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My interest in firefighting started when I was a kid. What kid does not want to be a firefighter? I was fortunate to have a best friend whose father and uncle were Valparaiso firefighters, giving me the opportunity to visit the fire stations and see how the firefighters lived and worked. This really added to my desire to join the fire department. After graduating from Valparaiso High School, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. The Navy was very serious about sailors learning firefighting and this training cemented my decision to be a firefighter.

After my service in the Navy, I joined the Valparaiso Fire Department, where I served for 26 1/2 years — eight of those years as Chief. After my retirement I went on to serve at USS Gary Works in the Fire/Security Services and became chief of the fire department there. After leaving the fire service, I became the Director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency. In that role I was able to continue working with all the various Porter County fire departments, police agencies, EMS agencies and the citizens of Porter County.

Without a training academy near Valparaiso, the cost of travel to the various schools was sometimes prohibitive. Much of my training came from my fellow firefighters, senior officers, and from neighboring fire departments. The desire to learn more about my chosen career lead me to take classes in fire science at Ivy Tech, and research various fire journals and fire engineering magazines. (There was no internet in the early 70’s!)

I also had the privilege of getting to know Mack McMillan, the founder of Task Force Tips. He and his two sons, Stewart and Douglas, would visit our fire station often. Mack’s knowledge was inspiring to a young firefighter.

I wanted to share my training with others, and Chief Billy Butterfield gave me that opportunity when he formed the Fire Department Education Bureau. We taught fire safety and CPR/first aid in the Valparaiso Schools, to public groups, and to companies/businesses.

Fast forward to today, the evolution taking place regionally in first responder training is beyond what I could have ever imagined. Northwest Indiana first responders now have the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Foundation campus In Valparaiso, a comprehensive training facility, available for them to utilize at no cost, to share knowledge, to enhance their skills, and to further their effectiveness on the emergency scenes. And it’s located in our backyard!

I have watched the various fire departments (career and volunteer), police agencies, EMTs, and emergency management agencies, while doing their training at the MAAC and I am envious of what is now available to them. This facility will bring the departments closer together, provide more uniform training, and provide hands-on training that is not available elsewhere.

New this school year, Porter County Career and Technical Education Center is offering a fire and rescue certification program to high school students at the MAAC as a way to train our younger, up-and-coming firefighters and EMTs. This is such a great opportunity for these young people.

This is made possible through the efforts of the McMillan Family Foundation and many supportive donors, large and small. For more information on who is at the helm in helping make this happen, visit www.maacfoundation.com.

I hope to play a small part by continuing to volunteer to help anyway I can. It’s amazing to think about the progression of the training that has taken place throughout our region since I was a kid.

Phillip Griffith is a retired firefighter and immediate past director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.