Harper College fire science program wins national certification
Arlington Heights Deputy Fire Chief Pete Ahlman has worked in fire service for more than 25 years, and now is among the top brass in a department that answers more than 10,000 calls per year.
Yet, he recently turned to Harper College's Fire Science Technology program, where he took his seat in class with a mix of aspiring recruits and seasoned veterans, all eager to advance their careers.
"Harper's program provided a whole new depth of understanding for me," Ahlman says, "in everything from the most basic to the most complex fire technology subjects."
The program is one of the most popular of the career and technical programs at Harper, where more students earn their applied associate degree than any other career program. But it recently added another distinction: national certification from the U.S. Fire Administration.
The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education initiative, which promotes higher education in fire and emergency services, certified that Harper's program meets all the standards of excellence.
Harper is just the fourth community college in Illinois to receive this national recognition.
Professor Sam Giordano, who coordinates the program, says said the national initiative encourages collaboration among college degree programs and state fire training agencies.
"Our goal is to train firefighters to be the best in the nation," Giordano said, "giving them the skills and knowledge they need to save lives and property while keeping themselves safe."
The 60 credit hour degree program covers advancements in modern technology, as well as fire ground operations, suppression, investigations and disaster response.
Among its technical advancements, Giordano points to the thermal imaging camera as one of the most notable developments in fire safety. By rendering infrared radiation as visible light, these cameras allow firefighters to see through smoke, darkness, or heat-permeable barriers.
"In the heat of the battle, a thermal imaging camera is crucial," Giordano says. "It's a vital tool that helps you quickly visualize your plan of attack, locate hot spots and save lives."
Ahlman knew about thermal imaging cameras and the latest in fire suppression from the ongoing training the department sponsors, but he did learn more about building construction and its relation to the fire service, he says, and he got an overall, wider perspective on the industry.
"It gave me a good perspective on the fire service in the United States, as compared to other countries around the world," Ahlman added, "while learning how diversity in the fire service is changing and how those changes affect us."
Harper's degree dates back to 1967 and is endorsed by the Office of the Illinois Fire Marshal, but now applicants will see an addition to its course descriptions: nationally certified.