Tyler Miller is 19 years old and just went to work as a firefighter for the Mauldin Fire Department. Looking ahead, he knows that he can retire in 25 years when he's still in his mid-40s. And for now, the job, which has him on duty for 24 hours and off for 48, is his idea of the perfect career.
Miller was first exposed to the field in the third grade when his best friend drowned. It was the Mauldin Fire Department that responded to the call. Years later, a park was established in Simpsonville in his friend's honor. While visiting the park as a high school senior, Miller met an EMT who talked to him about a career in the emergency medical field. Miller also got involved in the Fire Explorers program, a volunteer opportunity for young people ages 16 to 21. Later, he was mentored by the man who became his boss at the Mauldin Fire Department - Captain Philip Brown.
All of this exposure to the field eventually led Miller to the Fire Service Technology program at Greenville Technical College. Now that he has finished a certificate, Miller has made plans to continue his education and is working on an associate degree in fire service administration. His ultimate goal is already set. He'd like to be the fire marshal in Mauldin.
Miller has found that his education prepared him well for the career. Much of what he has learned went beyond the books. His instructor, a veteran firefighter and former fire chief, used stories from his many years in the career to illustrate points in the textbooks.
Miller's introduction to the job was a rude one, since his first time on the rescue truck was in response to a baby's death, but Miller said he wouldn't trade the career for any other. "Whether it's a cardiac arrest and you save someone's life or it's a burning building that you pull someone out of, it just really gives you something most other jobs don't offer. Being able to help people really puts a smile on your face," he said.
All Kyle Gilstrap of Easley ever really wanted to be was a firefighter. So he became an Explorer at 15, learning about the career, and when he was old enough, he enrolled in Greenville Technical College's Fire Service Technology certificate program.
It took a little over a year after graduation in May 2008 to find a position, but when an opening became available recently at Gantt Fire Department, Gilstrap was ready. The certificate, Gilstrap says, was thorough, and he felt ready for the job thanks to a core curriculum in basic first aid, CPR, incident command, fire behavior, and rescue.
Continuous training takes place for all firefighters, and Gilstrap plans to take advantage of opportunities to learn more. With the credits he's already earned, Gilstrap can complete an associate degree in fire service technology in just two more semesters, giving him the education he needs to some day advance on the job.
Gilstrap appreciates the schedule as much as the career. He works a 24-hour shift and then has 48 hours off, meaning that in an average year, he'll work about 120 days. "This is really all I've ever wanted to do," he says. "I like being able to help people on the job."
Many people seek education in fire service technology so that they can advance through the ranks and eventually become fire chief. Wesley Williams, who is currently chief of the Simpsonville Fire Department, knows that even when you're the chief, education is essential.
With further education, Williams knows that he's prepared to do the best job possible in Simpsonville, and should the opportunity come along some day to lead an even larger fire department, he'll be prepared. "In the fire service today, to be in this position that I'm in, education is a must," he says. "I want to be ready for the future."
Williams is enrolled in Greenville Technical College's associate degree in Fire Service Technology, and his classmates are other fire service professionals. The classes are offered online, so that people like Williams can work full-time and still prepare for the future.
When Williams entered the profession 19 years ago, fire service training was offered only at the Fire Academy in Columbia. Having education available in the Upstate, he says, improves the field. "It keeps guys here locally, and it gives them opportunities to advance in their education and to take that step forward," he says. "It's not just becoming a firefighter. They need education to become officers and then fire chiefs. I think by giving them an opportunity to get their education while they're young, it prepares them for their future."