Meeting Growing Needs

Richland Fire Science Class Provides Pipeline of Potential First Responders

Brice Fortinberry

A Richland High School Fire Science student smashes through a wrecked car’s windshield with an ax
A Richland High School Fire Science student smashes through a wrecked car’s windshield with an ax. Students in the program are learning unique skills that will help them serve their communities in the future. The program is part of the Mississippi Department of Education’s effort to diversify the instruction offered through its law and public safety pathway.

An array of innovative and content-specific law and public safety (LPS) pathway courses will offer students many opportunities to give back to their communities in the future. 


A growing job market awaits students in the LPS pathway. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported that protective service careers and occupations — correctional officers, firefighters and police officers, for example — are expected to have a 3.5% growth rate by 2026.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Edwin Butler, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) bureau director who oversees the state’s 55 LPS programs and its overall JROTC initiative, said increasing and improving partnerships between local school districts, civic institutions and institutions of higher learning provides students with a pipeline to these growing public service opportunities within their communities.

Educators across the state are excited about expanding these partnerships and preparing their students for service careers. John Glass, an LPS instructor at George County High School, said he is looking forward to new ways of engaging students in the coming years.

“I am passionate about interacting with students, investing in students and watching them get excited about the many professions related to law and public safety,” Glass said.

Richland Fire Science

The MDE, with assistance from the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU), piloted a new class — Fire Science — at Richland High School (RHS) in 2018 to prepare students to enter the workforce as firefighters or serve in fire-related occupations.

Richland was chosen for the pilot program, Butler said, after city officials asked for a way to support future workforce requirements.

“It’s a win-win for the community and for our students,” he said.

To prepare his students for such important roles, RHS Fire Science teacher Micah Sanford provides a foundational learning experience that will equip them with the skills they need to be successful. 

While students learn the basics of firefighting and fire safety, Sanford also integrates lessons and activities to improve the soft skills — communication, timeliness and other important traits, for example — employers search for in potential workers.

“I didn’t have a teacher that could tell me anything about the fire service, so I look at this as a great honor to be able to help young people on their way into emergency services,” he said.

His two primary goals are simple: Students should develop a sense of service for their community and obtain skills that allow them to achieve their personal goals. 

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed our students pick up on as far as soft skills are concerned is interpersonal communication,” Sanford said. “They may enter the class feeling shy and like they don’t have any friends, but they are more outgoing and willing to help anyone in need by the end of the course. I’m always very proud to see students break out of their shells and interact with the public, because communicating with the general public was the most undertaught skill in the fire service.”

First-year Fire Science student Chloe Knippers described the course as one that will prepare her for the future and develop her into a well-equipped, generous and productive member of society.

“I chose to take Fire Science because I wanted to do something in life where I could learn, help people and know that I am making a difference in my community and in the country,” she said.

Additional Specialized Curricula

Four additional classes will expand LPS offerings for students in the future.

The MDE will finalize and launch Law Enforcement, Emergency Management, Forensics and Corrections by the 2023 academic year.

LPS teachers believe specialized curricula will provide a better education for their students. Previously, these classes included a wide variety of information from varying fields — information from both law enforcement and firefighting was taught in a single course, for example. By offering specialized classes, RCU Instructional Design Specialist Melissa Luckett said, students will receive unique educational experiences. 


Connections is the magazine for K-12 career and technical education (CTE) in Mississippi. The biannual publication features students, educators, schools, and organizations from approximately 50 career pathways across 16 career clusters. This Mississippi Department of Education publication is produced by the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University. Issues are disseminated in print and electronic forms in May and December each year.

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