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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Buckman is the chief of the German Township Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Presidential appointee to America Burning Revisited. He has 39 years of experience in the fire service.

In Illinois, a variety of community colleges offer two-year fire science degrees based on local needs.

"There about 20 community colleges in the state that offer two-year fire science degrees…and they come and go due to how much demand there is," says Richard Jaehne, director of the Fire Service Institute at the University of Illinois.

"What we and the Illinois Fire Chief's Association run is the Fire Office I and Fire Officer II courses. They are the bread-and-butter of the two-year fire science degree programs. The programs offer a real cocktail of courses, based on local need," Jaehne says. "This is partially due to the nature of community college, which receive funding by local and state budgets. In the 12 years that I have been director, higher education has become more a part of the promotional process. But this includes more than higher education, it involves (more) training, too."

Among state fire science training directors, Jaehne is not alone in observing a growing number of untrained firefighters seeking a degree first. "I see many younger students getting fire science degrees as a means to obtaining a job in the fire service," which, he notes, does not necessarily help. "The training comes first."

Dr. Richard Carter, director of the School of Extended Studies at Western Illinois University (WIU), agrees that the community colleges in the state are "very active at the associate's degree level." His program advances the notion of higher education using the FESHE model curriculum.

"Our baccalaureate program is completely online and we've had facility members participate with designing curriculum in conjunction with the National Fire Academy," he says. One of the strengths of WUI's program is its ease of transition for incoming students. "We have the flexibility to bring students to into the program, even without an associate's degree…just get them going on their core courses as they move into the program," Carter says. The end product is a bachelor of arts in the Board of Trustees Degree Program with two options for certificates in fire administration and management or in fire prevention technology.

The student base is from a handful of states that WIU serves as part of being one of seven institutions offering the FESHE curriculum. "It's a pretty good balance, but by far the largest geographic concentration we have comes from Texas. I believe it's because Texas has the largest population (of states WIU serves), and there has been a lot of good comments from former students for our program. A lot of people have completed it and recommend it to others," he says.

"The reason students want a degree is to enter administrative roles in the fire department or move up the ladder within their departments. But we have people in the military attending" who are looking to increase their career potential, he explains. "The courses are really intense…and they help the student learn skills that help them in their jobs. I think higher education is a growing demand. The bachelor's degree is the benchmark for moving into an administrative role."

"In these courses, which we offer at least once per year, we average 25–28 students per class," Carter says. "It has been a positive experience working with career firefighters. We consider it a service to the community at large…we want to ensure a consistent delivery of curriculum by using the National Fire Academy's FESHE courses. These courses were designed by firefighters for firefighters," he says. The WIU is one of the original Degrees at a Distance schools teaching the FESHE curriculum, he says, with more than 20 years.