Omaha students gain real-world firefighting experience through one-of-a-kind MCC internship

A new intern program gives students hands-on firefighting experience
Published: Jan. 8, 2023 at 8:27 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A new program in Omaha is helping future firefighters get more hands-on experience as they finish their studies.

“Every class you learn a lot, you know, book knowledge, but out here, you’re really putting it to use,” says Michael Molacek, a student at Metropolitan Community College studying fire science.

Molacek is one of around a dozen who are involved in a new internship designed by the fire science program at MCC that partners with Bennington Fire & Rescue.

“We are the only school and fire district that have an internship program similar to this, they actually work here alongside an active fire department and the crew thats on duty 24 hours a day,” says Jeff Strawn, the Fire Science Program Director at MCC.

Several times each month, students will spend a full shift at Bennington learning from the staff and volunteers. Strawn says many MCC students don’t get the opportunity to be a volunteer firefighter, but that this internship helps them gain the necessary real-world experience for the career.

They get here in the morning, they eat here, they sleep here, they make their emergcy calls, they work out, so this is an opportunity to just be in the fold if you will, of an active firefighter and active fire station,” Strawn says. “Anytime you can go from the classsroom and study the theory and actually put it into practice here at a fire department, i mena that’s stuff that you couldn’t get anywhere else.”

“It’s been great to take those skills from chapters you read or you may only have one or two chapters on certain subjects, so it’s been great to have that on the job experience and say, ‘oh I rememeber reading about that,’ or ‘I remember having a skills day about that,’” Molacek adds.

Students are given a skillbook with tasks and assignments they have to complete at each shift with the fire station.

“I do have to come in here and check off with the other firefighters different things and skills, show that I do have knowledge in these areas so when we do go out to a live call, I can actually be a valuable asset to the team,” Molacek says.

But the program isn’t only valuable to students. As part of a growing community, Bennington Fire and Rescue has seen more and more calls.

“We get the benfit of having extra hands,” says Bennington Chief Dan Mallory.

Bennington switched from an all volunteer department to a combination deartment in late 2021, meaning they have 12 full-time firefighters on duty, but they still rely heavily on their volunteer staff.

Mallory says the MCC interns help them do more.

“On calls when we need even just one more person to help carry equipment, supplies, or on fires we need ladders thrown to windows, hoses connected to fire hydrants, we need stuff like that, I can send a crew of my career firefighters inside, as well as my volunteers, but still have a Metro intern do a lot of that outside work where im not tying up a senior firefighter to do.”

Mallory says the partership with MCC was a no brainer, and it’s something current staff wish they had when they first started, too.

“Most of us went through college and have our degree in fire sceince or something like that, but we didn’t get the experience, and this gives them the chance to come see what it’s realy about and to see if it’s soemthign they really want to do.”

Internships like these are common on the coasts, Strawn says, so bringing one to the metro just made sense.

“100% response has been, ‘this has been awesome,’ this is something you can see the students really light up, get excited about, they look forward to coming to the work obviously, they enjoy this opportunity where else they wouldn’t have gotten this anywhere,” he says.

“I’m applying kind of all over the U.S. for firefighter positions and this was definitely one thing that kept me in the metro area because I knew it would be a great opportunity to gain experience, first hand knowledge and skills for on the job training that I don’t think I could get just moving to another city,” Molacek says.