New program lets medics convert on-the-job training into college credits

Maryland medics and firefighters will be able to earn up to 40 college credits based on the training that they've received in the department

By Andrew Michaels
Howard County Times

COLUMBIA, Md. — Firefighters and paramedics of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services will be able to advance in their careers with the help of a new partnership between the fire department and Howard Community College.

On Monday morning, Fire Chief John Butler and HCC President Kathleen Hetherington gathered in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center lobby with County Executive Allan Kittleman to sign the official memorandum, which establishes a new academic program in fire science and leadership. The program will begin during the spring semester on Jan. 30, 2016.

"All fire and rescue personnel have a boatload of training," Butler said. "We train and we train a lot and in many emergency disciplines. This program takes their training and converts it to college credit. Conceptually, they can earn up to 40 college credits based on the training that they've received in the department, which typically had not been assessed for college credits."

Personnel can earn an additional 20 credits through general education courses at the college, Butler continued, working their way toward the required 45 college credits needed for promotion to the rank of lieutenant. With an associate degree, they are eligible for a position as captain. Butler said battalion chief and assistant chief positions require 90 college credits and a bachelor's degree, respectively.

"In recent years, we have refined and increased the education requirements for leadership positions," the fire chief said. "The health and growth and progress of any organization is the ability for their leaders to be learners."

Although the program has been eight years in the making, Patricia Turner, dean of science, engineering and technology, said she's recognized the changes in the fire department and its personnel requirements.

"There are so many legal and ethical issues; so many related to management," she said. "The situations that they get into are so much more complex. The methodologies for preventing and fighting fires are so much more advanced, so they really need to have an educational background in these areas to fully understand what you're doing."

Turner's department will oversee the program, with professors including scenarios of fire science in the general education courses. In a general chemistry class, for example, Turner said the professor will "tweak the content" to discuss fire chemistry and hazardous material.

"It's giving us the ability to learn more about what we hadn't really gotten involved in before," Turner said.

Firefighter Chris Cole said he intends to take advantage of the opportunity. As a firefighter and a husband, Cole added, the flexibility of the program is substantial to his education.

"It's not a bunch of running around from location to location," Cole said. "I can work with the advisers on location, who can then talk to people within my department and I don't have to go much further than that. I just have to put the work and dedication into the program at HCC and progress from there."

Hetherington said the community college strives to address workforce issues in the community, listening to the needs and responding with academic offerings. With the fire science and leadership program, Hetherington said she predicts a bright future for the fire department's future leaders.

"I'm excited about creating new leaders in the fire science," Hetherington said." And if they can get the appropriate credentials that they need while attending Howard Community College, I think that's very much positive for the college and the community."

(c)2015 the Howard County Times

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