OSU's Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology program is nation's oldest
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
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The OSU Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology program has helped prepare scores of students for the fire protection field, but its impact is even greater.
From graduates serving in leadership positions in fire protection organizations to industry-leading resource publications, OSU and its alumni continue to advance this literary field.
The OSU School of Fire protection was founded in 1937.
“We are the oldest existing program in the nation,” said Virginia Charter, associate professor and program coordinator. “There are only three total accredited programs in the nation, and OSU is one of them.”
National Fire Protection Association Chief Engineer Horatio Bond called OSU “The West Point of the Fire Service” in 1947. That’s still a source of pride for alumni nearly 75 years later.
“Anyone who wants to be the best in their field inherently feels a sense of pride when they get into the top school for that profession,” said Nathan Trauernicht, a 2004 OSU Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology graduate and fire chief for the University of California, Davis.
“It is like a lawyer getting into Harvard Law or a physician going to Johns Hopkins. For me, that is what it felt like when I was admitted to OSU.”
Scott Kerwood, fire chief in Hutto, Texas, and a 1984 OSU graduate, said he continues to use the skills and knowledge he received in Stillwater: “A lot of the codes and standards information and understanding the safety aspect is key.”
Kerwood admits the codes and standards courses were not his favorite in school, but he has grown to appreciate them much more.
“If it wasn’t on fire, I didn’t want to deal with it,” Kerwood said. “We have a hazardous materials team here in Hutto, and we deal with chemical protective clothing and using instrumentation to measure whether the atmosphere is toxic or not. I learned all of that at OSU.”
Tom Jenkins, another 2004 graduate and fire chief in Rogers, Arkansas, also credits his success to his OSU education.
“It is tough academically, but you get to experience things you don’t get at fire science community colleges,” Jenkins said. “You also don’t get it at a lot of highly academic fire engineering degree programs. It is like the porridge is just right at OSU.”
The unique qualifications and skills students learn in Stillwater set OSU graduates apart in the job market.
“A number of companies say that because we have hands-on lab experience and we focus on the application of principles and theories, a lot of our graduates hit the ground running,” Charter said. “They don’t have to worry about the time it takes to train them when they start. Many of our graduates have at least one internship, if not two, under their belts before they graduate.”
The fire protection program has helped shape the publications used for training globally. Fire Protection Publications, an outreach group at OSU, produces some of the manuals used around the world to train future professionals in the industry.
“They help produce the International Fire Service Training Association manuals,” Charter said. “Fire personnel from many states adopt their training curriculum. We also have a number of graduates who sit on the committees that help develop that curriculum.”
Trauernicht, Kerwood and Jenkins have all been involved in the fire protection publications in some way over the years. This gives them the unique opportunity to help the future generations of fire protection and safety professionals.
“It is a source of pride for me and what drew me to the university to begin with,” Jenkins said. “I was a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16. When I opened a textbook, it had OSU printed all over it. It left little doubt in my mind how important the university was to Oklahoma, the region and the whole world.”
The future of the OSU Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology program is important to many alumni. Some graduates, like Charter, have gone on to serve as faculty members. Another way graduates can contribute to the program’s success in the coming years is by being involved in the Fire Chief Chapter of the OSU Alumni Association. The chapter serves many purposes, including helping incoming students.
“We have a mentoring program for students who are interested in a career on the traditional fire side,” Trauernicht said. “We want to help them find their correct career path. We are also working to set up a scholarship for students interested in a career in fire and emergency services.”
Many alumni also take advantage of the connections they make with other graduates from the program, allowing them to ask questions or receive advice from other professionals from across the country.
“There is an email list that many of our alumni are on,” Charter said. “Sometimes you can just throw a question out there and get feedback from other alumni on how they handled a certain situation or design.”
Members of the fire protection and emergency services feel a strong bond across the industry, but the connection OSU fire protection graduates feel is even tighter. Many people describe it as a brotherhood of like-minded individuals.
“We have the same issues and the same challenges,” Kerwood said. “We may have different names on the badges, but the OSU fire program is an elite fraternity.”
If you are a graduate from the OSU Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology program and would like to be involved with the Fire Chief OSU Alumni Chapter, visit ORANGECONNECTION.org/chapters for more information.
Photos By: College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology and Provided
Story By: Will Carr | STATE Magazine