To signify Thomas Nelson Community College’s Fire Science program earning national recognition, the College received a frame-worthy certificate. The certificate is much more than a piece of paper to Program Head and Assistant Professor Paul Long, though.
“This award really demonstrates the strides the College has taken as a whole supporting this program, as well as supporting the staff and the students,” he said of the Certificate of National Recognition Thomas Nelson received from the National Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) Program.
The FESHE recognition, which is similar to a college receiving full accreditation, is only the second given to a program in Virginia’s Community Colleges (VCCS). “From the standpoint of being one of only two in the VCCS, it’s a big deal,” Long said.
Thomas Nelson’s Fire Science program dates to the 1970s, he noted. This recognition and the support the program receives from local fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies are evidence the program is “poised to excel and meet the demands of modern emergency services organizations.”
The recognition also benefits students outside the Fire Science program.
“This particular designation by the United States Fire Administration National Fire Academy clearly demonstrates our commitment to high-quality, excellent education in fire and emergency services,” said Long, who has more than 35 years of experience in the fire and emergency medical services fields. “While this designation is specifically for our Fire Science program, it truly spans everything that we do from the emergency service spectrum because we have students in the EMS program who are taking fire courses, and students in the fire program taking EMS courses.”
Earning the designation is not an easy process. The U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Academy has a specific set of core courses schools must offer. In a letter to Long from National Fire Academy Superintendent Tonya L. Hoover it reads, “We applaud your institution’s adoption of the FESHE standardized core courses and your commitment to fire and EMS professional development in the United States.”
After retiring from his fire and EMS career, Long joined Thomas Nelson in 2005 as an adjunct professor, and was hired by the College full time in the fall 2015. He said this recognition will help Thomas Nelson continue with its mission.
“It will allow us to, not only market our program as holding that designation, it really allows our program to stand on the merits that we have worked hard to develop our courses to meet the rigorous requirements to earn this designation,” he said.
The recognition program began in 2009, and the U.S. Fire Administration conducts routine reviews to ensure that recognized programs are still compliant with the requirements. The benefits of the award stretch far beyond Thomas Nelson campuses.
“As important as this designation is to the College, it’s as equally important to the fire and rescue emergency services organizations that we serve because they now know that the students that they are either sending or maybe employing who are attending or have graduated from our program are graduating from a program that offers a rigorous curriculum that’s been reviewed at the national level and meets the standards of the United States Fire Administration National Fire Academy,” Long said.
Stephen P. Kopczynski, a fire chief and director, as well as a coordinator of emergency management in York County, agreed.
“For many years this institution has provided excellent educational opportunities for the fire and emergency services community and many members of the fire service have benefited immensely from the programs,” said Kopczynski, who is a graduate of the program. “This designation further demonstrates the commitment of [Thomas Nelson] to the public safety community.”
Long said he and his staff couldn’t have done it on their own.
“The one thing I can say is the support of the College, the administration, as well as our fire and rescue industry partners has been phenomenal. They have told us there is definitely a need for this program and we are on the right path to meet that need … This designation is really one of the first cornerstones to that support in building that foundation,” Long said.