MERIDIAN — Special to The Star
A formal recognition ceremony detailing the learning partnership between Meridian Community College’s Division of Emergency Service Technology and the Meridian Fire Department and the Lauderdale County Fire Services unveiled a unique scholarship opportunity for local first responders.
The Thursday event brought local governmental officials including Meridian Mayor Percy Bland and Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors President Josh Todd together in the College’s Emergency Medical Science Academy facility — the only one of its kind in the state.
MCC Vice President for Operations Barbara Jones told the group gathered, “the best thing about this is we are in partnerships. It takes a cooperative spirit and partners that are willing are do to the things that need to be done to benefit others.”
“We are the first and the only community college in the state who will be offering this partnership,” Jones said.
Dr. Richie McAlister, associate vice president for workforce education, said a degree is no longer an option for the firefighter, fire officer or emergency manager. “Today’s emergency service professional has to be a strong communicator and be knowledgeable in areas such as hazardous materials, architecture, engineering.”
He noted since 2003, the fire service industry has called for a national model that integrates competency-based system of education and professional development.
“The United States Fire Administration has found that fire emergency service personnel possess a tremendous amount of credit for training but it’s often uncoordinated, fragmented and seldom leads to a recognized program of study,” McAlister said.
Locally, firefighters have hundreds of continuing education hours at the Fire Academy, McAlister said, “so we just need to bring it all together.”
MCC recognized the problem and developed a way to evaluate prior educational achievements and combine them with an accredited Fire and Emergency Services Degree Program.
Also, Meridian Community College’s Recognition of Prior Education Service (ROPES) Program has reviewed numerous standard based programs and determined where college credit could be awarded. MCC has worked very closely with the Mississippi State Fire Academy and jointly offers the Mississippi Executive Fire Officers Program that encourages degree completion, McAlister noted.
Getting the opportunity to learn while on duty is a benefit few colleges can offer. However, MCC is the only community college in the state to offer associate degrees in fire protection technology and emergency communications technology.
Ben Warren, chairman of MCC’s division of emergency service technology, said, meshing higher education and training is vital. The college is helping to overcome some financial roadblocks for participants in the programs, he added.
“A scholarship program is being created right now that will provide money to first responders both in Meridian and Lauderdale County to those individuals who are pursuing degrees in either emergency management communications technology or fire protection technology,” Warren said.