Fire academy, college join forces in Ohio

A new partnership between the academy and Central Ohio Technical College could speed up that process for aspiring firefighters

By Alex Stuckey
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took Brad Beck nine years to finish his associate degree while he was working as a firefighter.

"I had so much trouble finishing school because I was working full-time," said Beck, now training-grounds supervisor for the Ohio Fire Academy.

A new partnership between the academy and Central Ohio Technical College could speed up that process for aspiring firefighters.

The partnership, announced yesterday, will allow COTC students to receive college credit for firefighter training.

"The fact that they can do this is sweet," Beck said. "I would have finished my degree much faster this way."

David Goodman, director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the fire marshal's office and the fire academy, said the partnership will increase educational opportunities for Ohioans.

"This will set those individuals wanting to get training on the path to get an associate or bachelor's degree so they have an opportunity for other jobs in life," he said.

The partnership is in response to a national initiative through the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy, said Chief Frank Conway, with the fire marshal's office.

"(The hope is) to increase education among fire-emergency-services individuals," Conway said.

The first and second levels of firefighter training, more than 240 hours over seven weeks, will be incorporated into a student's college degree, said Raymond Irwin, COTC's administrative dean for academic affairs.

Among the topics covered are search and rescue, use of equipment and fire safety, Conway said.

Students will have access to the academy's approximately 40 acres of exercises, including a burn building and car-accident simulations — practice opportunities a college could not afford, Beck said.

After completion of the program, students will be qualified Ohio firefighters and have completed a fourth of the required course work toward an associate degree while still paying normal tuition, about $107 per credit hour, Irwin said.

COTC began its firefighter training program in the 2010-11 school year but didn't have the academy's level of facilities, Irwin said. The college's Pataskala campus is just down the road from the fire academy, so the partnership made sense.

The academy will convert rooms within the main building into college classrooms for students, said State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers.

This partnership has benefits for already trained firefighters, as well. For the first time, they can take college courses that won't interfere with their work shifts.

"Once a person gets a taste of a degree, they are hungry for more, which will raise the level of education of our firefighters," Flowers said.

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