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Kristen Cyr
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CCRI Fire Science degree program
now nationally accredited

Oct. 4, 2013

Fire Science students, faculty and administrators pose with the FESHE certificate. Fire Science students, faculty and administrators pose with the certificate recognizing CCRI's status as having met the standards for accreditation from the National Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program.

Although the Fire Science program has long been a popular course of study at the Community College of Rhode Island, this year marks the first that it bears the National Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education, or FESHE, stamp of approval from the U.S. Fire Administration.

Like the life-saving duties its graduates go on to perform, this is no small feat, said Fire Science Program Director and Assistant Professor Robert Howe. Howe said the curriculum redesign necessary to gain the accreditation was sparked in 2011 by Dr. Maureen E. McGarry, dean of Health and Rehabilitative Sciences, and boasts six core courses: fire prevention, building construction and fire codes, systems and equipment, introduction to fire science, firefighter safety and survival, and fire behavior and combustion. Now, students who graduate with their associate degree from the program also will receive a certificate indicating that they graduated from a FESHE-accredited institution.

Howe said this accreditation will be instrumental in providing added legitimacy for new graduates, who likely will have to spend time further developing themselves and preparing for additional testing.

“As the student builds his or her résumé, the accreditation brings it up a notch higher. It puts a feather in our cap as an institution and also gives the student added recognition, making him or her an alumnus from the National Fire Academy, and gets the student in the system there,” he explained.

Howe, who took classes here at the college in the 1980s, said that the students are “elated” with the accreditation as well as changes to the program’s structure. By setting up multiple sections for each class, Howe said students have been able to more quickly achieve their educational goals. And the popularity of the program stands as a testament to that elation: Since Howe came on board in 2011, the program has grown from more than 60 students to more than 100.

Education – both at the beginning of one’s career and continuing throughout – is a must-have for any fire safety official. Although many civilians might not realize exactly how much education goes on off the field and outside of the firehouse, Howe said that modern firefighting is absolutely dependent on programs like CCRI’s. “Things are being done differently now. It’s a new era,” he said, adding that new technology has enabled firefighters to do their jobs more safely and effectively.

With this new technology – such as computer-run water pumps, improved communications devices and additional safety measures on the fire trucks – comes a need for continued training. Howe knows this firsthand: With more than 26 years in the fire service under his belt as well as an associate degree in fire science and a bachelor’s and master’s in public administration from Roger Williams University, he continues to find opportunities to further his education. This summer, he spent a week at the Fire Expo and Training Seminar in Baltimore, where he took seminars in fireground command, control and accountability and firefighter safety.

“The instructors of these classes are notable fire officials throughout the country,” he said, adding that he is always able to bring back a wealth of information to the CCRI program from the educational opportunities he seeks out each year. “Unfortunately, sometimes in the fire service, we learn from things that go wrong. And once you get complacent and don’t continue to educate and train yourself, that’s how injuries happen. So these opportunities are very important.”

Howe hopes that FESHE accreditation will help facilitate additional networking and training opportunities for his students as they take advantage of their place in a field that prides itself on the camaraderie among its brethren. In addition to fighting fires, there are jobs available in insurance, building inspections, private sector inspections, crash firefighting at the airport, education and other related fields.

“When students leave the program, the accredited degree helps a new recruit trying to get into the business as well as helping the active firefighter excel and get promoted. It’s really a win-win for everyone,” Howe said.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16