September 21, 2023

National Volunteer Fire Council, CSU award scholarships

The National Volunteer Fire Council and CSU recently announced the winners of two scholarships. John S. Loftis of Seneca, S.C, and Tim O’Rourke of Crown Point, Ind., will both receive up to two years of tuition towards the online degree of their choice from CSU.

“We are grateful to Columbia Southern University for offering this outstanding opportunity to members of the NVFC for the fourth year in a row,” said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. “Congratulations to Assistant Chief Loftis and firefighter O’Rourke, who have demonstrated their dedication to the fire service, commitment to furthering their education, and their drive to achieve their goals through this scholarship opportunity. We thank the many outstanding individuals from across the nation who applied for the scholarships.”

Loftis plans to use his two-year scholarship towards a bachelor’s degree in fire science, while O’Rourke is pursuing a degree in occupational health and safety with a concentration in fire science.

“I have always known that serving in the fire service of South Carolina was my calling,” said Loftis, who is one of three generations that have served as a South Carolina firefighter. He is the assistant chief and training officer for Oconee County (S.C.) Emergency Services, an organization made up of more than 400 volunteer firefighters and 19 paid staff.

Loftis serves as an adjunct instructor and an Information Technology Working Group member at the South Carolina Fire Academy and as vice chairman of the South Carolina Fire School Advisory Board. Through his work with the Academy, Loftis developed a state-wide firefighter skills competency program that has been adopted by many fire departments.

His own pursuit of a degree had to be put on hold when he was younger, but he is excited to now be able to achieve his dream. “Even after the many major accomplishments I have been a part of, at the end of the day, I always question what more could I have accomplished if I had completed my college degree,” said Loftis.”This scholarship will not only benefit me, but also my department, my community, and the state of South Carolina.”

There’s one more benefit to his education this time around: “I am a firm believer that one should lead by example,” said Loftis, “And I decided that if I expect my sons to obtain higher education after completing high school, I should do the same myself. Now they have no excuse!”

O’Rourke joined the Lake Hills, Ind.,  Volunteer Fire Department just a few months after he graduated high school in 2003. A year later, he became a state certified EMT. He has since risen through the ranks to become lieutenant and then captain.

O’Rourke is a founding chapter member of the Red Knights Motorcycle Club, an international organization that raises money for local charities in need.

With his degree, O’Rourke hopes to join the Health and Safety Department at the refinery where he currently works as a firefighter. Regardless of which path he chooses after graduation, he knows that this opportunity will open many doors for him.

Completing his college degree will also allow O’Rourke to care for his family’s needs. He and his wife have two children born with Down Syndrome and have required surgeries and physical therapy over the years.

“Despite the hardships, I still have the motivation to improve my family’s well-being,” said O’Rourke. “I feel if I can earn my college degree, I have a better chance of providing for the special needs my children require.”