Created: 08/25/2014 6:43 PM KAALtv.com
By: Dan Conradt
(ABC 6 News) - The opening day of a new school year at Riverland Community College in Austin means the start of a new program designed with public safety in mind.
"To get those degrees will actually make their careers go farthe,r" said Riverland’s Wanda Staska.
Riverland Community College calls its newest degree program 'Fire Science Technology.' It's the future of firefighter education, and the first program of its kind in southeastern Minnesota.
"We've done hour-based fire education for years," Staska explained.
But the new program is credit-based -- 60 credits over two years -- and much of it is done on-line.
"And then once they learn about the background of everything, then they come in and they actually do the hands-on," Staska said.
“You'll do some extrication stuff, we'll do fire attack," said Austin firefighter Terry Petersen, who will also be an instructor for the program. "A lot of these guys have never had turn-out gear on and the challenge of just wearing that stuff."
As a degree program, it will also train the next generation of fire department leadership.
"In order to be able to get leadership positions, officer, chief, those type of things they're asking for degrees," Staska told ABC6.
“They're going to come out as firefighters, firefighters one and two with haz-mat certifications and then plus an EMT certification, which is where the industry is going right now," Petersen explained.
“Fire and EMS, they work together on a day to day basis. Every time there's a call there's usually fire and ambulance service there," Staska said.
"We just hired two new guys and both of those guys had to get that stuff on their own," Petersen said.
"We actually have people that have been working as firefighters for years coming on and taking our program now because they want to go to that next level in their career," Staska added.
And when the programs first students graduate:
"There are hundreds of volunteer fire departments out there that need good fire-fighters, and there's also that career path out there for the professional department, so there are jobs out there," Staska said.