Alumnus Spotlight: Matt Simpson

Saint Paul Fire Department assistant fire chief earns A.A. via ASAP at Inver

Matt Simpson, 51, serves as assistant fire chief for the Saint Paul Fire Department, the largest fire department in Minnesota with 15 fire stations and 26 engine companies. In his role as assistant fire chief, Matt is based at Station 1 in St. Paul, which houses SPFD Headquarters, Engine 10, Medic 10 and Rescue Squad 3.

Matt oversees a number of key divisions in the fire department, including Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Public Safety Garage, Human Resources and Community Relations. Each division is headed by a chief officer or specialist who reports directly to Matt.

“The Saint Paul Fire Department is made up of approximately five hundred employees,” he said. “We make on average one hundred and thirty to one hundred and forty emergency calls a day, or around fifty thousand a year. About eighty percent of those calls are EMS-related.”

Matt added that the SPFD has roughly 160 firefighter paramedics with another 290 employees trained as firefighter emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

“Inclusive of the remaining employees that make up our fire department are administrative support staff, building maintenance staff, and the staff of the city’s Public Safety Garage,” he reported.

“Fighting fires, bringing new life into the world, and working diligently to resuscitate those who have suffered the fate of cardiac arrest or trauma has challenged my abilities and, more importantly, taught me about life in ways I could never have imagined.”
Matt Simpson, Assistant Fire Chief
Saint Paul Fire Department

Inver Hills connection…

Nearly 15 years ago, Matt decided to return to college and complete his degree. He chose Inver Hills Community College and enrolled in the Adult Success through Accelerated Pathways (ASAP) program.

“As a young firefighter in 1986, I began taking classes that related to the fire service, and I gained a significant number of college credits,” Matt reported. “While these credits had a specific focus—fire science and paramedic school—and provided value to my career development, they were disorganized.”

“ASAP students are generally more motivated to earn their degrees. They’ve been in the workforce and understand the importance of a degree in terms of upward mobility. They also set a great example for traditional-age students by sharing their perspective regarding their life and work experiences.”
Brenda VanVossen, Business Faculty
Inver Hills Community College

Matt added that he had earned more than 80 credits, but he still didn’t have what he needed to satisfy the requirements of an associate degree. His wife mentioned the ASAP program at Inver Hills, and they attended an ASAP information session on campus. The session persuaded Matt to give ASAP a try.

“The ASAP program helped my career with the Saint Paul Fire Department in so many ways,” he said. “ASAP engaged my interest in and provided an appreciation for formal education. I was driven to seek additional education in fire and EMS service-related subjects along with leadership courses.”

Matt stuck with his schooling at Inver Hills and earned an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree in 2006. He noted that ASAP gave him the ability to share the notion that getting a degree is not out of reach or an unrealistic expectation for adult learners to accomplish. His experience inspired a number of people to attend Inver Hills or other institutions to successfully complete a degree program.

“For adults like Matt, having options and flexibility when thinking about returning to or starting college is essential. Our Individualized Studies program gives students a way to create a degree that works for them.
“At IHCC, we have multiple pathways for adults to translate their work and life experiences into credit, helping them towards their goals more quickly. Many people today no longer do just one task at their jobs anymore; they juggle multiple.
“For Matt, having a program that allowed him to tailor classes to meet his immediate learning needs but also allowed him to think ahead to future goals was precisely what he needed. I am so happy IHCC was here to help him and the city of St. Paul has a great leader and public servant because of it.”
Kendrah Pearson, Director of Prior Learning Assessment
Title III–Adult Learners: Service, Success, and Growth
Inver Hills Community College

More about Matt…

Matt continued his education at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, first earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Police Science and next a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Public Safety Administration. He was able to modify his Police Science curriculum to incorporate concepts and practices centered on firefighting and EMS.

Matt was 18 years old when he began his firefighting and paramedic career in Arizona, where he served for seven years before joining the Saint Paul Fire Department. He has been with the SPFD for more than 25 years.

Matt’s wife, Tracy, works as an administrative assistant for Independent School District 196. Matt and Tracy have been married 27 years. They have two adult sons, Connor, 25, an assistant project manager for Diversified Construction in St. Louis Park, and Noah, 22, a senior majoring in marketing and business at North Dakota State University. Matt and Tracy Simpson reside in Eagan, Minnesota.

When he’s not working or spending time with his family, Matt dedicates his experience and energy to coaching. He has been a community youth and high school lacrosse coach at Eagan High School for 22 years.

“As a coach and former player, I welcome the opportunity to see young athletes develop their knowledge and skills playing the game of lacrosse,” he said. “More importantly, watching them learn what respect and sportsmanship means is truly rewarding to me. Beyond the skill development the players realize, I am able to see the transformation toward maturity in these young men.”

SPFD gallery

More about ASAP

Adult Success through Accelerated Pathways, or ASAP, promotes Inver Hills programs that are the most flexible and convenient for nontraditional adult learners. Whether you’re looking to transfer to a four-year intuition or complete a college degree for a career change or promotion, you will have the opportunity to earn an associate degree at an accelerated, flexible and independent pace.

You can also potentially receive college credit for the knowledge and skills you’ve gained through your work and life experiences. ASAP uses Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) and other credit for prior learning tools to match your know-how with college courses, saving you money as well as time in the classroom. Learn more…

Matt Simpson Q & A

Matt Simpson
Matt Simpson

Why did you choose firefighting and EMS as your career field?
Growing up, I gained an early fascination with fire engines as most young kids do; the lights, sirens, the firefighters performing, what I perceived at a very young age, to be the coolest job ever! As I grew older and the interest—along with the growing idea and sense of what it meant to actually become a firefighter—didn’t fade, I knew that it was a career that I would pursue and help people when they needed it the most.

Becoming a firefighter/paramedic has undoubtedly superseded my expectations as the most rewarding profession. Fighting fires, bringing new life into the world, and working diligently to resuscitate those who have suffered the fate of cardiac arrest or trauma has challenged my abilities and, more importantly, taught me about life in ways I could never have imagined. This career is unique and I have had the opportunity to do and see things most people will only read about.

What advice would you give adults starting or returning to college later in life?
Don’t just think about it, get in there and do it! Speak with an advisor, jump in with both feet and know that you can do anything you set your mind to. I will say, the first step is not the easiest and, in fact, it is a bit scary, but it is the best step you will take.

Enjoy the people, participate in the discussion, and realize that everyone taking the courses with you is there for the same reasons…to learn, to listen, and gain opportunity.

Three words that describe you as a firefighting and EMS professional:

Honesty is a quality that my fellow firefighters and those I took an oath to protect deserve. It represents ethical principle, trust, and integrity.

Fairness, also a reasonable expectation for those I work with and serve, is provided throughout all that I do in life and career. In providing fairness consistently, reliability, direction, and guidance are often trusted and sought out when a situation dictates.

Predictability provides a sense of comfort, trust and stability for those I work with. It affords me an opening to be approachable and work through most scenarios that are in need of a resolve with expected evenness.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Time; the limited number of hours in a given day are and always will be the most challenging aspect of my job. Supporting internal and external customer needs, special events, training needs and requirements, along with a variety of emergencies that demand time, provides challenges to even a well-managed and organized calendar/schedule.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is working with a group of men and women who respond, assist, provide care, and risk their personal safety to assure the residents of Saint Paul are safe 24/7. This is a committed and focused group of firefighters.

Why should Inver Hills alumni stay engaged with the college?
Alumni are the spokespeople for education and personal development success stories of the college. They can and should be instrumental with inspiring the next incoming IHCC student and recruiting future members of the Alumni Association.

What person has influenced you the most in life?
I would say—as it relates to my job—it would be my first fire captain in the fire academy. He was disciplined, direct, organized, and held high expectations for our fire academy success. It was his undeniable desire and belief in our ability to achieve success that made me (us) believe in myself. Pushing myself to meet and exceed expectations in all that I do, so as not to fail myself or anyone that is reliant upon me, is what drives me each and every day.

Learn more about ASAP at Inver Hills by contacting:

Jenna Baumgard
Admissions Advisor

Learn more about earning an Associate of Arts (A.A.) at Inver Hills by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

Learn more about the Alumni Connection at Inver Hills by contacting:

Michelle Boe
Executive Director of Foundations & Community Relations

Kimberly Shaff
Foundation Development Director

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