Firefighters’ education requirement may change

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

[09/11/02]Vicksburg officials are once again struggling with the education requirements for entry-level firefighters and are considering a request by Fire Chief Keith Rogers to remove the minimum of 40 hours of college credit.

“I feel an obligation to our community to give them a shot,” Rogers said of applicants who have less than what amounts to a year of post-high school education. “Some people are not as fortunate as others and may not be able to go to college.”

Police and fire education requirements have bounced up and down during the past decade.

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The requirement that all applicants to the fire department have a minimum of 40 hours of college credit was approved in March 2001. Rogers said that in the 18 months since the policy was put in place, it has not improved the caliber of applicants, but has shut the door to many qualified Vicksburg and Warren County residents.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen debated the request during Tuesday’s meeting, but voted to table the issue until Monday’s meeting to get feedback from the community before taking action.

“I have a very mixed opinion here,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “I believe in higher education and I want to push the standard.”

But, Leyens added that he wanted to give Rogers the autonomy to run the department and set the standards.

While Leyens indicated that he has not made a decision on removing the college education requirement, North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman took decidedly opposite views.

“My mind is not going to be changed,” said Young, who voted to add those requirements during the previous administration. “When it comes time to read an EKG or it’s time to give shots you better know what you’re doing,” she said. Fire personnel must also achieve the basic level of medical certification during their first year on the job.

“If a guy has 40 hours of basket weaving what good does that do on the back of an ambulance?” Beauman asked.

The Vicksburg Fire Department’s current requirements also include scoring a 17 or higher on the American College Test in order to be admitted to the Emergency Medical Technician classes offered at Hinds Community College.

Rogers is asking to reduce the education requirement to a high school diploma or GED and the minimum ACT score.

Capt. Bendel White, a 26-year veteran of the fire department, said: “I feel like by removing the requirements of 40 hours, it will give local people a shot at getting a job in Warren County.”

White and other firefighters said that college credits do not make better firefighters or EMTs.