The People: Michael McCabe

Firefighter Michael McCabe finds success in service to others.

By Doug McPherson

Publish Date: January 30, 2014

Michael McCabe
Micheal McCabe discovered a “whole world of opportunities” while
pursuing his degree at MSU Denver.

Meet Michael D. McCabe (B.A. communications ’86). The “D” could stand for doer, dedicated, difference-maker — and without a doubt — deserving of MSU Denver’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

McCabe, 61, has been making a difference in the lives of others for more than half a century as a Cub Scout, Civil Air Patrol cadet, and at age 18 as an Air Force emergency action controller in Vietnam.

“I guess I’ve always been interested in serving others,” he says.

When he returned from Southeast Asia, McCabe started pre-med studies at the University of Colorado and worked part time as an emergency medical technician. “That’s when I started thinking I could make a career in street medicine,” McCabe says. “One thing led to another, and I began a career progression in the fire service.”

He says he discovered a “whole world of opportunities” as a firefighter-paramedic, a fire department officer, an arson investigator, an environmental crimes investigator, a public education specialist, and a hazardous materials technician — all while earning his MSU Denver degree.

He has since risen to the highest echelons of emergency services, coordinating professional development for the 1.1 million firefighters across the country as an education program specialist for the National Fire Academy.

“When training and education work together, our communities realize the benefits of resource sharing, reduction of redundancies and a nationally standardized competency-based education,” McCabe explains.

He has been actively building collaboration between state and collegiate fire-training leaders. As a result of his efforts, the National Fire Academy launched a professional development initiative that improves the collegiate experience and post-collegiate competency — a move experts say will save more citizens’ and firefighters’ lives.

“The skills I learned at MSU Denver helped me keep my crews safer and made me a better resource for my fire department and community,” McCabe says. “It also helped me to stay focused on what was most important in my life. While I was a student I was also a single parent and full-time firefighter, so juggling my time and setting priorities became a habit.”

McCabe also shares his experience with the University, working closely with Brian Bagwell (B.S. human services ’92), assistant professor of human services at MSU Denver, to achieve what’s known as the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education recognition certificate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Fire Academy. The recognition allows students to earn a nationally accepted certificate of completion for each standardized course they pass.

“This is a tremendous honor for MSU Denver, and I know that Mike took as much pride in the University obtaining this national recognition as anyone,” Bagwell says. “Mike personifies what it means to put others before yourself and to give with no expectation of getting anything back in return.”

So what’s kept McCabe in the serving-others business all these years?

“I think it’s the personal pride I felt knowing what I’m doing goes beyond my own sphere of existence,” McCabe says. “I believe in not limiting myself to what I experience today. There’s always tomorrow and a new adventure.

“I believe in trying new ideas to affect change and make things better,” he adds. “There really are no bad ideas. There may be some outcomes we didn’t expect or desire, but at least we learned something along the way. Always admit to failure but never give in to it. Find another way and become successful.”

LEARN MORE about MSU Denver’s fire courses in this story.