Nicholas Bilbrey, a Firefighter III/Paramedic for the City of Winter Haven, admits that he wasn’t the greatest student when he was enrolled at Polk State College in the early 2000s. He has been successful in his 15-year career in the fire service, however, and most recently completed the Leadership Development in Public Administration (LDPA) Program at Polk State Corporate College.
Polk State’s LDPA Program was established in 2020 in partnership with the City of Winter Haven to provide quality professional development and leadership training to employees across departments and disciplines.
Bilbrey addressed the second graduating cohort in May.
“This program has equipped us to face challenges and find solutions to make the City a better place to work and live,” he said.
“This program has equipped us to face challenges and find solutions to make the City a better place to work and live.”
That was Bilbrey’s goal when he joined the Winter Haven Fire Department in 2005.
“Some firefighters don’t want to work where they live. They don’t want to experience the traumatic events that come with this job where they live and will be reminded of it every day,” he explained. “But I thought ‘if the lady from church breaks her ankle, I want to be there to help.’”
And he has been. Bilbrey quickly stepped up to help his department when he was promoted from Firefighter I to Firefighter II within his first year on the job. Traditionally, this is a promotion that takes three to four years, but the department was in need for an engine driver.
Since then, he has had a desire to grow with the department, achieving his paramedic certification and participating in leadership development opportunities.
“I want to progress with the department and see it move forward,” Bilbrey said. “There has been a lot of positive change within our department, and I want to be part of it in any way that I can help.”
The LDPA Program at Polk State Corporate College has provided him with new ways of thinking and problem solving, he added.
Every Tuesday for 20 weeks, Bilbrey and 14 City employees from departments including Parks & Recreation, Utilities, Waste Management, and Police met for leadership development activities.
“It was beneficial to get the exposure to other departments and new people, and to see how they handle issues and what I can take back to my own department,” Bilbrey said.
Major takeaways from the LDPA Program include skills to enhance problem solving and project management, he added.
“Learning about software to help track the management and prioritization of projects is something that has personally benefited me and is something I have brought back to my department,” Bilbrey explained.
“I would recommend Polk State’s LDPA Program to anyone who is looking to enhance their problem solving and project management skills,” he added. “It has been easy for me to take what I have learned in the program and apply it to my job. The program helps people become more structured while also becoming more creative in their approach to solving problems.”
“I would recommend Polk State’s LDPA Program to anyone who is looking to enhance their problem solving and project management skills.”
For Bilbrey, it may also help to solve a problem he experienced when he started at Polk State in the early 2000s.
“Going back and finishing my degree is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but sometimes life gets in the way,” he said. “LDPA Program Coordinator Mary Beth Shapiro is helping me connect with an advisor so that I can look into finishing my degree.”
“I have some anxiety about going back to school,” Bilbrey added, “but the exposure through the LDPA Program has helped.”