Midwest Fields Many Higher Education Choices

Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA, has packaged training with education to produce a remarkable double play for the fire service. It serves as a training ground for aspiring firefighters and in the process delivers recruits who have earned...


Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA, has packaged training with education to produce a remarkable double play for the fire service. It serves as a training ground for aspiring firefighters and in the process delivers recruits who have earned associate's degrees to enthusiastic local...


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Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA, has packaged training with education to produce a remarkable double play for the fire service. It serves as a training ground for aspiring firefighters and in the process delivers recruits who have earned associate's degrees to enthusiastic local departments.

"We offer two degree programs at Kirkwood," says Andrea Clark, department coordinator of Industrial Technologies. "The first associate's program was designed for the fire professional…and it's been around for some 20 years. It is for the guys who are already career firefighters and need a way to advance, move up in rank and move up in pay. But we perceived a need to offer a second (separate) two-year degree for those who wanted to break into the fire service; those who were not already a career firefighter, but maybe some volunteer experience or no experience at all. That program, called Entry Level Firefighter, has been around for about 15 years. It offers an associate's of applied science. It is a blend of classroom and hands-on training. About 90–95% of or students are the entry-level fire program." The two elements for the entry-level program revolve around Firefighter I (FFI) and EMT-B. Added to the associate's program is a selection of liberal arts courses that round out the curriculum, Clark explains.

"Local fire departments are pretty much insisting new recruits have a two-year degree," she says. "None of the local departments say, 'We will not hire you without it.' But anecdotal evidence says that there have been a limited number of hires at Cedar Rapids Fire Department who did not have one of our degrees. Often times, we will see students entering our program who already have bachelor's degrees, who are established elsewhere with a career…for whatever reason they are dissatisfied…and they take a leap. Many are from finance and business. Unfortunately, we aren't able to place all of our students." However, those who get jobs "most stay fairly local (the Iowa/Nebraska/Missouri/Illinois area). We do have graduates from Alaska to Florida. For example, last month, a recent graduate was picked up by the DC Fire Department."

Tom Mackey, a captain at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department and an instructor at Kirkwood Community College, has seen both associates' programs grow. "When I first started teaching, the majority of my students were coworkers," he says. "The student body has changed considerably over the years. Many of the students who attend now are (aspiring to be firefighters) with only a couple of coworkers in class."

Kirkwood Community College has some 17,000 students, but limits attendance for its entry-level fire program to 78 students. "This particular year, we filled the class a month prior to its start," Clark says. She adds that delivery of some of the curricula is available via the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), an innovative fiber optic network employing voice, video, data, WAN connections, and Internet services to more than 700 video classrooms located in education facilities, government agencies, hospitals, armories and public libraries throughout Iowa.

In Minnesota, statewide training encompasses higher education as well. "We don't have a fire academy like other states," says Don Beckering, state director for Fire EMS Safety Education. The state's training, as well as a higher education component, is conducted at 12 sites throughout Minnesota. "Participants can start at Firefighter I and go through to earn a baccalaureate degree. The system in place allows any training that students take to count toward their career advancement."

As Beckering explains the state's program, individuals may attain the necessary technical certificates to become a firefighter, or continue on and gather the required core courses for an associate's degree.

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