There was an emergency call to a structure fire. A crew of firefighters jumped onto the truck and sped to the scene. Curious and eager, the young volunteer went along with the paid group. They arrived at the scene, put out the blaze and all the while, he got a taste of what it meant to really be a firefighter.
And he liked it.
“I knew then that this was the only job for me,” said Brock Jester, who years later, is now a battalion chief with the Pensacola (Fla.) Fire Department.
“I think it was the adrenaline, but it was also really getting out and doing something,” Jester explained. “We were the ones going in while other people are being shuffled away. As a firefighter, you are always where the action is and you are always there to help.”
Jester, 38, added that the while firefighting is a true rush, there is another reason he does this job.
“You can see the relief on people’s faces when we walk up, it’s like they are saying, ‘He’s going to take care of it.’ That’s the motivation for me, seeing that relief on people’s faces. It kinda makes you fall in love with it,” said Jester who rose through the ranks to become a captain. He serves as the health, safety and training officer at his department and was recently promoted to battalion chief which he attributes in part to his education at CSU.
A year into his previous job of captain, Jester decided to get “training” of his own by seeking an online fire science degree with CSU in 2009. “I had already had my two-year degree, but realized I should really have a full bachelor’s degree.”
“I had a lot of fire science education, but it was here and there. I didn’t have anything to kind of pull it altogether and combine what I learned, other than my two-year degree,” he explained.
“When I look back at all those classes and seminars that really didn’t qualify for any kind of degree, I realize I spent a lot of time. I should have been investing my time in CSU, and had I known about it, I would have.”
As with many students, CSU took all those classes and certifications in consideration and designed a degree plan for Jester. And with a little prodding from fellow firefighters (or maybe it was the competitiveness) and a CSU learning partner representative, Jester decided to enroll.
“The customer service at CSU is impeccable. I always got returned phone calls and it never took more than a day. And they are always smiling. On the phone, I could hear them smiling,” he laughed.
Brock was still learning the ropes of his new administration job when he joined CSU. But he credits the university’s flexible course schedule and outstanding faculty with helping him tackle the work load. He was able to take classes, handle demands of his new administration job and be there for his wife and two daughters.
“There was many a night I could not sleep. I was up stressing about work or budgets. So, I would get up say about 3 a.m. because I couldn’t sleep and I would do some classwork,” Jester, a 2010 graduate, said. “Or if my daughter said, ‘Hey, Dad I need to go to the store.’ Well, no problem. Since I’m working online, I can drop what I’m doing, take her and come back and return to my classwork.”
“You can do that with online education. You aren’t bound by the traditional classroom with CSU. With CSU, I can juggle my responsibilities. That freedom is nice, really nice,” Jester added.
He also found it nice to sit with his children and bond over homework. “Many times I sat at the table working on homework at night while they were working on homework as well. I put my grades up on the refrigerator just like they did,” he laughed.
Sometimes, he would lean on the kids for support with classwork.
For example, “the hazardous material course was difficult for me because it’s chemistry based and it had been so long since I had a chemistry class. So I went to my daughter, who had just taken advance chemistry in high school, and said, ‘Can you help me?’
So happy father and daughter worked together and she explained some chemistry basics to refresh his memory. “So it was fun to have her help ME with my homework for a change,” he added with a smile.
Jester also got support from a network of other CSU firefighter students, who were “competing” for degrees. “When we are joshing with each other, competing for grades and talking about classes and instructors, what was good what was bad, it all becomes part of that camaraderie. And it’s one giant learning experience for everybody. It’s infectious and it’s good,” he said.
Also good – and exciting according to Jester – was the opportunity to participate in the Chief Brunacini Leadership Retreat in 2009 in Orange Beach.
“CSU gave me the opportunity to have three days of intimate conversation with the legends of the fire service and emergency management. As a young officer, you don’t get to have those conversations. Those are things you want to hear when you sit in seminar groups of 300 to 400 people and all you do is just listen to them talk,” he said.
Because of great opportunities such as this, coupled with CSU’s outstanding education, Jester says he is considering returning to obtain a master’s degree.
“With the flexibility CSU offers and the many opportunities in the fire service industry, I know can go anywhere now.”
Listen to Brock Jester talk about education and firefighting