From the classroom to the frontline: How one Douglas grad combined his education with a career in firefighting

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

Nick Cirillo always had firefighting on his career radar.  

“My dad was a firefighter, so it was always in the back of my mind,” says Nick, a Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching (BPEC) grad who has been working at Richmond Fire-Rescue since 2019. “But I wanted to get an education first. That’s where Douglas came in.”  

Blazing his trail 

Nick knew there was no one-size-fits-all approach to the career. Fire departments like to hire firefighters with diverse skillsets, he explains. 

“You never know what you’re going to come up against in the field, so they’re looking for a variety of tools to outfit their firefighting toolbox, so to speak,” Nick, whose colleagues have backgrounds in everything from finance to a Red Seal trade to the military, explains. “The hiring process is based on a points system where different things can give you an edge over other candidates. My bachelor’s degree was one of those things.”  

Not only did Nick’s BPEC degree give him a leg up on other candidates, but he credits his college experience as one of the reasons he was able to keep up with the rigorous hiring process.  

“I treated becoming a firefighter like preparing for a final exam,” says Nick. “The easiest way to get eliminated in the hiring process is by making a mistake. You really have to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Using the skills I gained as a student at Douglas really helped me during this stage.”  

Read more: this BPEC student came to Douglas for the learning atmosphere – and stayed for the degree of her dreams 

Climbing the firefighting ladder  

Though still a junior firefighter, Nick is excited about his career development.  

“I look forward to the potential of becoming an instructor and helping future probationary firefighters,” says Nick. “The coaching aspect of my degree gave me a solid understanding of how people learn. This will help when teaching skills to firefighters in training.”   

Nick says that when he was a probationary firefighter, he found the training officers who had a more hands-on, individual coaching method – like he learned in the BPEC program – had the most success in teaching the skills needed for the job.  

“They performed personalized evaluations and gave on-the-spot, constructive feedback to correct mistakes. I’m a better firefighter today because of their approach.”   

Adjusting to a new normal 

Nick’s first year at Richmond Fire-Rescue has been far from ordinary. Having wrapped up his mandatory year-long probationary period with the department in October 2020, most of Nick’s experience firefighting has been during the pandemic. 

While firefighters are highly trained to respond to medical emergencies of every degree – including those that might be associated with COVID-19 – in order to provide additional support to other emergency responders, Nick and his team have only been responding to serious, life-threatening medical calls since March 2020.  

Despite these new barriers, Nick can’t imagine being anywhere else.  

“My team is more like a family to me at this point, and the job definitely keeps me on my toes.”