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.