Phillip Barber

Phillip Barber

The entire building looks like a charred wreck. Black timbers form the skeleton of what used to be a house. For Assistant Fire Marshall Phillip Barber, there's a story in the rubble.

"Part of fire behavior is putting the human element behind it," Barber said. "You can find out who's responsible and how it happened."

Barber investigates fires for the Nashville Fire Department. He's been with the Department for years, but credits Fire Science classes at Volunteer State Community College for his move into prevention and investigation.

"It was a ten year process for me," Barber said. "I would take classes to pique my interest in various parts of the fire department. When I took the Fire Investigation class I knew I wanted to turn that way in my career."

Fire Science Program Director, Travis Ford, says the classroom or online instruction is critical for modern firefighting.

"In the American Fire Service we have more than 100 firefighters die each year," said Ford. "If you're not able to process information and make quick decisions, the way technology and building codes have changed, if you don't keep up, you're in trouble."

Firefighters have a goal of reducing firefighter deaths by 25 percent in the next five years. Part of that goal will be accomplished with new safety training classes. Ford stresses that the training must prepare firefighters for a wide range of scenarios.

"We teach an all hazards approach. Our response could be for a terrorist incident, hazardous materials or urban search and rescue. All of this plays into emergency response."

The Vol State Fire Science Program is also designed to help firefighters move forward in their careers. Assistant Fire Marshall Barber credits his promotion to his education. Ford points to many Fire Chiefs that have come from the Vol State program, including Chief John Kendrick in Cookeville and Chief Don Kelley in Lawrenceburg.

"Education is moving past the 'need to have', to a 'must have'," said Ford. "It's still a job where you get wet, get dirty and get with it, but that doesn't mean you progress to a level to do budgets and talk to the city council without an education."

Ford says the idea is to teach a firefighter to be a supervisor, and a supervisor to be a manager, and finally a manager to be an executive level officer.

For Assistant Fire Marshall Barber there's another big reason behind his 10 year quest for higher education: his three children.

"As long as they're willing to go to school, I'm willing to set the example."

Barber takes that example to a new level. He now teaches Fire Investigation at Vol State, showing others how to decipher the story behind a fire.

For more information about programs at Vol State, visit the John B. Wallace Allied Health Division.