College Projects Benefit Students, Chiefs

College Projects Benefit Students, Chiefs


Unfortunately, once a student completes a fire science degree program, he returns to his fire station with little opportunity to use the knowledge he has acquired. Not only does he lack an avenue for showing what he can do, but his time spent in the degree program, in many cases, doesn’t even help him get a promotion.

This, coupled with the fact that the student must live with the unsympathetic attitudes of his fellow fire fighters and officers who are not students, leads to the disillusionment and frustration of the fire science student.

The colleges must share some of the responsibility for this frustration. We teach the student innovative fire fighting techniques, modern fire prevention methods and the latest trends in administration while all the time knowing that the students’ fire departments may not be using the most successful methods in each area. The student ends up questioning the practices of his department and may become critical of the chief and his staff.

Unaware of complaints

The student, most times, fails to realize the financial constraints and political realities of public administration which may prevent a fire department from adopting the latest technique or trend.

At Tidewater Community College we feel we are helping to alleviate a portion of this problem with our Fire 298 course, a seminar and project in fire science. The course is an attempt to bring the student and his fire department together to help solve a management level problem. We have been successful in gaining the cooperation of fire departments in our area in assigning projects to students that would normally be assigned to members of a chief s staff.

During the first week of the quarter, the student and a member of the faculty meet with the chief of the student’s fire department. During that meeting, the chief suggests a project, cites the reasons why he needs this information and explains what he plans to do with the information. From this point on, the students works for the rest of the quarter on the project with the chief and his staff.

The project is conducted as part of the college curriculum. Therefore, certain academic standards for research and presentation are required. After the initial meeting, the student must report his progress to the faculty member at least once every two weeks. Otherwise, the student is on his own to work on the project.

Once the nature of the project has been determined and initial research has been completed, a written project proposal must be prepared by the student and submitted to the chief and faculty member. The intent of this proposal is to define how the project will be completed.

At the end of the quarter, the project is submitted as a complete presentation and documentation of the work done by the student. The problem, the process, the finding and the analysis of the project must all be present in the final format.

The course is designed so that the chief and his staff can see the caliber of work that their student fire fighters are capable of producing. At the same time, the student gets a chance to observe some of the constraints imposed upon management that prevent the implementation of the “best” decision all the time.

The most important benefit of the course is that it provides the chief with a usable piece of management information. Also, the student has an opportunity to see some of his work being used, rather than the typical term project which is filed at the end of the quarter and no one ever sees again.

Projects completed

Some of the projects which have been completed thus far are:

  1. Development of a qualifications and training program for new fire inspectors.
  2. Testing of current turnout gear and recommendations for the purchase of gear.
  3. Standardizing the equipment carried on all apparatus.
  4. Development of a manual of all the equipment and supplies available for mutual aid among four municipal and six federal fire departments.
  5. Comparison of the activities of each of our area’s fire prevention bureaus and recommending improvements to the student’s department.
  6. Testing the financial and political feasibility of combining one city’s paramedic service with the fire department.
  7. Development of a driver training program.

The potential is there to provide useful information to the chief and let the student participate on the management level. Both the student and the fire department benefit from this arrangement.

By continuing to offer this course, we look forward to helping local fire departments solve some of their problems and, at the same time, alleviating some of our students’ frustrations.

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