According to the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, community colleges educate the majority of the nation's first responds, since more than 60 percent of all new nurses and nearly 85 percent of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are educated by community colleges. One of those Ohio schools, Owens Community College (OCC) in Toledo, Ohio, is certainly doing its share of that training.
In the OCC School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, students can earn an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice technology, emergency management and planning, emergency medical management, fire science technology or public safety communications. There are also programs in development that include criminal forensics, white collar crime and information security.
The, criminal justice technology degree includes a corrections major as well as military science and peace officer academy options. Students in the fire science technology program may earn a fire officer certificate, and the program includes the Ohio Fire Academy option. Emergency medical management at OCC includes both basic and intermediate EMT certification. OCC also offers a first responder certification course, and an EMT paramedic course is offered through a collaboration agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center.
In public safety communications, students learn the skills necessary to become dispatchers for police, fire and emergency medical services personnel. In the emergency management and planning program, students learn how to develop emergency preparedness plans, identify natural and manmade emergency needs and resources, and operate an emergency operations center. Graduates may find jobs with national, state and local government agencies, and with private relief organizations or in industry.
According to Michele Johnson, department chair for the School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness at OCC, the program has a number of connections with other schools, such as the articulation with the University of Toledo Hospital Center for basic and intermediate
EMT training. She also notes that college tech prep will begin in the fall, and OCC has signed articulation agreements with two high schools--Whitmer and Penta County.
Johnson believes that her program is special in what it offers its students and because of having the academies for both the Toledo Police Department and the Toledo Fire Department on campus.
"I think we are unique because of the diversity of our programs, especially now with our new center," she says.
Center for Emergency Preparedness
The training in public safety at OCC reaches a new level this month, as the school opens its new Center for Emergency Preparedness. "The students are pretty excited about it," says Johnson.
Paul Unger, provost and executive vice president of OCC, says the center is the result of a vision that has existed at the school since 1994. Although the college has had associate degree programs in criminal justice and fire sciences for almost 40 years, there was a growing recognition of the need to expand that training to first responders and others involved in the public safety of both the city of Toledo and the nearby rural areas.
As Unger points out, this was a $25 million vision, so implementing it was not a simple thing to do; but the events of 2001 made it much more prominent. OCC already had the 110-acre property for the center, and they received appropriations from the Ohio Board of Regents for the infrastructure needed, including gas lines, water lines and roads. So in 2004, the college broke ground on its new Center for Emergency Preparedness.
The second phase of the project was completed this year and includes a five-story burn building, tanker truck fire simulator, propane tank burn simulator, collapsed building tunnel system, confined space rescue area, gas station with car burn, dive and rescue pond, and car extrication.
The driving track includes skill pads and speed pads and can simulate all kinds of weather conditions, so police, firefighters and ambulance drivers can use it to learn the skills they need on the job--and so can the OCC students.
"We have kind of improvised with some of our classes because we had limited space," says Johnson. "Now we have all kinds of space."
Tom Pack, who is the director of the new center, adds, "One of the big advantages we are going to be able to offer to local police and fire departments is that they will be able to train their personnel here. We've always been able to give them the theory in the classroom, but we've never been able to give them the hands-on experience such as fighting a structure fire or doing a pursuit on a pursuit track. Now we can do that training locally, and that will provide substantial cost savings to our local communities."
Creating Real-life Scenarios
Unger notes that the five-story burn building has moveable walls and can change conditions to create different situations such as those firefighters might encounter on the job. They can experience an office, kitchen or bedroom fire, going onto the roof and breaking through with axes, or rappelling down the building.
The center also has a flashover simulator because opening a door to a flashover can kill firefighters if they don't recognize the conditions. According to Unger, a grant from FEMA for more than $100,000 was used for the simulator and marked the first time any college was awarded a grant with a city fire department. But because the flashover simulator is housed in a trailer, it will benefit more than just the city of Toledo since it can be taken to other campuses for training.
The collapsed building structure will be used to train in search-and-rescue such as in situations that occurred in Oklahoma City and on 9/11 at the Pentagon and World Trade Center sites. Training will include using detection instruments and dogs.
Companies such as Speedway SuperAmerica gas stations and Sky Bank have also contributed props to help make the training at the center as realistic as possible, whether it is a gas station accident or a bank robbery. Future plans for the mock city include a drug store, liquor store, a residence, a medical laboratory and a child care center. For building maintenance and construction still going on there Pack says, "I am looking at having students from other schools perhaps do some of that construction as part of their educational process."
Unger says the realistic props at the center almost make it seem like a Hollywood set, and sometimes that even includes actors. Students in the college's theater department have helped recreate real-life events, such as when neo-Nazis came to Toledo for a demonstration and the governor had to call in the National Guard.
At the center, scenarios such as a train derailment, school bus crash or hazmat spill can be simulated to provide training for police, firefighters and other first responders. Unger notes that they will also be placing an aircraft on a tarmac to be used in hijack training, and they are building a burn plane to simulate a fuel spill or airplane crash.
"We also are projecting an emergency operations center," says Unger. "We are trying to work with our local counties to see if we can make that a live center, not only for training but in case we did have a multi-county emergency or disaster."
But the new facility will have benefits that reach far beyond the campus.
A National Leader
Even before its official opening on April 29, interest in the new Center for Emergency Preparedness is spreading. "Our center is a national training center," Unger explains. "We have been receiving calls from around the country."
Interest is not only limited to the United States, since Unger notes that the Brazilian government wants to send people for training or possibly build their own facility. The center was even featured in a Brazilian government magazine.
According to Unger, while OCC students will get activities that are based at the center, and it will serve the academic community, more of the focus will probably be on the continuing education and safety training needs of our existing first responders and public safety employees. He expects police academies, SWAT teams and fire departments from across the country to be coming for training. They could stay for a week and experience all kinds of training scenarios.
Pack also points out the benefits of first responders learning to work together in a disaster situation. "One of the big lessons we in the emergency response community learned from 9/11 was the need for us to train together so if we have a disaster, we know each other, we've worked with each other, and we have trust and confidence in each other so it doesn't become a power struggle out in the field. That is paramount to our success."
Since the center will include Ohio's Third Frontier Network, the advanced fiber optic system for research, education and economic development, there will be a high-speed connection with other campuses, and fire and police departments will be able to conduct exercises via distance learning.
Unger says that at OCC they are very proud of what they will be able to offer to the nation and adds, "We are trying to take a leadership role."
While OCC's facility is able to offer the most comprehensive training, he credits other community colleges with their efforts in public safety and security education.
"Community colleges around the country are really trying to do what they can, because that is our mission," Unger explains. "Our mission is training and educating our communities and our students through the process. We have had a long history in public safety training, and we're just taking it to a new level."
Susan Reese is a Techniques contributing editor. She con be contacted at email@example.com.
RELATED ARTICLE: One educator's Iraqi experience.
Wayne Seely, an assistant professor in the Owens Community College (OCC) School of Public Safety and
Emergency Preparedness (his focus is primarily criminal justice and homeland security) helped develop the curriculum for the new Center for Emergency Preparedness. With 31 years in law enforcement and 20 years spent training in police academies, he brings a great deal of experience to the school.
Seely, who graduated from OCC before going on to Bowling Green State University, taught part time at OCC for 10 years, and since retiring from law enforcement six years ago has been teaching there full time. He did however take leave for almost a year when he was recruited by the U.S. Department of Justice to go to Iraq to help train the new Iraqi police force. In spite of the challenges he faced, Seely calls it the experience of a lifetime.
According to Seely, the police academy on the Iraqi-Jordanian border where he taught is the largest in the world, and while some of the cadets were former police or soldiers with abilities similar to those he taught in the U.S., others may have been herding sheep the day before they were recruited.
So while the curriculum he used was similar to what he uses at home, a rigid, structured education plan didn't always work. "I had to do a lot of improvising," says Seely about his training methods, which often included a great deal of repetition.
Being an Iraqi policeman may be the most dangerous job in the world, but the men who take it on do so to support their families in a place where there are not many other options. Seely sees that as something his culture has in common with theirs.
"Iraqi men are like men in the U.S.A.," he notes. "We all need to provide for our families."
Seely was fascinated by the Middle Eastern culture and loved meeting people from all over the world. "It was a wonderful experience to train with 300 instructors from other nations," he says.
Those instructors came from places such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Bosnia and Great Britain. He also met Egyptians, Palestinians, Saudis, Israelis and Jordanians and made some friendships that he feels he will maintain for life. As an educator, he appreciated the opportunity to learn and to teach. He learned that we all get many of our ideas about other cultures from TV. In the Middle East, the misconception is that we are a violent culture that is demeaning to women, while in the U.S., we are given the impression that Middle Easterners are all violent religious fanatics. Seely found instead that we have much in common and now says he goes out of his way to meet the Middle Eastern students attending OCC and to make them feel comfortable.
His experience has also affected his teaching. "It has intensified my efforts when it comes to teaching terrorism and cultural diversity," Seely says. "I learned so much about Middle Eastern culture, and it really has helped me become a more effective teacher."…