last ten of which were leading the Howell Schools Fire Academy, Brighton Area Fire Authority (BAFA) Captain Tom Kiurski will be officially retiring at the end of June.

Kiurski came to BAFA in 2012 after retiring from the City of Livonia but had been teaching at various academies since 1989. However, he says changes made at the state level made a high school academy a realistic possibility.

“The law kind of changed in 2011,” he said. “They said we can bring training down to 16 year olds and certify them as firefighters with certain restrictions until they hit age 18. I’d been teaching at the colleges for a long time, and I thought that that was an interesting concept.”

Kiurski said that he and Mike Witt, a career firefighter who was then President of the Howell Public Schools Board of Education, worked together to bring an academy to Howell High School.

“The stars all aligned, and everything came together to make this thing happen,” said Kiurski. “Together we were able to bring that training down to these kids so they can be a part-time firefighter, and work their way into a full-time fire department. They could potentially leave high school with Firefighter 1 and 2 certification, which is the minimum you need to be a firefighter. And it didn’t cost them anything for the training.”

Witt, the owner of Howell-based Firehouse Doors, says when he and his wife Kim were elected to the Howell School’s Board of Education they saw that they had some facilities that were available at the high school.

“And we saw a need within the community and the state for firefighters,” he said. “So I had a sit down discussion with then-Chief (Andy) Pless of Howell Fire, and we kicked around the feasibility of offering a fire academy in a high school setting for students. It was really a perfect storm. We had facilities in the high school that weren’t being used, and we had the square footage to be able to offer the program.”

Renovating an old auto shop class at Howell High School, they were able to turn it into a realistic fire station setting, convincing a variety of departments to donate surplus equipment that could be used to teach students.

“We had well over a million dollars worth of equipment and the cost out of pocket was less than $10,000,” said Witt.

Ten years later, and Kiurski says the time is right to move on.

“Let someone else run it for the next 10 years. The ideal candidate to replace me in my mind would be younger than me. About 99% of the population is younger than me, so that wasn’t a problem,” he said laughing. “But someone who operationally runs on the department, so runs on calls and things like that, which I stopped doing a few years ago.”

Kiurski says that ideal candidate is the man already selected to take over the academy, Lt. Chad Nickels.

Lt. Nickels (left) with Capt. Kiurski

“He’s young enough, he still goes on calls, so that’ll be great,” he said. “And someone who’s a little bit more into the tech stuff. The job evolves. You might not think so. I mean, we still put the wet stuff on the red stuff, that hasn’t changed. But the use of thermal imaging cameras, the self-contained breathing apparatus that we use, they all go through changes. So it’s good that they’re getting the latest and the greatest now.”

Under Kiurski’s leadership, the academy program went on to become such a success that it outgrew the space at Howell High School and was moved several years ago to the newly-renovated Brighton Area Fire Authority Station 34 on Dorr Road.

That’s where a community farewell party will be held in his honor on Thursday, June 8 from 4-7 p.m.

You can view the full interview with Captain Kiurski and Mike Witt on the Mike & Jon Podcast.

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