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Fire science program has 'unlimited potential'

Enrollment expected to grow, officials say

DIXON – Sauk Valley Community College hopes its fire science program catches, well, fire among firefighters in the region.

After its first year, college officials call the program a success, despite lower than anticipated enrollment, which they attribute to the hurried launch of the program.

As for its future, officials believe the program will pick up steam as the curriculum is updated and enhanced, equipment is added and, of course, enrollment grows.

Sauk is hosting an open house May 23 to showcase the fire science program and market the associate degree and related certificates to prospective and current firefighters.

"It has unlimited potential," said Amboy Fire Chief Jeff Bryant, program coordinator. "Every day, it seems, there is a new mission for local fire departments, because of new things in the community or because of a lack of something in the community."

Sauk Dean of Health Professions Janet Lynch points to state-of-the-art equipment, classes designed and taught by local firefighters and the growing need for first responders as drivers of the program.

The college already has mobile Phase 1 and Phase 2 flashover simulators, vehicles that help firefighters learn to handle flashover, or the transitional phase between growth and full development of a fire.

It plans to use donated shipping containers to construct a model, multistory building so firefighters can practice techniques associated with multistory structure fires. It also plans to set up a grain bin and combine so firefighters can work on agricultural firefighting scenarios.

"We feel this training should help the infrastructure of our community," Lynch said. "What if there's a wind tower fire? What if the hydroelectric plant has a fire? What about our railway system?

"We want our firefighters to gain practical experience geared more toward live fire situations," she said.

Lynch said fire science classes were only about half full this past year. But she said enrollment should increase next year.

The volume of emergency calls – more than 8,000 a year in the Sterling-Rock Falls area and more than 5,500 a year in Lee County – demonstrates the need for training in the region, she said.

The number of firefighting jobs in the region – predicted to grow nearly 6 percent by 2018 – also gives credence to such a program.

"It gives everybody a new field [for training] in the area without having to travel," Bryant said. "And it provides them an opportunity to get an associate degree ... or obtain credits for state certifications without having to travel."

Program officials say word of mouth also will drive the program.

"It will spread," Bryant said. "Plus every kid who graduates, as they get hired into fire departments, will be the success of the program."

Get fired up!

Sauk Valley Community College is holding an open house for its fire science program from 5 to 8 p.m. May 23, in the fire science building on the northwest side of the campus at 173 state Route 2, between Dixon and Sterling.

The open house will feature fire truck and helicopter displays, an automobile extrication demonstration and a flashover simulator demonstration.

Call Jeff Bryant, program coordinator, at 815-994-6184 for more information.

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