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Alum, former staff member learned about life at Northeast

A Northeast alumnus who has frequently seen firsthand the devastation a fire can cause has joined a company that helps victims recover after fires and other disasters.

Doug Dekker, who earned his associate of arts degree in criminal justice at Northeast in 1981, was recently named the director of emergency services for 1-800-BoardUp-Omaha Metro, a company that provides inspection, security and restorative services after a fire or other disaster.

“This will be the first time in my life that I will be working in the private sector,” Dekker said. “All of my previous careers have been with government agencies of some kind.”

“One thing I am most excited about,” Dekker said, “is the fact that BoardUp was started by firefighters who wanted to continue to give back to the fire department and their communities after they left the career of firefighting.”

Before joining 1-800-BoardUp, Dekker was a Norfolk city police officer, Norfolk firefighter/paramedic, Northeast Community College instructor and director of the college EMS and paramedic programs. He then worked with Simulation in Motion (SIM) in Nebraska and briefly for SIM-Iowa.

SIM was originally funded by the Helmsley Trust in five upper Midwest states.

“Each of the 45-foot trucks is equipped the same,” Dekker said. “There is an ER simulation in the front and an ambulance set up in the back. In the middle is the control room.”

The trucks predominantly visit EMS/ambulance services and emergency rooms in rural areas, delivering training for staff in handling the situations they might encounter at an accident, in a fire or during other medical emergencies.

Dekker served as assistant manager of SIM-NE for two years and as manager for five years. Last June, he was hired by the University of Iowa as the western region coordinator for SIM-IA. He was based in Sioux City and found the separation from his home and family to be less than ideal.

“My work life balance was just tilted in the wrong direction,” he said. “I thought and prayed over the matter and made the decision to look for work closer to our home in Papillion. With BoardUp, I’ll be working with first responders and victims of fire and other disasters, doing my best to help out in times of crisis.”

Through several career shifts, Dekker said he has relied on what he learned at Northeast about life, people and relationships. “When I started working at Northeast as the director of the paramedic program,” he said, “I told students they were coming there to get an education, but it was also a time to learn about life.”

Dekker said his instructors at Northeast had real-life experience. “They told us what to do as a law enforcement officer,” he said, “but also what it was like to live the life of a law enforcement officer.”

“Being part of student life was great,” Dekker said of his time on the Northeast campus in the early 1980s. He is a native of Lyons with about 30 students in a high school class at that time. “Northeast had a wider variety of people to associate with, to be friends with, to establish relationships with.”

“The relationships and life lessons I learned at Northeast have stuck with me until today,” Dekker said. “I had friends in high school, but my best friends are from college. I learned what it’s like to live on your own, how to find your first apartment, pay bills and all of those things. It was a well-rounded education.”

Dekker’s first job out of college was as a Norfolk city police officer. He was hired a month before graduation and served with the police division for 13 years, working his way through the ranks to become a detective. At the same time, Dekker was a member of the Norfolk Fire Reserve, and he returned to Northeast for paramedic training. An arson investigation further piqued his interest in firefighting, so he joined the fire department, where he served for 18 years.

“Every little kid’s dream is to be either a cop or a fireman,” he said. “I was lucky enough to do both.”

As a firefighter, Dekker taught classes at Northeast.

“It sparked my love of teaching,” he said.

He also served as the interim director of the college EMT and paramedic program while still a full-time firefighter.

Arthritis and the need for a hip replacement forced Dekker to consider another career change, and in 2012, he became the full-time director of EMS and paramedic programs at Northeast.

“I needed a bachelor’s degree when the paramedic program moved to being accredited,” Dekker said, “and I was able to take some general education requirements at Northeast for that. Thirty-plus years after earning my criminal justice degree, I found myself back in the same classrooms I was in as a student, maybe even in the same desks, in classes with recent high school graduates.”

Dekker earned his bachelor’s degree in emergency health sciences through the University of Texas Health and Science Center San Antonio.

It was during the four years he worked full time at Northeast that Dekker said he really learned about the importance of relationships.

“EMS and the registrar’s office don’t fit together well,” he said. “Our classes went across semesters. There’s a lot of farmers involved in EMS training, and they want to take the training from October, after harvest, and be done by calving and planting in the spring. I worked with then-registrar Kathy Stover to make that work for the students and the college. I traipsed up and down the hill between my office and the registrar’s office in sun, rain, wind, snow — like the postman — just to get things worked out.”

“That’s probably the most important thing I learned from working at Northeast, relationship building and how to do that the right way,” he said. “I learned how to work outside the box and make that work for the customer.”

“My advice for current and future Northeast students,” Dekker said, “is to spend time in class and studying, but also go to the student center, be in clubs and intramurals, get the whole experience of college life.”

Northeast is a family tradition for the Dekker family. Dekker’s wife, Cheryl, is also a graduate of the Northeast criminal justice program. She has worked for the Norfolk Police Division and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The couple’s oldest son, Joe, earned an associate of applied science degree in paramedic in 2006. Their youngest son, Michael, earned an associate of arts in music performance in 2012 and an AAS in paramedic in 2014. Their middle son, Chris, attended South Dakota State University to study wildlife and fisheries science.

In addition to following their parents’ educational footsteps by attending Northeast, the Dekkers’ three sons all have followed in their parents’ career footsteps. Two of Dekker’s sons served on the Norfolk Fire Reserves before becoming a career firefighter/paramedics. His oldest son, Joe, is with the Omaha Fire Department, and his youngest, Michael, is a firefighter/paramedic in Grand Island.

While still a first responder, Dekker’s middle son, Chris, took a slightly different path and is a wildlife conservation officer for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. He also spent time as a volunteer firefighter in Moscow, Idaho, while pursuing his master’s degree.

In addition to their three sons and daughters-in-law, the Dekkers have six grandchildren.