Sometimes, doors open when you least expect them.
That’s exactly what happened to Maurice Kemp. Initially, he registered at Miami Dade College to study Respiratory Therapy. Last June, Kemp, 51, of Pembroke Pines, became Miami’s first African-American fire chief.
His alma mater recently honored his contribution by inducting him into the Miami Dade College Alumni Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place April 22 at the Hilton Miami Downtown.
A member of the Miami Edison Senior High Class of 1977, Kemp grew up in Miami. He had already earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Allen University when he enrolled at Miami Dade College.
His earlier attempt to get into dentistry school failed. Looking for new leads, he opened up the newspaper and saw an ad calling for respiratory therapists. He took a part-time position at South Miami Hospital, where he received on-the-job training and took classes on the side.
At Miami Dade, he said, “The training was job related. It was the best you could find anywhere.”
He found that the things he learned in the classroom translated easily into the real world. It was what he called a “seamless transition.” As part of the requirements for his Associate of Science degree in Respiratory Therapy, he had to experience how emergency therapy would happen in the streets.
For that aspect of his education, he went into the field with Miami Fire Rescue squads. Later, he went on to gain another associate’s degree from Miami Dade College for training as a paramedic. Soon after, he took the exam to become a firefighter. The rest, as they say, is history.
His colleagues did not hold back expressing their high regard for him. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado saluted him.
“Chief Kemp's appointment as fire chief speaks volumes about our amazing city,” Regalado said. “It shows that hard work and initiative will carry you far. His induction into the Miami Dade College Hall of Fame is a testimony to the fine educational institutions we have in Miami. It's an honor that is well deserved."
As his honored guests at the gala, he invited his wife, Mrs. Valerie Kemp, and his mother, Mrs. Mary Kemp. The senior Mrs. Kemp, delighted in the event, said, “I enjoyed it very much. I’m proud of him.”
As a child, she said, Kemp always made good grades and was respectful.
When describing her son as an adult, she said, “They don’t stray too far away when they start out like that.”
Deputy Fire Chief Freddy Fernandez said he is inspired by Chief Kemp’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
“Growing up in Miami, going to Miami Dade College, it’s very rewarding to be in the same shoes as him,” Fernandez said. “He’s somebody that grew up locally and knows the community. We are all proud and honored by his induction.”
Usually, the department spokesman issues a statement on behalf of Miami Fire-Rescue. But this time, Lt. Ignatius Carroll, Jr. spoke from the heart.
“He’s come a long way up the ranks from firefighter to fire chief,” said Carroll, who remembered seeing Kemp on fire trucks when Carroll was in high school. “He serves as a role model for the younger firefighters. I am proud of him as someone who works under him and as a friend.”
Eventually, Carroll worked under Kemp at Fire Station Number 12. He said that as a young African-American male, he appreciated having someone he could look up to and go to for advice.
“He was very influential in giving me guidance to advance,” Carroll said. “Now, my next goal is captain.”
Kemp is also the program chief and task force leader for the city of Miami’s Urban Search and Rescue team. The team has traveled to help at different disaster sites since 9/11, including going to Haiti after the recent earthquake, an experience he called, “very moving and humbling.”
Glenn Kaufhold, executive director and CEO of the Miami Dade College Foundation, which sponsored the Alumni Hall of Fame event, said, “Fire Chief Kemp is an extraordinary man who has thrived in his respective profession through talent and perseverance.”
He continued: “Current and future generations of Miami Dade College students will truly emulate Chief Kemp, as well as all of our Hall of Fame honorees with the hope that their resolve may one day be rewarded.”
Photo: Miami Fire Chief Maurice Kemp
THE MORE YOU KNOW
According to Time magazine, Miami Dade College has an enrollment of 170,000 students, and now offers honors programs and four-year degrees. The school enrolls and graduates more minorities than any other college in the country, the magazine reported.