SPC Fire Academy student aspires to help others

LUBBOCK – Brianca Gutierrez’s purpose in life is to save lives. In South Plains College’s Fire Academy, she is developing the skills to pursue her calling.

Gutierrez, a Grand Island, Nebraska native who moved to Lubbock in 2011, was once uncertain about her career path. She graduated with an associate degree in general studies from SPC in May 2016 and later worked at Osteogenics Biomedical in Lubbock.

While working at the company, Gutierrez decided she wanted to further her education and considered SPC the next stepping stone in her career.

“I worked at Osteogenics Biomedical for 11 years,” the first-generation college student said. “I left because I wanted to continue my education at the SPC Fire Academy.”

Gutierrez started her coursework at the academy in August 2023 and will complete the program in May. She is working on getting the necessary certification to take the Texas Commission on Fire Protection basic structural firefighter examination and will later work on an EMS education program.

Brianca Gutierrez

In addition to learning about the profession in the classroom, being a student in the SPC Fire Academy requires a lot of physical activity, such as managing a water hose, forcing a door open and running up a tower. Gutierrez said she is trying her best to overcome all the challenges the program offers, as she wants to help others.

“You’re a part of something more significant,” she said regarding the profession. “My purpose here is to help people and save lives.”

Along with getting the opportunity to save people’s lives, Gutierrez said firefighters develop strong bonds with one another and connect with the community.

“Just living here in Lubbock, I’ve been inspired by the Lubbock Fire Department,” she said. “You see how they get involved in the community.”

Gutierrez, who dreams of working as a firefighter in her hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska someday, said the job market for firefighters is competitive. In addition, she said many women do not pursue the firefighter career path.

To lessen the misconceptions about the field, Gutierrez said she wants to advocate for women and show how they can accomplish the same tasks a male firefighter can.

“They don’t care that you’re female,” she said regarding her peers and leaders in the SPC Fire Academy. “They don’t treat you differently.”

Regarding physical training, Gutierrez said women in the academy do the same training as the men in the classes.

“I think most people think that because you’re going into a male-dominated career, they’re going to treat you differently,” she said. “I feel it is equal throughout.”

For those wanting to pursue a career as a firefighter, Gutierrez said to persevere no matter how hard a challenge may be. As a student in the academy, she constantly reminds herself how far she has come.

“There will be hardships and times when you’ll question yourself,” she said. “Don’t self-sabotage and don’t give up.”

Fire Academy and Fire Technology

Many fire departments require prospective employees to be certified by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) as a Basic Structural Fire Suppression personnel before applying for employment. Students who complete the SPC Basic Fire Academy Level 1 Certificate have taken the first step toward this certification. After the Fire Academy, the next step is to seek advanced training by attaining the Advanced Fire Technology Level 2 Certificate, which gives the option of specializing in Emergency Medicine or Fire and Emergency Service Higher Education courses. Students at this level can also take classes that lead to advanced certifications with the TCFP, such as Fire Instructor, Fire Inspector, Fire Investigator, Hazardous Materials Technician and more.

Ultimately, firefighters seeking first-line supervisory positions in the fire service should earn SPC’s Associate of Applied Science in Fire Technology. Eighty-seven percent of first-line fire officers have at least some college education, and 47 percent have an associate degree or higher. Not only do many fire departments offer advancement or pay incentives for advanced education at the college level, but state law allows both paid and qualified volunteer firefighters to attend many of the courses in this degree plan tuition-free.