Stop, drop and enroll
The Clackamas Print had the chance to sit down with Dan Lofaro, Clackamas Community College Director of the Fire and Emergency Management programs. Dan followed a circuitous path of public service that brought him from FEMA in the nation’s capital to the West Coast, and his search for the elusive work-life balance brought him to the Pacific Northwest and eventually CCC.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
The Clackamas Print: Tell us a little about the firefighting and emergency management programs here at the college.
Dan Lofaro: We offer an associate degree in Fire Science and a variety of certifications that students can earn in a year or less, and continuing education and physical testing for wildland firefighting is conducted here. The emergency management program has offered associate’s and certifications as well but has suffered from lack of enrollment. The college is looking at sunsetting that program now, as there just aren’t enough students involved.
TCP: What about the curriculum at CCC really shines and sets us apart from other local colleges?
Lofaro: All the Fire Science courses and certifications offered here at the college are nationally recognized and carry over into other agencies nationally. These courses offer a tangible outcome, progressive training, in a safety-focused program. We want the individuals that go into these jobs to be as safe as possible for the sake of the teams they work on, and to be able to go home to their families. One of our instructors is a trained sawyer and a structural firefighter with Portland, so there is a lot of real-world, hands-on training, again, with safety being the focus.
TCP: What would you like to say to prospective students?
Lofaro: If you’re a hard worker that is curious about public service and wants to help keep our communities safe, save lives, property, and homes, investigate these programs. It’s an opportunity to work outdoors in a sector that can really make a difference. There is a deficit of trained wildland firefighters, and we could definitely use more people. You can check into programs at the college or ask your local fire department. Did I mention that it’s hard work?
TCP: Our fire seasons have gotten longer and seem to be moving in a more dangerous direction. Where do you see Fire Science heading? Is it moving in a more preventative direction or are we still looking at this from a reactionary, boots-on-the-ground, crisis management position?
Lofaro: A lot of the funding comes from federal and state sources. Traditionally, that was limited and just for firefighting….you know, reacting to fires. There has always been a small amount of funding for mitigation and forestry. Now we’ve seen a shift, and though there is a greater emphasis on putting money into that, it’s probably never enough. Climate change is showing us that we’re having more frequent, intense events. So, our preparation needs to change. There’s been a much larger push at the federal level, but again, we need trained firefighters, and there’s just not enough of them right now. That’s definitely a challenge.
TCP: Any final words on the programs we have available?
Lofaro: These are unique careers that have a lot of physical and mental challenges. It’s intense, but can be very rewarding. The job opportunities are always there, and it’s a chance to make a big difference in our communities. There are a lot of opportunities for veterans in firefighting, as their service comes with a lot of relevant experience. We welcome and seek out their involvement with our programs.
As of April 11, Lofaro informed The Clackamas Print that he is leaving the college to spend more time with his family. TAPS Associate Dean Erin Gravelle, will be taking on day to day management responsibilities for the programs after his departure.