McCOOK, Nebraska -- Officials have high hopes for a revamped Fire Science program at McCook Community College that could label the campus as a regional provider.
The changes would allow the college to offer new firefighter certifications and the plans have received a high level of local support, reducing amount of money the college will have to provide.
"This is the most excited I have been for this program in a long time," said Kathy Dernovich, MPCC Health Occupations Instructor.
She oversees the McCook EMT and Fire Science programs and told the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Governors that she has already had success with similar changes to the paramedic program.
The changes might allow the college to offer Firefighter I certification, federal certification for wild and grassland fires and a third firefighter administration or supervisor certification. Details are still being compiled.
Dernovich said the program had been struggling, and she did not believe it would survive unless something was done. She explained that when she reviewed the program she discovered that National standards for the certifications could be met with the addition of two courses, firefighter legal and field practicum, in addition to minimal tinkering with some of the existing courses.
"Sometimes just a name change was necessary," said Dernovich.
The McCook Fire Department pledged support of the enhanced program by offering the use of equipment for training so the college doesn't have to buy it.
The city also offered the use of airport property for roof training structures, and McCook High School students may provide labor.
"I am most excited about McCook offering two internships per year for two Fire Science students, who would then work and be part of the fire department for a period of time," said Dernovich.
She said most McCook firefighters were already firefighter instructors, and the resources available in McCook had made it an ideal base for the program. A mirror program would be planned for North Platte, she added.
The program's biggest expense will be the hiring of a full-time coordinator to develop curriculum, recruit and do some instruction.
Board member Kent Miller said he thought it was a modest proposal and could serve all 18 counties in the MPCC area.
"We're in the business of providing educational opportunities, and this is a perfect fit to what we are doing," said Miller, adding that he would like to see it as an action item for the board's May meeting.
Miller's support was echoed by board member Michael Owens, who said the program had the potential to become a big part of what the college does with minimal financial risk. The initial program budget is estimated at $80,000, with Owens commenting that even if it grew to $200,000 it would be a safe gamble.
McCook Fire Chief Marc Harpham restated the city's support of the program, which he called a significant opportunity.
"We can help get the word out at our mutual aid meetings, the need is out there," said Harpham.
Dernovich said the McCook Fire Science Program could marketed with a fire school, explaining that there is only one in Nebraska, offered only once a year in Grand Island. She said she believed there was room for another and said it could be scheduled in the summer so that attendees could be accommodated in the college dorms.
The Grand Island fire school is a three-day course that offers Firefighter I certification bundled with other certifications.
Board members ultimately decided to have the program changes and authorization to hire a full-time coordinator placed on the May meeting agenda as an action item.
A summary of response from area fire departments gauging their interest level was requested to be presented at that time as well.