A Fire and Law Enforcement Training Partnership With Community Colleges

Fire and law enforcement training centers increasingly are becoming an integral part of a community’s fire and law enforcement preparedness. Training center managers are under pressure to turn out highly skilled, well-trained firefighters and police officers.

These departments thrive in a focused, well-run, high-tech facility. However, many departments lack the necessary skills or desire to embark on complex and sometimes unwieldy educational administration and facility management.

Community colleges can play an integral role — after all, their goal is to excel at education. Depending on the partnership structure, community colleges can provide something as simple as a steady stream of students or as complex as full management of training center operations. Increasingly, departments are partnering with community colleges. The result is that each benefits exponentially from the skills of the others.

Both Sides Benefit

Partnerships with colleges enhance both the numbers and the diversity of the student population. Some may be full-time college students, others working firefighters or law enforcement officers.

Community College Training Center draws from regional fire and police departments, recruits and enrolled college students.

“It’s really a win-win situation”

“Community colleges are traditionally focused on vocational education, and obviously public safety falls under that umbrella. The students get college credit for their training that they can apply toward a degree down the line, but it also enhances the college program. The college, through its partnership, now has access to a public safety training center with many skills training amenities that enhance the college curriculum.”

Some states have guidelines for partnerships in place. In California, for example, there are 107 community colleges, 39 of which are state-certified presenters of basic law enforcement training programs. Other community colleges are linked to fire training programs. To help alleviate confusion and disputes, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office has issued a contract guide for institutional service agreements between college districts and public agencies.

In other states or communities, departments are embarking on relatively new terrain when they partner with the local college. The biggest question is: Which entity will control, manage, staff and maintain the training center?

Community Colleges Bring Diversity to the Learning Environment

“We’ve got a lot of people who are in a credit, associate’s degree — type program in fire technology,” Ted Phillips a Community College Director says. “Most of those happen to be firefighters who are seeking a degree. But then we have our in-service training, which is a non-credit, block-hour instruction program where we might offer a seminar or a 40-hour class. The populations tend to go back and forth — they may be in our degree program but they also may take in-service training for their departments.”

Structuring a Partnership

There are many ways to structure public safety and community college partnerships, depending on the mission of the training center and the climate for cooperation. The Interact Group, which specializes in business plans for public safety training centers, has developed many different partnership arrangements. The following describes three approaches that are currently being used today involving agencies and community colleges to manage and administrate public safety training facilities.

1. College Ownership

In Fort Worth, Texas, the Tarrant County College District owns and operates the training facility, relying on public service agencies as a source of students and instructors but not for facility management. Although the facility currently is operating, it’s being revamped and expanded with expected completion by August 2002.

The new facility will feature a five-building cityscape to be used as burn buildings. It will also have swift-water rescue, confined-space rescue and trench rescue capabilities, as well as hazmat props that include on-site rail cars. In addition, the training center will have a nonfunctioning fire station for storing apparatus and for training students to work with the apparatus.

The college is looking into a partnership with the local police academy. The two facilities already have connected the existing driving pads, and the cityscape buildings could be used to simulate hostage or other law enforcement situations.

The college runs the training facility independently, but it does rely on an advisory committee made up of chiefs, administrators and training officers for the fire academy and the fire technology degree program.

“We basically market our courses to the local fire departments,” says Phillips. “The advisory committee provides a lot of input on curriculum issues and training issues in general. We have contracts with several different departments. We provide in-service training to their officers or firefighters, and we train a lot of their recruits.”

The college takes on all of the administrative tasks associated with the facility, including general management, scheduling, hiring and maintenance. Fire departments are charged for the training, either through a per-head tuition charge or, if a department wants to train a large number of its people, through a contract cost. The college receives state funding for each contact hour it generates.

2. Public Agency facilities

A second way to approach a partnership is for a community college to affiliate with an existing law enforcement or fire skills training center. That’s the case in San Bernardino, Calif., where the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office runs the county-owned public safety training center. The center, which boasts 65 full-time staff and 100 part-time instructors, partners with San Bernardino Valley College, part of the county’s community college district.

The training facility primarily offers law enforcement programs, but it also has classes in corrections and firefighting, as well as civilian programs. The academy facilities encompass 650 acres, including an 80-acre, fully dedicated driver training facility. It also features 25 acres of shooting ranges, 20 classrooms, a live-fire shooting facility, a number of skills structures and a mounted-enforcement training arena using horses.

Many of the courses offered at the San Bernardino facility are college affiliated. The exceptions are usually specialized courses limited to active peace officers. Academy recruits and in-service officers register as college students and earn college credits, which can be applied to various degree programs.

The college contracts with the training center to provide the various affiliated programs. Captain Kyritsis says the partnership allows the academy to enhance its educational offerings. “Since this is a contract agreement, the partnership allows us to be reimbursed for the courses,” he says. “That helps us pay for additional things that we normally wouldn’t be able to offer, like additional instructors and programs.” For example, the agreement allows the academy to afford an athletic trainer for its basic academy program, as well as a computer lab and related items that help enhance simulations training.

The training center schedules the classes and selects the instructors. However, the college must certify college-level course instructors. “They’re basically blessed by the college as having met the minimum requirements to be instructors,” says Kyritsis. “They’re approved by the college board, and they have the right to teach in the program because the college is funding the program. That person actually is being paid by the college to teach that class.”

In return for the affiliation, the college receives allocated funding from the state and a greatly enhanced educational environment. The sheriff’s department receives a broad pool of students, access to college-level classes and a vehicle to allow its members to achieve a college degree.

Kyritsis warns that communities planning to forge an alliance between departments and community colleges should have strict guidelines in place. “There were some problems a few years back — some legal issues,” he says. “Some contracts just weren’t put together properly, and there were some issues that jeopardized the whole program. The state chancellor has put together a program that helps alleviate those problems. As long as you follow that guide you’re ok.”

3. A Combined Approach

A third approach combines the agency and the college in a dual-management role. For instance, the Regional Public Safety Training Center in Washoe County, Nev., is owned by the county. Plans call for Truckee Meadows Community College to manage the facility, although final contracts haven’t been signed yet.

Three committees oversee the operation of the center: an operations committee composed of training officers from each of the seven partnering agencies; an executive board consisting of the chief officers for each of the partnering agencies; and the manager’s board, which includes the city and county managers and the president of tmcc.

The training facility encompasses 60 usable acres with facilities for both fire and police training. There are 18 classrooms, as well as a separate armory building that includes a classroom and offices for the range masters. The center features a shooting range; an emergency vehicle operations course; an 8,000-square-foot burn building; and a city grid that includes hazmat props, burn props, confined-space props, a trench rescue prop and room for future expansion.

While the college handles the day-to-day management and administration of the facility, it’s not the sole education provider. “Training is provided by three primary methods,” says Brent Harper, director of the Regional Public Safety Training Center in Washoe County, Nev. “First, the agencies can provide their own training, using their own instructors. Second, a class can be provided for credit by the tmcc. Third, a class can be provided by the center, or it can be a combination of each.”

Harper says the agencies provide their own instructors and college-credit courses use college-paid instructors. The center also has the ability to hire course instructors or speakers. Both the college and the center often hire local fire and police personnel as instructors, he says.

The structure of the tmcc’s partnership with local departments is such that the college only gets full-time equivalents for the credit-given courses offered by tmcc. “The Board of Regents and the college administration are not in favor of simply turning agency training into full-time equivalency,” Harper says. “On the other hand, the college is in the business of being a community college and supporting the local fire and police agencies.”

Community colleges add educational and administrative expertise, along with a steady stream of students and opportunities for working firefighters and members of law enforcement to gain college credit for their training. They also benefit from an enhanced curriculum and the added numbers of students in their systems. Whatever approach is used, fire departments and law enforcement agencies stand to benefit from partnering with a community college for the operation of a training center. Working together, the two entities can greatly enhance the training opportunities available to their students.

Bill Booth is the president of The INTERact Group, which specializes in business development planning of public safety training centers. The INTERact Group has successfully used their business plan development process that assists agencies in the planning and funding of their training center requirements.

Partnership Rules

* Who will oversee daily operations?
* How will training be scheduled at the training center?
* How will the curriculum be determined?
* Who will supply the instructors?
* What will it cost to annually operate the center?
* What is the cost benefit of the training center?

 


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Additional Resources On this Topic

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Bill Booth Blog – Timely opinions and articles, on issues and comments about public safety training center management, funding and operations.

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