(TNS) — AVON PARK, Fla. — The crowd watched as flames erupted from a car, and then a flashover blaze struck a kitchen, but with the release of a button the fires were out during a demonstration at South Florida State College.

The fire simulators are part of the college's new Fire Science Technology Program, which will soon be graduating its first class that includes nine students who have already found employment.

About 60 attended the Fire Science facilities dedication Thursday afternoon, including college administrators, government officials and fire department representatives.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley said the investment in the fire science program has far reaching returns for the community.

"When students succeed, the community does, too," she said. "It's a great day for South Florida State College and Florida's Heartland."

SFSC Dean Division of Applied Sciences and Technologies Kevin Brown recognized Grimsley's support and efforts to acquire state funding for the department.

The 2014-15 budget allocation for development of the fire science program was $2.6 million.

Building P was renovated as a fire science training facility, and a 44-foot high, four-story fire tower was constructed at a cost of about $280,000 for residential and commercial fire fighting training. Two used fire trucks, one for $6,000 and another for $30,000, were purchased from nearby fire departments.

EMS and Fire Science Program Chair Steve Ashworth said the program started with 15 students, including seven females.

Now the program has 11 students who will be taking the state exam next week. Nine have already found employment, he noted.

College Board of Trustees Member Timothy Backer, who served as fire chief of the Arcadia and DeSoto volunteer fire departments for 24 years, spoke at the dedication and later viewed the fire simulator demonstrations with the other attendees.

"It is state-of-the-art stuff," he said. "And, they have all kinds of safety features; it is designed to make sure everybody goes home tonight."

With Ashworth at her side, Grimsley pressed a button that ignited a blaze under one prop, a metal carriage simulating a car that sent flames leaping upward, enveloping it completely in fire.

The college offers a two-year program to earn an Associate in Science Degree in Fire Science Technology and two Fire Science Occupational Certificate programs — Fire Fighter I and Fire Fighter II.

Fire Fighter I certification, which consists of 206 contact hours, is for students who need formal training to become volunteer firefighters.

Fire Fighter II certification, which consists of 192 contact hours, is for students who want to become professional firefighters.

In November, the state fire marshal gave SFSC's program its approval, placing it on Florida's list of approved firefighter recruit training centers. SFSC joins 15 of Florida's state colleges offering the state-approved training.

Ashworth said applicants to the program must have a high school diploma and be at least 18. While applicants need not pass a physical agility test, the nine months of training to complete both Firefighter I and II requires recruits to pull heavy hoses, break through doors and carry a potential victim to safety.

Prior to SFSC starting its program, area residents had to travel to Bradenton, Tampa, or Winter Haven to enroll in the complete state-approved course.

©2016 the Highlands Today (Sebring, Fla.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.