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“Additionally, some students come to the community college environment not yet academically ‘mature.’ What I mean by this is that they are not yet confident in their academic ability. Community colleges offer an opportunity for their course work to be contextualized around topics in which they are interested, and therefore the student becomes more motivated to learn. Once a student achieves some academic success, they become more confident to take on other more challenging courses. As far as basic skills, we emphasize that they are essential for overall career success and longevity. In Fire Technology, we embed basic skills throughout the career and technical education experience. Integrating reading, writing, math and critical thinking is a natural fit for the firefighting profession, and we try to do so at every turn explaining to the students and cadets how these skills directly apply to their future. We explain that it is not enough to be simply physically strong, but rather you have to be physically and academically fit.”
Basic training for student firefighters
At Moreno Valley College, the Ben Clark Training Center, which is owned by the Riverside County Fire Department and local law enforcement agencies, offers a basic firefighter academy during its 12-week program. College credit is earned and may be applied to an associate’s degree and transferred to select California four-year colleges and universities. Hannum says the discipline is “an accredited state fire training program. It offers a fire academy and associate’s degree in fire technology. Our curriculum also offers a concentration in our chief officer series. We have four different options for associate’s degrees.
“We run three fire academies every year, which can accommodate between 90 and 100 students. Students receive the NFPA standard for Firefighter I, which meets the curriculum set by our state training office here in California. When they complete our training, they still need to do some field training before they can apply to the state for their State of California Firefighter I certificate. When students finish they will have more than 350 hours of instruction. It’s a 12-week academy – 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. We require participants be state-registered EMTs prior to entry in the academy along with a physical agility exam.”
“In the community college system in California, a student must complete a minimum of 60 units and sometimes a little bit more...They must take all of the program requirement courses and the general education requirements for their degree.”
University transfer in California is not as simple as in other states. Two-year institutions are able to place associate’s-level students at some institutions; others are not eligible for transfer. “There are certain institutions in California that offer 2+2 programs,” Hannum says. “This allows students who get their associates to transfer, to say, Cal State-LA, where there is a fire administration bachelor’s degree.
“We have a very close working relationship with our county training officers along with our advisory committee, which are made up of members of local fire departments. Where that relationship has been really helpful is in our needs assessment. Riverside County Fire Department officials assess what their manpower needs are. And then we try to schedule our admissions accordingly.”
Partnership pays off for students and agencies
At the heart of the Moreno Valley College program is the Ben Clark Training Center. “Much of what we do could not take place without their equipment and assistance,” Hannum says. “Through a contractual agreement we have use of this facility. But what’s really important is the relationship and working with the department and knowing what their needs are.”
Conversely, students at the Moreno Valley College had the advantage of county fire officials available to them as coaches and mentors. Although Hannum points out that the college does not place students in jobs; it is their responsibility to seek employment, the working relationship between the college and fire department is a formidable asset. “We try to prepare students in what to expect in interviews and in the hiring process as they seek jobs in the workforce.”
The teaching is structured as well as the culture in which it is presented. “We have a paramilitary culture; and we enforce that culture even in our core classes,” Hannum says. “We require students to act accordingly – by addressing their superiors according to rank and last name. It might seem a little old fashioned, but I’ve had parents contact me asking, ‘What have you done to my child?’ ”
The associate’s program has a standardized curriculum throughout the state, which is a major advantage to students and instructors alike. “I’m in Southern California near the city of Riverside. A student begins her career in the northern end of the state and for whatever reason they end up relocating here,” says Hannum, a former firefighter. “We accept their Firefighter I certification and courses just like they got them here. It also tells employers that perspective employees have met a certain standard of curriculum.”