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Northwest Missouri State University


News Release

Firefighters prepare to enter a "burn trailer" during a training and certification exercise involving Northwest and the Maryville Fire Department. The partnership has allowed Northwest students to gain firefighting experience and volunteer for local departments while giving veteran volunteers an opportunity to complete coursework through the University. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Firefighters prepare to enter a "burn trailer" during a training and certification exercise involving Northwest and the Maryville Fire Department. The partnership has allowed Northwest students to gain firefighting experience and volunteer for local departments while giving veteran volunteers an opportunity to complete coursework through the University. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

    May 10, 2016

    Partnership with city provides training ground for aspiring firefighters

    Maryville Fire Lt. Angie Jones gives instructions to firefighters during a training activity last month.
    Maryville Fire Lt. Angie Jones gives instructions to firefighters during a training activity last month.

    Things got heated recently when 11 Northwest Missouri State University students put their firefighting knowledge to test and enhanced their credentials for careers in emergency and disaster management.

    The temperature rose hundreds of degrees inside a semi-trailer specially equipped for firefighter training when students in Northwest’s fire sciences course joined members of the Maryville and Polk Township fire departments April 9 to complete their Firefighting I and II certifications.

    The training opportunity was made possible through a partnership involving Northwest, the city of Maryville and Polk Township that allows the University to train students on fire department equipment while providing veteran firefighters an opportunity to enroll in Northwest firefighting coursework. Four city firefighters participated in the year-long course, and all 11 Northwest students are now volunteering with the local fire departments.

    Northwest students Michael Levassuer and Thomas Shifflett pause during a training activity with the Maryville Fire Department last month. Levassuer and Shifflett were among 11 students to join Maryville and Polk Township fire departments this spring while taking Northwest's fire sciences course.
    Northwest students Michael Levassuer and Thomas Shifflett pause during a training activity with the Maryville Fire Department last month. Levassuer and Shifflett were among 11 students to join Maryville and Polk Township fire departments this spring while taking Northwest's fire sciences course.   

    Northwest faculty members Matt Johnson and John Carr teach in the University’s emergency and disaster management, or EDM, program and volunteer with the Maryville Fire Department.

    “The equipment is expensive and it really shows the connection that the University and the community, and the recognized value of each,” Johnson said.

    The “burn trailer” provides training firefighters with real-life experience in a controlled environment. It can be converted into a two-story structure and tests firefighters on their abilities to tackle interior fire scenarios, such as a couch fire that spreads to a ceiling or a kitchen fire that grows out of control.

    “It’s about as live as you can make it and still have things controllably safe,” Johnson said. “And it’s a lot of teamwork and taking different approaches to putting out fires.”

    Maryville Fire Lt. Angie Jones teaches the Northwest course.

    “It’s an excellent partnership between the city of Maryville, Polk Township and Northwest,” Jones said. “We started out with five students who were not firefighters, and now all 11 are on the Maryville or Polk Township fire departments.

    Johnson and Jones said the partnership provides mutual benefits for Northwest and the local fire departments while ensuring firefighters are trained to certification levels. It helps to enhance the makeup of the fire departments, mixing the youth of the student volunteers with the knowledge and experience of veteran firefighters.

    “The hope is that in another two years when there’s enough individuals that show a desire and a need, we can do it again so that we can keep a fresh group and a good balance of the old school knowledge,” Johnson said.

    Michael McVinua, a first-year Master of Business Administration student from Maryville, was one of the students taking advantage of the training opportunity. He grew up watching his father volunteer for the Maryville Fire Department and began volunteering himself in 2010. When Northwest began offering the firefighting course, it was an easy decision for him to enroll.

    He earned his bachelor’s degree from Northwest in international business and plans to pursue a career in business management but hopes to continue firefighting also.

    “It’s nice being able to do something to help the community,” he said. “There’s plenty of ways to do it, and this is the one I felt was the best for me.”

    Thomas Shifflett also is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management at Northwest, but going into business is his backup plan. Shifflett, a junior from Mound City, Missouri, has served as a volunteer firefighter since age 16 and hopes to make it his primary career. 

    “From a young age, every little kid’s dream is to be a firefighter,” Shifflett said. “And that dream never left me. Every day I get to do what kids across the country dream of doing.”

    Erin Keith, a junior emergency and disaster management major from Maryville, grew up with dreams of becoming a police officer. Now she’s not so sure, but she knows the broad experience she’s gaining through her EDM courses will benefit her no matter the badge she chooses.

    Keith enrolled in the firefighting course to obtain her certification, and she is volunteering with the Maryville Fire Department, too.

    “I never wanted to be a firefighter until this opportunity came up, and now it’s kind of caught me,” Keith said. “I’m definitely learning as much as I can, taking it in and trying to get the experience. “

    The student volunteers now respond to calls just as the other volunteers serving the fire department. For decades Northwest has employed faculty and staff members who serve as volunteer firefighters. 

    “Our pager goes off in class, those kids they go and do their duty,” said Johnson, who also is a first responder. “I’ve been blessed with a flexible faculty that understand that.”

    Northwest launched its unique EDM program in January 2009 as a multidisciplinary minor and expanded the program as an academic major in 2012 in response to an increased need for trained professionals in the crisis response field. The program focuses on three core areas of emergency management, humanitarian relief and defense while preparing students to become experts in leadership, followership and working under extreme pressure while developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. Course instruction is provided by Northwest faculty and staff who have regional and national roles in emergency management.

    Students also gain profession-based experience by participating in field activities such as Northwest’s annual Missouri Hope training exercise and the Campus Community Emergency Response Team. As a result, Northwest’s Emergency and Disaster Management program has achieved a 100 percent placement rate, signifying all of its degree earners find employment or continue their education with six months, according to the most recent data.

    For more information about Northwest’s Emergency and Disaster Management program, click here.


    For more information, please contact:

    Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
    mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

    Northwest Missouri State University
    215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468