View article as it appears on GoUpstate.com
An agreement between the S.C. Technical College System and the state’s Fire Academy could help firefighters earn advanced degrees more quickly.
Under the deal, those who have completed Fire Academy training will be able to earn exemption credits when enrolled at one of the state’s 16 technical colleges. Firefighters looking to enroll in programs related to fire or general technology or emergency management and protection will likely be able to earn an associate degree more quickly.
“A lot of our folks take this training because it’s essential to their job, but never think about applying it to a degree. Hopefully, by having that in place, they can do that,” said Spartanburg Fire Department Chief Marion Blackwell. “That’s something they can take with them, even after they leave the fire service.”
Some of the courses and training the academic programs require would be exempted because the program at the S.C. Fire Academy provides emergency services training to paid and volunteer municipal firefighters.
“Recognizing and exempting completed work toward an associate degree or certificate is one more tool to help our state’s firefighters gain skills, training and knowledge necessary to enter their chosen career path,” said state Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones in a statement.
Locally, Spartanburg Community College’s campuses in Spartanburg, Duncan and Cherokee and Union counties are all included in the agreement, said Patrica Jones, SCC vice president for instruction.
“Higher education is a good way to advance in any career. This would allow them to come to Spartanburg Community College and get credit for work they’ve already done,” she said.
Blackwell, 53, recently earned his doctorate in fire and emergency management administration from Oklahoma State University.
One of only 10 people nationwide to earn the distinction from OSU, the only institution to offer the program, Blackwell spent two years preparing his dissertation on the value of accreditation for a fire agency and its impact on the community.
“You get more skills than just fighting fires,” he said. “You get a broader perspective on things like personnel issues and other things that come up. These skills they can also transfer into private sector jobs at a later time.”
With the agreement in place, Blackwell said the time it takes firefighters to earn an associate degree could be cut in half. And with online classes and flexible scheduling, firefighters can complete coursework more easily now than in the past.
A degree can help firefighters rise through the ranks in any department, and can be beneficial to a potential career after firefighting, Blackwell said.
“This agreement, they just take them now, they don’t have to evaluate them anymore. It’s going to make it a lot easier for our folks to get that associate degree,” he said.