The appeals of firefighting are immense, and TCC’s fire science technology program can either jump start a student’s ability to enter the field or provide the continuing education necessary to advance.
“We used to think of this field as more brawn than brain,” said Rick Dienst, program head for fire science technology for the last 10 years. “Now the reverse is true, as education is becoming increasingly important.”
About 70 percent of Dienst’s students are firefighters, most seeking to advance to the officer ranks. The remainder of the students often includes aspiring firefighters planning to apply to the fire academy. While a student cannot become a firefighter by completing the TCC program, the coursework is still essential in today’s competitive environment.
“If I’m a fire captain talking to two students who want to get into the fire academy, I’m more likely to take the one who has prepared by taking fire science classes,” Dienst said. He also recommends emergency medical services classes for anyone planning a career in fire science.
“EMT training is really important before going into the academy,” he said. “It’s a good introduction to what you’re going to experience.”
The two-year associate degree in fire science technology includes a general principles class in addition to classes in building construction, fire investigation, hazardous materials, occupational safety and health and fire dynamics.
Dienst, formerly a firefighter in the Air Force for 22 years, boasts a wealth of experience, including retiring as deputy fire chief at what was deemed “the largest Air Force base in the free world,” Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. He previously worked for NASA and directed the fire science program at Broward Community College prior to coming to TCC.
Dienst holds two associate degrees in the field along with a bachelor’s in fire service management from Southern Illinois University and a master’s in public administration from Governors State University outside of Chicago.
“When I first got to TCC, the program wasn’t managed by a firefighter,” he said. “So one of the first things I did was change the scheduling to make it easier for current firefighters to take classes.”
The program offers what Dienst calls “flip-flop” scheduling, meaning students can come one of two separate nights and receive the same information. Hybrid and online classes are also available. All classes are taught by Dienst or his staff comprised of four adjuncts, all former and current firefighters.
The program enrolled 447 students for the 2013 calendar year. Dienst encourages women to apply, noting as long as they can meet the physical requirements, it is an ideal career choice.
“This is a career for people who are loyal, ethical, moral – all important because you’re dealing with people’s lives,” he said. “You have to be a team player and be able to get along with people, as you end up working at a place that is your second home.”
While the 10 days per month often attracts newcomers to the field, Dienst noted, “During those 10 days, you’re working 24 hours.”
Hampton Roads offers a more versatile job market than many due to the plethora of military bases that routinely hire civilian firefighters.
Dienst is working to bring a four-year program to the area offered through his alma mater, Southern Illinois. A bachelor’s in fire service management, he said, would be particularly appealing to former veterans seeking to use their GI Bill benefits.
Dienst asks that anyone interested in the associate program talk with him first in a personal interview. Dienst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-822-7209.