Firefighters are on the front line of service to their communities at all times. The work of a firefighter requires specialized training and skills in order to save lives and property. Waubonsee Community College’s Fire Science Technology Program provides the training necessary for communities to have the firefighters they need.
Full-time faculty member, Andrea Montgomery graduated from East Aurora High School and went to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine with the plan to be an athletic trainer. She had a friend in the fire department in Montgomery, Illinois who encouraged her to join the department, which she did in 1997.
“I loved it. I decided that this is what I wanted to do,” said Montgomery.
She came to Waubonsee in 1997 to earn her industry certifications in firefighting and as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). She began teaching at Waubonsee as an adjunct instructor in the fall of 2003 and was hired as a full-time instructor in the fall of 2015. Today, she is Assistant Professor of Fire Science Technology and Emergency Medical Technician at Waubonsee. In addition, Montgomery actively maintains her connection to the industry through on-call service as captain and department training officer with the Montgomery and Countryside Fire Protection District serving primarily evenings and weekends as needed.
In 2015 the Fire Science Technology Program was restructured. Rather than offering strictly classroom instruction, the program now includes all of the hands-on training necessary for certifications. This is a result of active partnerships with, and contributions of, area fire departments.
“We are one of just a few community colleges in Illinois that offer all hands-on training to people who do not work in a fire department. We can do this because we own the equipment. This eliminates a lot of barriers to students because there is no extra charge for renting gear,” said Montgomery.
All of the instructors in Waubonsee’s Fire Science Technology Program are currently active or recently retired firefighters. This gives students networking and mentorship opportunities.
“It’s a win for the students and a win for the communities,” said Montgomery.
While firefighting has traditionally been a career field for men, that is changing and Waubonsee is a leader in that change. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, females comprise just 5% of the number of firefighters in America and Latinos comprise just over 7% of firefighters. However, females have been 10% of the student enrollment over the last five years and Latino student enrollment has increased to 30% at Waubonsee in the current academic year.
Waubonsee’s Fire Science Technology Program does more than teach the tactical skills necessary to fight fires. Students of the program learn all of the skills necessary to succeed in the field.
“We teach teamwork, leadership and how to be a professional, which are essential for being a firefighter,” said Montgomery.
Waubonsee’s Fire Science Technology Program is fully certified by the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) and is an approved testing site for the OSFM, offering eligible students the opportunity to take certification exams. The program has nearly 200 dual credit students who are enrolled through the Fox Valley Career Center, the Indian Valley Vocational Center and the Kishwaukee Education Consortium. The dual credit program offers a career bridge from high school through college to employment in the communities. Waubonsee also has an articulation agreement with Southern Illinois University for transferring into a bachelor’s program in Public Safety Management.
Montgomery and the Fire Science Technology Program were recognized by the college’s board of trustees at its regularly scheduled meeting in April as a Student Success: Featured Faculty and Program. Visit www.waubonsee.edu/fire to learn more about the college’s Fire Science Technology Program.