Lake Technical College graduate Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith shares how career & technical education shaped his life
City of Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith has spent a lifelong career in public safety and service to the community. Chief Keith graduated from the third Paramedic class ever run at Lake Technical College in 1983. Even after almost 40 years he remembers his lead instructor and experience fondly. Then, Lake Tech was known as the Lake County Area Vocational-Technical Center, but has since come a long way in state of the art career-technical and workforce training.
Keith became a firefighter in 1976 in the United States Air Force. “I always wanted to be a firefighter but didn’t know how to go about doing that and didn’t know any firefighters. Somehow I put fire service and the Air Force together and entered the Air Force to become a firefighter,” stated Chief Keith. He served four years in the Air Force and took classes during that time at Miami Dade Community College, also becoming an EMT before moving back to the Central Florida area. He worked in various places enhancing his skills to include the South Lake Ambulance Service in Clermont, City of Leesburg Fire Department, and in 1981 he joined the Reedy Creek Improvement District Fire Department. He soon realized where para medicine was going and knew he wanted to be a Paramedic as well.
When asked why he chose career and technical education at that time in his life rather than the traditional academic college route, he stated, “I was not college material. I didn’t know a lot about college life, but I did know the Keith’s were workers and worked with our hands. I knew I was going to work, but also knew I wanted to be a firefighter.” Later though, he learned in order to be promoted in the fire service, advanced education was necessary. He earned his Associates Degree from Valencia Community College and then obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Professional Management through Nova Southeastern.
Chief Keith’s career spans almost 47 years and as he is inching closer to retirement, he remains proud of his career and service. Keith shared, “To still be healthy and able to serve in the fire service means the world to me. Lake Tech has played an important part in my career, and the fire service in general with all it has provided my family and me. On top of that, to be able to finish my career now serving as Chairman of the Board for Lake Technical College and representing public safety and fire service is full circle.”
“Lake Technical College’s motto is Career in a year, I know about colleges and four year degrees, and I know it plays an important part in the world, but traditional colleges are not for everybody. I struggled in school with traditional academics that lacked hand-on experience and therefore had no inclination to continue that further after my secondary education. I just knew I wanted to go to work and for me that was fire service. Not everyone needs to go to college to feel valued. It’s ok to go into the workforce and decide what works best for you as an individual,” stated Keith.