DADE CITY - Pasco-Hernando Community College announced Monday it will offer a Fire Science Technology Associate in Science degree program this fall for those currently in fire service seeking to advance their careers.
The program begins in August at PHCC's East Campus in Dade City and will provide training and courses required for certification as Fire Officer I and II, according to the college.
Hernando County Fire Rescue does not require a two-year degree to get hired, said Training Chief Jim Billotte, but it is required for promotions like fire captain and district chief.
"Obviously, the fire service is certainly evolving, especially in the last couple (of) years where into the future more and more departments are requiring degrees to get hired," Billotte said. "It certainly doesn't hurt when applying for a promotion in the captain position."
The college said the new program doesn't train students for certification as general firefighters but allows current firefighters to advance to technical and supervisory positions like those Billotte described. Those positions also include fire inspector and investigator, fire science technician, fire officer, fire safety inspector, fire assistant, safety inspector, building inspector and fire insurance investigator/inspector.
"Having that in the local area, I can certainly see it as a benefit to us and the firefighters pursuing those degrees," Billotte said. "I know there is a state incentive for that degree currently in the state budget for firefighters."
Firefighters receive an additional $50 per month for possessing a two-year degree and an additional $110 per month for a four-year degree.
Promotional standards are set by the industry, Billotte added, and minimum firefighter training standards are set by the State of Florida and Florida State Fire College. Currently, 400 training hours is the minimum requirement to become a firefighter, he said.
While the new PHCC program does not prepare students for certification as general firefighters, training requirements have doubled in the last 15 years, excluding Emergency Medical Technician and paramedic training.
"My personal opinion, I see it will be a requirement in the industry (for general firefighters) to possess a two-year degree," Billotte said. "Right now it's not in the immediate plan, but I can foresee it. We seem to have more education requirements for new recruits all the time, so I can see it down the road."
According to Lucy Miller, PHCC media relations specialist, an advisory board took that into consideration when creating the program.
"That's a huge part of our concept, is gathering information from the workforce," Miller said. "The impetus for the idea of starting this program came from the fire science advisory board, and that board is made up of local fire and rescue agency representatives: the fire chief and their training staff and our instructors from both of Pasco and Hernando counties."
For more information about requirements and enrollment, call PHCC Public Service Programs at (352) 518-1361 or (352) 518-1367.