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Firefighter perseveres through pandemic with skills learned in BGSU's Fire Administration program

Matthew Brixey '16 able to move up the ranks thanks to late-in-career bachelor's degree

By Michael Bratton

More than a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic set in and forever changed lives around the world. With the change came challenges, particularly for first responders tending to those in need in their communities.

“It has been tough,” said Matthew Brixey, battalion chief with the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department. “Initially, we had to change the way crews responded to calls and took care of patients. We’re so used to always being hands-on and working as a team and to have that just suddenly stop one day is hard.”

Along with workflow changes, Brixey, a 2016 alumnus of Bowling Green State University’s fire administration program, said long hours and stress caused by the unknowns of the pandemic took their toll on Toledo’s firefighters.

Thanks to the skills and lessons learned during his time as a BGSU student, Brixey said he was able to quickly adapt and lead his team through the tough times.

“Choosing to further my education with BGSU’s fire administration degree was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Brixey said. “Learning how to conduct research, write professionally and analyze information has helped me help my department immensely during the pandemic.”

A full-time firefighter since 1996, Brixey admitted that pursuing a bachelor’s degree so far into his career wasn’t a top priority. With dreams of moving up the ranks, Brixey said he ultimately decided to enroll in the online program in 2013 with encouragement from his family, fellow firefighters and BGSU faculty.

“The support and encouragement I got from everyone in the program was great,” Brixey said. “The instructors were phenomenal. They’re super knowledgeable and the courses really prepare you to be a leader."

Throughout the program, students take a minimum of 122 credit hours and focus on classes such as Principles of Emergency Management, Psychology of Disaster and Applications of Fire Research. They’re areas of study that program leaders say help students build the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful, especially during difficult times like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all have to manage disasters now,” said Dr. Dominic Wells, BGSU Fire Administration program director. “Today’s firefighting leaders have to respond not only to their superiors, but also to elected officials and private sector leaders. It’s important now more than ever to understand the things we teach in the program.”

If anyone can attest to those words it’s Brixey. At the height of the pandemic, his team was preparing multiple reports daily regarding COVID-19’s effects for Toledo city leaders and then disseminating that information to fire chiefs across Lucas County.

“There was a lot of research that had to be done and data that had to be interpreted,” said Brixey. “The chiefs wanted us to decipher everything and help them make informed decisions and policies.”

Now preparing to move on to a new role with Toledo Fire and Rescue, thanks in part to his degree, Brixey encourages any firefighter questioning whether to grow their skills to enroll in BGSU's Fire Administration program so they too can be set up for success.

“Enroll in the program and just do it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my degree and the skills learned in the fire administration program.”

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349