Fire academy's inaugural class, scholarship celebrated

·4 min read

Oct. 14—A new Webb City firefighter was named the first recipient of Steve Fierro Endowed Memorial Scholarship Award as a member of the first graduating class of a new firefighter training academy at Missouri Southern State University.

Colton Gurera, the scholarship recipient, and Fierro's memory as a public servant were recognized as a part of a ceremony Wednesday at the Joplin Public Safety Training Center, 5102 Swede Lane. It also marked the establishment of the firefighter training academy and its first class of 12 members, who graduated last week.

"I've always wanted to help people and I went to school for a couple of years, but I didn't know what I really wanted to do so I went a different path," Gurera said. At that time there was no local firefighter academy, so he took a job in construction.

"I'm thankful" for the scholarship, he said. "It will help me with my future career" and enable him to take the paramedic training offered by the academy.

Missouri Southern had ended firefighter training in 2015, but it has now brought it back through a cooperative effort with the city of Joplin, the Joplin Fire Department, and other area fire departments whose employees teach classes.

Fierro was a Carthage firefighter who died in the line of duty while fighting a fire at a Diamond-area restaurant on Feb. 18, 2004. A scholarship in Fierro's honor will be given each year to a graduate of the fire academy.

During the event Wednesday, Joplin's city manager, Nick Edwards, talked about the prospects of hiring new firefighters trained at the local academy.

"One of the things that excites me the most about this partnership is how the university and the city are partnering to provide critical services," he said. "I am tremendously excited to see where this program goes."

Dean Van Galen, university president, said that the partnership is one of a number of joint ventures that have included the construction of a trail leading from the university campus to the Range Line business district and Project Launchpad, a proposal for reuse of the former public library building in the 300 block of Main Street as a business and entrepreneurial training center.

"These partnerships can have transformational impacts on our community, but they require hard work, a collaborative spirit and a trust among partners," Van Galen said. He thanked city leaders and staff who do the legwork on projects such as the fire training academy.

Joplin's interim fire chief, Mark Cannon, said of the academy, "This program was designed specifically to benefit our regional area to be an educational start for firefighters who want to go to fire departments in our region. This program was designed to be taught by instructors from our region."

It would not have been possible without the relationship between Missouri Southern and the city, Cannon said.

The firefighter certificate available at Missouri Southern is important, Cannon said, because "in order to become a firefighter today and work for a professional fire department around our area, individuals need to gain four certifications." Those are basic firefighting skills in firefighter I and II, escaping violent encounters and emergency medical technician.

Additional courses available are advanced emergency medical technician and essential anatomy and physiology as well as three semesters of paramedic classes.

Cannon talked about the history of the Joplin Public Safety Center, which is funded by the city's half-cent public safety sales tax. He thanked the taxpayers for providing the training center that allows firefighters, police and rescuers from throughout the area to practice their skills and develop new ones at the training center.

Ted Lee, academy director and associate professor of emergency medical services, said he planned for the academy to come back to the Missouri Southern campus as part of a 10-year plan he established when he joined the university staff.

Lee said he came from a family of firefighters "so this is a little bit more heartfelt for me to see this come back," he said of the academy. He said that the collaboration with Joplin offers a bright future for the program. "We are looking at opening up at least 10 other certificates and possibly a bachelor's degree to continue this tradition in this region" of local firefighter training.

Dustin Lunow, the Joplin Fire Department training chief, spoke about the dedication of Fierro, the late firefighter. Fierro's family and the Missouri Southern Foundation created the endowed scholarship in his memory. It was given until the university's first fire academy was closed, and it was then provided to EMT students because Fierro also was an EMT.

"He truly had a servant's heart," Lunow, who was inspired by Fierro to join the fire service, said of the firefighter. "He loved serving people."

Members of Fierro's family were at the ceremony.

"I just feel it is very exciting to keep his legacy going to be able to have a scholarship. Every time a fire class graduates, they'll know about him," said Fierro's twin sister, Susan Reddy.

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