Twelve Los Alamos County Fire Department employees recently earned AAS degrees in Fire Science from UNM-LA including Christopher Bartlett, Colorado Cordova, Gerard Coriz, Jaden Eads, Kevin Kamplain, Aaron McNiff, Colin O’Connell, Allen Quintana, Jeff Saiz, Ben Stone, Jeffrey Wetteland and Glenn Trehern (not picture). At right, LAFD Capt. Joseph Candelaria heads the Fire Science program at UNM-LA. Courtesy/LAC
Education has been a cornerstone of Joseph Candelaria’s life for many years. Starting with his first degree, an Associate of Science in Fire Science earned at Central New Mexico Community College in 2005, Candelaria has continued to advance his knowledge.
Another associates degree and two bachelor’s degrees later, he’s currently working on a master’s degree in organizational learning and instructional technologies at the University of New Mexico.
Candelaria knew he wanted to be a firefighter, but he’d never been that big on academics when he started his degree.
“I know firsthand how a college program can inspire you,” Candelaria said. “You get started down the road and the first thing you know, you’re looking at a career path and you’re on your way.”
Candelaria, a fire captain at Los Alamos County Fire Department’s Station One, saw a need to increase training opportunities for Los Alamos firefighters and approached the staff at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos about starting a program in fire science. UNM-LA staff and faculty quickly got on board and Fire Chief Troy Hughes was supportive as well, he said. Candelaria became the coordinator of the new program and began teaching and organizing classes in fire science even before the associate of applied science program got going.
The Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science degree program officially began in fall 2011 and the first class of 12 students graduated in May 2013. Ten more students are set to graduate next May. Candelaria’s dream has come to fruition and continues to expand.
UNM-LA has recently added an Emergency Medical Services Concentration to the degree program. This concentration is designed to develop skills that will assist a student planning to eventually enter a paramedic bachelor’s degree program. Completion of this concentration will prepare a student to sit for the New Mexico EMT-Basic and EMT-I (Intermediate) licensing tests. Students can do the lab work for their bachelor’s degree at UNM-LA, while taking classes from UNM online and complete the degree without leaving Los Alamos if they wish.
“I’ll be going through the EMS program with the first group of nine students, starting this fall even though I’m already a paramedic, just to help make sure the program is meeting the needs of the students,” Candelaria said.
One of those completing the AAS in Fire Science in May was Los Alamos Firefighter Kevin Kamplain. He’s also enrolled in the new EMS concentration program starting this fall.
Courses in building construction, firefighter safety and pump operations and hydraulics, and incident safety officer training were among the courses that benefited Kamplain most, he said.
“All the courses take lessons from history,” Kamplain said. “Every time there is a tragedy, we try to learn from it. This program definitely helped me perform better on the job, as well as keeping myself, my fellow firefighters and the public safer.”
The fire science and EMS programs are appropriate for other emergency responses personnel and for medical professionals like doctors and nurses, as well as community members who want to use these skills to help others, such as volunteer firefighters, Candelaria said.
“I’m so grateful this opportunity exists for us here in Los Alamos,” he said. “I appreciate that the local community values spreading educational opportunity to its County employees. We’ll be a better resource and a greater asset to Los Alamos. This program takes everything up a notch.”
This is a program for many different kinds of students, from high school students who want to explore a possible career path, to adult learners, either current professionals or those who are changing careers, as well as for interested community members.
“Some people are nervous about exploring their options because they’ve been out of school for a while,” Candelaria said. “If the interest and desire is there, I see it as my role to facilitate their opportunities and get them into the right spot. UNM-LA is an awesome resource for the community. The UNM-LA faculty and staff are truly exemplarity in every way. They are so committed to the community as well as to their students. There’s so much going on at UNM-LA. It’s a terrific place to start your college career.”
Candelaria is hopeful that Los Alamos voters will support the UNM-LA mil levy in September.
“Get out there and vote to support our wonderful educational facility,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about the people behind the scenes at UNM-LA. The UNM-LA special all mail election is Sept. 17.