HELENA — Helena College is revamping its Fire & Emergency services programs to meet the emerging demands while also helping local volunteer fire departments.
The United States and Montana face a shortage of volunteer firefighters. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, around two-thirds of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers, but volunteer numbers fell 17% from 1984 to 2017 when it reached a low point, while over the last 30 years, the volume of calls has tripled.
The additions recently announced to the program include a path to higher education while in the Fire & Emergency Service career, an option that fits perfectly in an industry that is no longer just about fighting fires, according to Helena Assistant Fire Chief Mike Chambers.
"It's evolving where we're an all-hazards industry now,” Chambers explained. “We need to understand hazardous materials, molecular weights, and specific gravities. So, the level of the industry has lifted and evolved to a level where some more education of the all-hazards industry is super important."
Before evolving the program, Helena College gained insight from fire stations across the state to understand the new demands in the career. One demand is hands-on experience and Helena College added an internship requirement to its program, giving students real-world experience.
"It's very easy to talk about what the job is going to be like, what's the job going to require of you in a classroom, but to actually have that experience, I think that's invaluable to these students because it shows them what they are truly going to be doing with the rest of their career," says Paxton Miller-Fitzpatrick, a professional firefighter with the Helena Fire Department.
Students can also intern with volunteer fire stations. Staff among volunteer fire stations are at an all-time low with some stations having fewer than 10 members, according to the Lewis & Clark County Rural Fire Council.
Not only is Lyn Stimpson a Helena College instructor, he’s also the Montana City Fire Chief and understands that these internships benefit the community along with the students.
“We spent a lot of time talking to our alumni at fire departments, to fire departments and their hiring managers, and making sure that we were aligned with their needs,” says Stimpson. “To be able to put these changes into action and see them coming to fruition is very satisfying as an instructor."
The revamped program at Helena College begins the Fall 2021 semester. Applications into the Fire & Emergency Service programs are now open and new student registration opens May 3. To learn more, click here.