Public Safety Programs Expanding at Edgecombe Community College

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Online components are now being added to Edgecombe Community College’s Public Safety Program.

Lee Darnell wishes the Internet had been around when he was going to school in the early 1990s, training to be a law enforcement officer and paramedic.

Instead of having instant access to course work at various schools across the country, Darnell, 41, spent countless hours on the phone trying to find schools that offered specialized continuing education classes so he could stay certified and advance his career. Then, after finding that school, he often had to commute for hours to take the class.

That’s why it’s important to Darnell, Edgecombe Community College’s coordinator for public safety programs, to try to find a way to help students stay current in law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services.

“Public safety is all about teamwork,” Darnell says. “Whether it’s two police working on the street or a college working with local law enforcement agencies or fire departments, it’s about teamwork. There’s a brotherhood in public safety. If we don’t take care of each other, people can get hurt.”

Since Darnell took over the public safety program at Edgecombe a year ago, he has been pushing for more hybrid courses – part online and part classroom. He hopes to add hybrid and online options in each of his program areas to offer students more flexibility.

Presently, Edgecombe offers hybrid classes for EMTs and EMT-Intermediates. In the fall, the college is reviving its paramedic training, and an initial paramedic certification hybrid course will be available. Hybrid firefighter and technical rescue classes are offered every semester.

“We teach the basics online, and then bring the students onto campus for hands-on training, typically about once a month,” Darnell says. “We’ve had a lot of success with online classes in fire and EMS.”

EMT students spend most of the 203-hour class online, but they meet on campus one Saturday a month during the semester. The EMT-Intermediate class is 305 hours, and students meet a full weekend each month during the semester.

Hybrid classes offer flexibility, financial savings, and the ability to pull from a wider range of instructors. However, Darnell adds, “Not everyone is comfortable with an online environment, so we also offer traditional face-to-face classes.”

From an agency perspective, officers and firefighters are required to take continuing education classes each year. Often agencies have to pay overtime to get them through the class. “If it’s done online, they can go at their own pace and possibly save overtime pay,” Darnell says. “Also, it’s easier to bring in a fresh point of view because we can use online instructors from other areas.”

Edgecombe offers classes for K-9 training, detention officers, and continuing education for law enforcement officers. Though none of these are set up with a hybrid element, Darnell wants to change that. He also is exploring new state-of-the-art program areas to help strengthen and support local law enforcement efforts. “We’re always looking for what local agencies need,” Darnell says. “If agencies want more specialized training, we want to add that.”

Whether it’s a hybrid or traditional class, the college offers the most up-to-date training in the state. While conducting on-campus course work, public safety students have access to the college’s state-of-the-art simulation facility that includes a patient care mannequin that can simulate seizures, labored breathing, coughing, and other lifelike symptoms.

Firefighters learn modern firefighting, rescue, officer development, and fire department management skills. Law enforcement officers have a wide range of classes available at the college, including report writing, defensive tactics, basic investigation skills, and firearms training.

At the core of the training is developing and maintaining partnerships with local agencies, making the college public safety-friendly for them, Darnell says. He also wants to make Edgecombe Community College the go-to place for public safety students in the area. “When I first started out, I had to travel to find classes,” Darnell says. “If there’s any way to prevent that, I want to do it. I want to keep our people here. I want to make it easier for our people and our agencies.”

About the company:
Steady growth and expanding impact have characterized Edgecombe Community College as it has evolved from one small building in 1968 into a multi-campus institution with campuses in Tarboro and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The college helped meet the educational and training needs of about 13,000 individuals in our community last year. This included the implementation of distance learning and online courses to reach students with travel and time barriers. Throughout, their strength is and will remain putting the needs of students first.

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Mary Tom Bass
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