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      Firefighters pursue higher education

      While students are finishing up their school year, Horry County firefighters are just starting to plan theirs. A new fire science technology program at Horry Georgetown Technical College is sending first responders back to school.

      "The mission of Horry Georgetown Technical College is to meet the needs of individuals and employers in our area," said Horry Georgetown Technical College Dean of Special Projects, Sandra Barbour.

      So when Melissa Belflowers and other leaders from Horry County Fire Rescue came to the school wanting to educate firefighters beyond what's taught in the fire academy, they had to act.

      "It'll move firefighting from being just a job as to more of a profession," Belflowers said.

      Students pursuing the program, which starts in the fall, have two options. They can earn an associate degree or transfer credits to a four-year-degree program at schools like Coastal Carolina University.

      What makes this program unique is that the courses are taught by fire department members themselves.

      "They have some real world knowledge of firefighting. They understand where our fire fighters are coming from. They can use examples from their own lives and apply them to the course that they're teaching, and it adds credibility to the instructor," said Belflowers.

      She said this advanced training benefits more than just firefighters.

      "The individual gets a more well rounded education," she said.

      "They learn to deal with other folks at a higher level. The community will benefit because the administration of the fire department will perform at a much higher level."

      Firefighters in the local area are invited to attend an information session about enrolling in new fire science technology programs at Horry Georgetown Technical College. The schedule includes sessions on the HGTC Conway and Grand Strand Campuses: Saturday, June 15 at 9 a.m. (Conway campus) , Building 200, Room 221Monday, June 17 at 7 p.m. (Grand Strand campus), Speir BuildingTuesday, June 25 at 7 p.m. (Conway campus), Building 200, Room 221Attendees will learn about the new associate degree programs and about bachelorĂ¢??s degree opportunities from Coastal Carolina University. HGTC staff will provide assistance in preparing for program admission and for submitting financial aid applications (FAFSA).