State footing tuition for some firefighters in city

June 24, 2005|By BRIAN SHAPPELL


Chris Gelwicks, a career firefighter with the Hagerstown Fire Department, continues to pursue a college degree in fire service.

Gelwicks said not having to pay any upfront money for tuition has been "a blessing."

The Maryland Higher Education Commission is offering tuition reimbursements for firefighters, as well as ambulance and rescue company members, according to a release from the state commission. The commission said that $344,000 is expected to be awarded for the 2005-06 academic year. The deadline to participate is July 1.

The commission said the purpose of the program is to encourage members of firefighting, ambulance and rescue organizations to improve their professional skills by pursing degrees in those fields.


While the commission is willing to issue reimbursements, the City of Hagerstown offers upfront money for tuition for those pursuing job-related programs, said Al Martin, the city's director of finance. Doing so keeps those seeking degrees from having to pay large amounts of money for classes that will be beneficial to both them and the community, Martin said.

Martin said education "makes people better employees."

"One of our core values of our city mission statement is to support our employees to make sure they have the best skills and up-to-date training ..." Martin said.

Martin said those who receive the advances for tuition are required to serve in Hagerstown for two years after the completion of their course work. The state commission's policy says those receiving reimbursements must serve in Maryland as a volunteer or career member for one year after they took the courses for which the funding is received.

Gelwicks, who is pursing a degree through online classes, said he knows of at least a half-dozen firefighters taking advantage of the city and state program. Gelwicks said he believes fewer people would have pursued the additional education in the past or would in the future without the programs.

"This is a great way to encourage us to do more," Gelwicks said. "There's no out-of-pocket expense I have to put out ... It's kind of hard to be putting out for two classes per semester."

Gelwicks said those who participate may take up to two classes per semester and are required to maintain a C or better in those classes.

Department Deputy Chief Ron Horn, who is certified to act as a proctor for exams associated with some online courses, said easing the financial burden for firefighters is important because firefighting has become far more technical and the number of those active has dwindled over the years.

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