James Allison ‘02SCE, Former 911 Dispatcher and Firefighter: Why I’ll Forever Be A Friar
In 2014 James Allison ‘02SCE, a 911 dispatcher and volunteer firefighter, had to give up the career he regarded as a calling after being diagnosed with PTSD and Multiple Sclerosis. Though his career was cut short and his life changed forever, he maintains a positive outlook on life and ongoing gratitude for the place he says helped to define not only his career, but who he has become – Providence College and its School of Continuing Education. This, in his own words, is his story…
Back in 2000 I was looking for a very good school that offered a BS in Fire Science. At the time I was volunteering on one of the biggest volunteer fire departments in Massachusetts, dispatching 911 police, fire and rescue calls. I have always been one to say that no one can ever take away a wonderful education. Well that is really an understatement when talking about Providence College School of Continuing Education (SCE). From the first day I met with someone and worked on transferring credits I was made to feel like it was home. And that’s what it was for me.
I graduated with a BS in Fire Science in 2002. I remember interviewing for a job afterwards, and the Deputy Fire Chief said, ‘You do understand that you have a lot more of an education than the position requires.’ I said that I completely understand that – but that the job never felt like a job. It was something that I loved very much, and a calling to make a difference.
There was one call that I handled for a fatal natural gas house explosion. Being on the desk was just crazy, there was so much responsibility to the community and all of the men and women who responded to the scene. I always felt that it was my job to make sure that each and every police officer and firefighter went home at the end of the shift. This specific call was very challenging. But my education at Providence College prepared me to be able to handle this type of call, because in the Fire Science program the instructors would give you real life situations to handle and use the class to show you what you did right and what you did wrong, or even the things that you did right but could have added a bit more to.
just truly an amazing program, and it also allows you to meet people in the
field you want to work in as well as others who are in other programs. In many
classes it was nice that you would have a group project and it gave you not only
the chance to work together, but the chance to get to know people who have
completely different backgrounds than you have.
I remember taking a class on sprinkler systems and water flow at one point, which is completely different than knowing the water flow and pressure you need as the pump operator on a fire engine. I was honestly struggling, and since it involved math I went to get help at the tutoring center at PC. I was assigned a wonderful young day student to help me. Her name was Pam and she said, ‘I have no idea what Fire Science is,’ but she looked at the things I had and said right away, ‘I can definitely help you with this, and these are the times I am available to help you.’ After a few times of her breaking it down in a different way I understood what I needed to do. But I also gained a wonderful friend who I never expected to become friends with. I am really glad that I did. And I was also so glad that PC offered this type of help. It made things so much easier and less stressful.
time of graduation in 2002 I was approximately 24 years old. So I was
definitely not an old student. But I had found in my classes that you had a
great difference in ages. Which makes SCE very special. Because it really truly
shows that everyone whatever their age, sex, religious background was accepted
with open arms to Forever be a Friar.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with PTSD and in 2014 I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, a diagnosis that I would never wish upon anyone. I had to call volunteering as a firefighter and dispatching 911 done. Because of chemo treatment that started right away, I went from running everyday and working out five days a week to having to use crutches, a walker or a wheelchair for long distances.
I lost a lot because of this disease. But if there are three things that I did not lose they are: one, my son who is now 16 (I actually found out he was going to be born the day of my graduation); two, the wonderful education that I received at Providence College School of Continuing Education; and three, that I will Forever be a Friar, no matter what.