Higher Education: Why College?

When Kelvin Cochran first embarked on his college career in 1981, little did he know that four years of study would take nearly two decades to complete. The former U.S. Fire Administrator and current Atlanta, GA, Fire Rescue Department chief’s college...


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Mapping a Path

Michael Jackson carefully searched baccalaureate programs and chose Eastern Kentucky University. The chief of the Woodland, WA, Fire Department was a traditional student as an undergraduate, but now plans to pursue a master’s degree.

“After high school, I went to Eastern Kentucky University to pursue my bachelor’s degree in fire protection administration,” he said. “I continued to volunteer at a fire department while I was in college. I also had three internships at two departments while I was in college, where I took on some special projects.”

Jackson recognizes the need for higher education to further his career.

“When I look at long-term advancement – I’m pretty young for my position compared to most folks in the area – I see that this would be a good way to improve my career path,” he said. “…And maybe end up teaching at some point.”

He sees the common use of consulting firms to search for upper-level fire service positions, especially prevalent in Washington State, as an advantage to departments. “The use of search firms to fill the upper ranks of fire departments opens the field more and makes it more competitive,” he said. “Internally, folks see that they must compete with those outside of the department. But I see it as a call to rise to the challenge. If folks inside a department can’t compete, then they need to step up and become competitive. It’s helpful to bring a fresh perspective to any department.”

Jackson maintains ties to his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, where he converses with people with similar backgrounds. “It’s a huge connection and a way to stay involved,” he said. “I also look at the momentum of FESHE (the federal Fire and Emergency Service Higher Education model) and where it’s going as a source of inspiration and motivation. It’s also a great idea-sharing forum. The EFO program too has been beneficial because those people tend to be proponents of higher education.”

Jackson believes higher education is vital to the continued growth and credibility of the fire service.

“The industry is becoming more attuned to higher education,” he said. “To be competitive, people need to embrace higher education or face the possibility of being left out in the future. If you do not have an education and are competing with those with an education, then it becomes more difficult. Higher education is our only hope to being truly recognized as a profession.”