Veteran Firefighter Looks to Advance His Career, Enrolls in South Piedmont’s Public Safety Administration Program to Make it Happen

Photo of Michael Belk

Michael Belk currently works as a firefighter and EMT, as well as with Union County Parks & Recreation. He enrolled in South Piedmont’s Public Safety Administration degree program to advance his career.

After three decades in the fire service, Michael Belk is contemplating what comes next in his career. 

He doesn’t have all the answers yet, but he is sure a Public Safety Administration degree from South Piedmont Community College will help him find his way. 

Belk enrolled as one of the program’s first students this fall.

“Right now, I’m working three jobs. I’m getting older, and I’m not always going to be able to go fight fires,” Belk said. 

“I’m getting this degree so that I have more options for my future.” 

Belk grew up here in Union County and started his fire career when he was just a teenager, following in the footsteps of both his grandfather, who was a founding member of Sandy Ridge Fire and Rescue, and father, who served as an assistant chief at Mineral Springs Fire and Rescue.

Over time, he realized fire wasn’t just a family tradition, it was his personal calling as well. 

“There was a point where things turned, it went from something I was doing to make my dad proud to something that was right for me. It is rewarding to be the one to answer the call, to be the one to help,” Belk said.

Belk now works as a part-time firefighter and EMT at both Mineral Springs and Sandy Ridge. He also works full-time for Union County Parks & Recreation.  

Looking ahead, he knows he won’t always be able to physically fight fires. He is also interested in advancing his career, either with the fire service or with Union County Parks & Recreation.

When he heard about South Piedmont’s Public Safety Administration program, it seemed like an ideal fit for both his previous work experience and his future plans. The program is designed to give students, including those already working in public safety roles, the skills and knowledge they need to move into administrative roles. 

The program is unique in that it allows those currently working in the public safety profession to use their previous training as credit toward their degree. In Belk’s case, he received more than 30 credit hours for his professional experience, meaning he was halfway done with his degree on the first day of class.  

“Another reason why I like the program is that it’s online. I can do the program while I’m on shift. When we get a call, I can deal with the emergency, but then return and pick up exactly where I left off,” Belk said. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t online because of my work schedules.”

Belk will graduate next year. While he still isn’t sure what he’ll do with his degree, he does know he’ll use it to inspire others. 

“I tell everyone, ‘You can do it. Look at me. If I can do it, you can too.’” 

Learn more about South Piedmont’s Public Safety Administration degree program


South Piedmont Offers Public Safety Administration Degree; First Responders Get Credit for Training

South Piedmont Community College now offers a degree designed for those seeking a career in public safety administration — or first responders aiming to take their career to the next level.

Applications are now being accepted for the Associate in Applied Science in Public Safety Administration. Classes start Aug. 14.

Request more information on this degree program here. 

“This is a great program not only for those looking to get into the public safety field, but for those who are already working in public safety and want to climb the professional ladder,” said Director of Public Safety Curriculum Programs Deborah Barrett.

The program covers topics including leadership, management, budgeting, grant writing, and other skills public safety professionals need to be eligible for administrative roles. 

Students learn from current public safety administrators representing agencies in Anson and Union counties, as well as the surrounding area. 

In addition to real-world preparation and experienced instructors, the program allows current first responders to gain college credit for training they’ve already done on the job.

“On average, students are getting 19 hours of college credit from their previous on-the-job training,” Barrett said.

“The Public Safety Administration program is 66 hours, so most of our students are coming in one-third of the way to the degree, if not more.”

Another bonus: The degree is completely online, allowing students to balance their studies with their work schedules and family commitments.

Request more information about the Public Safety Administration degree program here.

911 Telecommunicator Is South Piedmont’s First Public Safety Administration Student

Photo of Dan Beightler standing in front of a fire truck.

Dan Beightler is the first student in South Piedmont’s Public Safety Administration program. He is also a 911 telecommunicator.

With his associate degree in Public Safety Administration from South Piedmont Community College, Dan Beightler will have several options for his career, but his top choice is what he loves doing most: helping his friends and neighbors as a 911 telecommunicator with Union County Emergency Services

“People call in their most desperate moments. My job is to be that voice of calm and reason, to get them the help they need,” he said.

“It’s very satisfying to help people.”

Beightler grew up in Kentucky and started a degree at a community college there before moving to Monroe in 2005. He took some classes at South Piedmont back then, but it didn’t stick. Instead, he went to work as a 911 telecommunicator — among other things.

He is also a volunteer firefighter for the Union County Fire Department, a distribution system operator for Union Power Cooperative, and the vice president of operations for a private equity firm.

“I work — a lot. I have these three pathways I can choose from,” he said.

To take the next step in any of his potential career paths, Beightler decided to re-enroll at South Piedmont. He started classes this summer, becoming the first student to enroll in the College’s Public Safety Administration program.  With the credits he’d earned previously and training he’s done for his work as a 911 telecommunicator, he’s already halfway to his associate degree.

“My degree is going to give me the ability to pull levers at all three of my jobs,” he said.

His degree will also allow him to move up within Union County Emergency Services.

“It’s going to help close the gap so that I can support my family while doing what I love,” he said.

“I love the fire service and EMS. I love dispatching. I know most of the fire chiefs, so I know what information they’re going to need and want. I enjoy helping them do their job more efficiently.

Beightler particularly enjoys serving the community in which he lives.

“I have people I’ve helped who will drop off cards in my mailbox to thank me. I have people who will come by just to check up on me. They know me and they know I care about them,” he said.

Wherever his educational journey takes him, Beightler has already learned an important lesson.

“I’m 38. Coming back to school is opening my eyes to the fact you never stop learning,” he said.

“Even at 38, it’s not too late. Coming back to school has reenergized and refocused my mind. It’s motivated me to continue to invest in myself. You should never stop looking forward and pushing the goal post down the field.”

Beightler will impart that lesson to his 13-year-old son.

“By returning to South Piedmont, I’m leading by example,” he said. “I’m showing my son that education is important and that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.”

Learn more about South Piedmont Community College’s Public Safety Administration program.

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