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It seems that there is no shortage of institutions, groups, or individuals which have the best intentions of bringing a higher level of “certification” to the fire service and the individuals within it. Just the other day I received an email inviting me to submit my years of experience, educational background, positions held and accomplishments along with $375.00 and if determined to meet the required level of “certification” I would also receive “certification” in my current position. I would not be required to submit any statements from subordinates or co-workers to attest to whether or not I was qualified, competent and capable of actually doing the job.

Also, in my department the Special Operations component has been reduced an ad-hoc team of dual responders that when needed, will have to assemble themselves from various assignments and station locations to a metamorphosis into a highly effective Special Operations force. To compensate for this shift in strategy we will create a list of all those working who are certified in these areas and build a team as needed. Basically a pick up game of rescue where the rescue assignments will be given out depending on “certification”, I can only imagine the job of coach (incident commander): “O.K. which one of you is a certified rope rescue technician?, O.K. you will tie any knots needed for this operation.”

This shift in emphasis seems to have put unrealistic expectations on individuals who may have just received a “certification” in a particular area, and seems to do the same for an individual who received certification some years ago and has had no practical application of those skills. How in world is a field commander supposed to overcome such administrative misguided interference?

Just recently my department was also “re-accredited” after serving a 1 year probation. This comes just days after a political war between the mayor and council reduced us to 3 and 3 staffing, closed a fire station, closed our heavy rescue and haz mat team, eliminated a battalion command, abolished 100+ FF positions and actually laid-off 37 fire recruits. Meanwhile we have about $100,000 per year to maintain our facilities (33 stations, a training center, and a shop) that span the years from horses, world wars and with only 2 constructed in the past 20 years. In other words they are old and worn out! Our members spend their own money fixing lights, patching roofs, and other endeavors to stabilized some level of comfort for themselves. All for the opportunity to go out and risk their life for the community under a patch and banner that proclaims “certification” (accreditation).

Are we putting to much emphasis on these paper testaments to process or attendance and ignoring the reality of a collapsing structure based on false advertising? Should we be putting more emphasis on results, experience and accomplishment by identifying those who are qualified to function in certain areas and can actually accomplish a mission to a real level of success? Is it healthy for the fire service to bestow a mark of professional acceptance on an organization who has had 2 line of duty deaths in 2 years and made no attempt at fixing the problems cited in the after action reports and in fact has taken an opposite approach. 1 LODD was a result of a Heart Attack – this year the department cut all funding for the Health and Wellness program. The other LODD was a result of burns from a structure fire in which all but 2 responding company officers including the battalion chief were riding out of class in a higher rank with no training. In response we reduced staffing, reduced the training staff and resources.

Qualified or certified which one should we be concerned with?

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Hey Brother:

Geez, I guess you gotta a right to be a lil' chapped. I'm up here in the biggest state, with the least population and we seem to collect all kinds of "certified" types. I too have been certified in a "wad" of different things, most of which were not applicable to my position. I can however, turn to my mentor whom I have worked under for the past 12 years, and my experience, skill and qualifications can be attested to. Am I certified in everything I have to do? NO. Am I expected to share my knowledge to an operational and technical level without the required amount of hours and skills evaluations? Yes. If I fight every battle, we wouldn't be able to function.
I think the key is recognizing limitations presented by the experience and skill level shortfall. For example: I recently had a discussion with my training officer/battalion chief, about the high angle possibilities for our response area and our departments ability to perform. He was playing devil's advocate, and he pointed out our shortfalls. Limited high angle techs, limited experienced ops folks vs. lots of eager hands. I countered with "we have mutual aid available with at least equal training". So we could get started, make our callbacks, call for mutual aid, and probably justify making a rescue. What else can we do? Say "we don't do that" and let the victim hang from a cell tower till he rots? No, even if we don't expect miracles, the public thinks irrational things and not rescuing someone from a hazard in our area isn't a good way to get approval points.
Understand, I don't advocate throwing our lives away to be "heroes" either. But its easy for a columnist in a magazine to say that we shouldn't be doing various things we haven't adequate manpower to do, or funding or whatever. Facing the public, in a small town, when you have failed to "act"can be a devastating experience. Not only for the Chief and the budget but also for the young men and women in the jumpseats.

What is needed is a balance. Send a guy to get certified, then train everyone to the skill level needed. But you have to give them time to do that, the backing to do that and above all, the discipline standard that is required to produce the skill levels needed.

I gotta go, this is a good topic, keep it movin' and hammer it out a bit.
I can understand where you are coming from. My dept just completed a Rope Rescue Operations course this month. The Training Officer was concerned only with the number of certificates received, not the quality of skills learned. I know of at least one firefighter who received his certification without once ever being on rope. Every day we were to rappel, he had an excuse. Yet, in the end, he received his certification.
I am in a small career dept (10 FF/shift on duty,2 Engines/1Truck,1 Shift Commander). While I understand that not everyone wants to be a Rope Rescue Tech(our next planned course), it isn't fair for those who failed to perform all of the skills to receive the same credit as those of us who did. When we get to that call where a rope rescue is needed, he is certified to perform the tasks but not qualified. When you are on duty with only 10 personnel, everyone one like him make that much more work for those of us who have to do the task. Not only that, I can't count on him helping me if an emergency occurs and I need to be rescued.
That is just one example of why I would rather be qualified than certified. Certified (to me) usually means that you received a certificate of some sort regardless of how you performed (usually sat through a class) when qualified means you have the skills and training and abilities to perform the task.
I have a lot of certificates but those alone don't make me qualified for anything. You need the knowledge and abilities that go along WITH the certificates to be truly qualified to do something.
Right on the head Brother. You know it applys as well to things like Company Officer. I know several officers who have been to a one week course in another state, and they are now "certified" as company officers. Yet, in performance, they do not necessarily show an aptitude, or a willingness to learn about handling people, which we both know is 90% of what officers do. It took me a year to get my Company Officer done by correspondence and by taking related courses at the local college I now teach at. My family really had to sacrifice time with Dad in order for me to complete it. I learned the material in that year, and had to apply it at the same time at the firehouse each day. How can you pick all that up in a week at a canned "Certification Course"?
I realize there has to be a Certification process. But why is it that most courses offered today are taught to the test, not to the understanding and adoption of the content?
I teach Building Construction. I tell the students that I am still a student, I'm still learning like they are, I just happen to know how to teach, and I have a head start on them with experience. Together then, we focus on what we can take away from the class, not the final exam and getting "it over with".

Personally, I believe that this quick "7/11 style certificate" crap is going to continue to degrade the service, and will add to the already high cost of life. FTM-PTB-RFB.
It's incredible to me that there are more differences than similarities in how we determine competence across the fire service. In the medical world, certification merely serves to document completion of a specific course of training - it says nothing about qualifications or capability to perform. Credentialing, on the other hand, does vouch for ability or competence. Certification can be a prerequisite to credentialing, but demonstration of successful performance is needed to become credentialed. And (another problem we suffer from in the fire service), there is nothing static about credentials - you use 'em or lose 'em. Perform the task or skill repeatedly over time, or come back in and prove you're still capable to remain credentialed. Somehow we need to institutionalize procedures for documenting who's qualified to do what fire service tasks and move on to figure out how to make this a dynamic process so we have proof that competence persists. I can't see this happening at the national level without some solid department level examples of processes that work. It's up to us to stop living under the guise that "certification" qualifies anyone to do anything. I'm not saying that the medical world has all the answers, or that we should stop sending people for certifications. There's value in both. The time has come to start moving ahead. An extrication tool is an incredibly powerful piece of equipment - it can do a whole lot more damage than an AED. Yet, in most places, any member can operate a cutter or spreader with no qualifications whatsoever. Certification is essential - and so is credentialing. The place to start is with high risk, potentially dangerous, and technically complex tasks. We should be concerned with qualifications and with competence.
I think you have a good point. I also think, (hold on to yer hat), that there is a big difference between the professional mindset of the average Medical Board and the typical small town fire chief and town council or (AHJ). I think it must be a difficult thing to embrace this kind of credentialing when it may cause you to ask the question: "What credentials do I have, and why do I need them?" It must be hard, or we would see it happen more often.
I have seen some very professional officers. I have also seen some Chief officers that are where they are because of who they know. They are politicians. I'm just saying its hard to embrace such a system when it exposes your lack of qualifications. Across America, all kinds of departments are run by fire officers who, no matter their merit or experience and skill, do not appreciate the value of such processes.

I guess what I'm driving at is that a chief officer or AHJ has to recognize the value in such a process in order for it to take off. In order for them to recognize that, they have to admit that the "certification" system is inadequate. At a time when volunteer departments are struggling to keep numbers of trained people up, how can that change in thinking be made across the board?

Lets admit it, what used to pass for good enough; going down to the local vollies and spending the night, catching your first fire and learning on the run is no longer accepted. But there are lots of fire officers who learned that way. Its hard to be told your background was wrong and inadequate. Hell, some are still working on explaining to their people why they need to eliminate alcohol from the firehouse.
hi dave
i have been saying 4 a long time that the people who come up with the standards and certifications have not been to a fire in decades. It's the same with teachers and the people who direct the curriculum -- haven't been in the classroom in 20 yrs, but like the fire service people-- they profess to know what is best for us and how to do our jobs
While I think certifications are important in certain aspects, qualifications are more important in DOING THE JOB. These qualifiiactions should be set in policy as to what is to be performed, how, and why. And personnel should have to re-qualify every year
As an example -- just b/c a FF took a clasroom course on pump operations gives him a certification as a pump operator, but by no means qualifies him as a pump operator -- that is a department issue
In NJ, we have certifications for such things as fire instructor and inspector. There are many "certified" instructors who never teach but are able to keep their certifications b/c thay can attend every class in creation to get thier CEU's while the slobs actually out in the training academies miss many classes b/c they do not have time to attend -- the state does not recognize time in an academy (which can be documented) as CEU- worthy -- so there are many paper instructors who don't teach and many guys who have lost certification b/c they could not get to a class to re-cert. These guys are then qualified but not certified

There are no re-certs in NJ about being a FF or officer -- way too politically sensitive -- imagine some crusty old guy having to show he can do the job? What are we possibly thinking if we hold people to standards???? The paid guys cry to the unions and the vollies cry to the politicians ( and they are hard enough to get to volunteer!) -- it's a lousy system -- until someone is killed -- then everyone starts to point fingers, especially those aforementioned "experts" who wouldn't know a fire if it burned thier a**

Ceritied? Qualified? I like both, but if I had to take one, I would want qualified. Unfortunately the legal aspects of certified creep in so you need to be cert and it is the responsibility of the dept to ensure guys are qualified. If u r an officer and allow your guys not to be qualidffied -- u r the one at the end of the nozzle -- you have to be able to sleep with that. Same thing with chiefs -- it is the dept responsibility to ensure they are worth thier salt

U sound like there needs to be some big fixing down there -- doesn't any politicial or dept head (wannabe politician) heed the mistakes made by those depts who have killed mass numbers? He who ignores the mistakes of others are destined to repeat them.
hopefully someday u will be in a better position to do something about it
stay safe
David, your right on point. A lot of departments across America 2e suffering from this latest trend in the fire service. I can print you a great looking certificate that says you're the greatest in everything. But with no checks and balances we end up placing people out of position causing our members and citizens to be at greater risk. Training firefighter so that they can show they are proficient in the individual aspects of our job should be of greatest concern.
Hello David,
I could not agree with you more! There are alot of people out there who are "certified" but are not "qualified" for the position or the topic they are trying to teach others. I have over 38 years in the fire service. I have been in Haz mat, USAR, ARFF and training officer. It is totally amazing to me some of these speakers have a list of certifications, but have no qualifications (experience) in the subject, and most of those attending the class take the information for fact!. I am not sure where to draw the line. I my years of fire service, experience plays a long way in getting the true picture out to those who want the knowledge.

When I started in the fire service in 1970, to be an instructor, you had to have no less than 20 years experiece. Now days most instructors are in their late 20s or early 30s, have no real qualifiactions but a truck load of certifications!

Good topic!

Take care,
Hey David,

This topic is a part of fire service history as probably the most talked about on a daily basis and will continue till long after we have seen the light of day ! The fire service has become a paper chase, a big transition from the days when firefighting was based strictly on skill and performence in not only the field but also the fire house. We have gone from strict requirements in test taking, physical requirements and that big question, QUALIFIED to be a firefighter, to watered down exams and physicals to get in along with the now infamous CERTIFACATE that says you are something. But the most important word that is missing is "TRAINING" ! "Training" is what makes you "qualified" after you have received your "certificate" that has taught you the basic or advanced skills to peform a specific task or perform/ function in a specific capacity. I cant tell you how much it bothers me to see firefighters, officers and Chiefs in my department who bost certification but have no fireground experience or training hrs to qualify them for their positions. As Mike McEvoy stated, I , as an EMT as well as a firefighter, I must perform my ems skill and maintain 72 hrs of ceu training to maintain my CERTIFICATION that qualifies me to be an EMT , but none to maintain my firefighter ststus. As a Captain in my company, all my members are required to train and maintain a skill level that is required to perform in a high standard for the disciplines we offer. Until we are required nationally to maintain and perform our certified skills and be judged upon our performance, our qualifications will be left up to those firefighters and officers who truely believe in why we are here and that if one link fails, the whole chain fails. In NJ when you pass FF 1, there are no other requirements except yearly BBP/Haz-mat /RTK and SCBA refreshers. Not much when you are asking a person to perform the functions that could be the deciding factor of one going home at the end of a shift / fire . There is money to be made as you stated for officers at the promotional level but more are being held accountable, that is a start ! On Nov. of 07 I wrote this post below on another web and got 2 replys, almost a year later we are still talking about the same thing and makes you wonder, will it ever change?????

Hello Brothers,

Just a curious question on how many of us are tired of reading about losing our brothers and sisters from BULLS*#T inhouse politcs, poor department leadership and standards? It's that time of the year were we are electing or promoting members to leardership roles. Are we still putting in the good old boys because it's their turn, or are we changing the culture by putting in members that have proven there leadership skills through training and their response/hands on education. NOW is the time to make that change before we read about another one,FROM OUR OWN HOUSE! STAY SAFE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

STAY SAFE !! Dennis
I am truely sorry to hear about the sh*t sandwich you guys are eating. "Certified" or "Qualified" doesn't mean anything to me. What I, as a company officer have to know is whether I trust you to be able to do the job. There are guys and gals who could attend the worlds greatest drill school/ fire academy/ training and not pick up a damn thing. On the other hand, we have guys and gals who were told "pick out gear that fits and get on the truck when the bell rings" who do the right thing safely and efficiently all the time. The way you figure out who to trust is to train. Someone who doesn't know what they are doing will balk or fail at training whereas someone who is confident will look forward to the opportunity to "show their stuff." Now, all that being said the AHJ has to figure out some way of making sure that people get the training they need to succeed in the field. It sounds like your issues are bigger than that. In my humble opinion, any fire chief who does not stand up to politicians in the face of staffing cuts, particularly when LODDs are involved is a coward and criminally liable. Unfortunately, I think the fire service as a whole lacks consistency at the chief level even more than we have at the firefighter level. This is because of an overall lack of professionalism whether they are career or volunteer departments. Maybe the fire service needs continuing education or some kind of national standard to force people on the job to be the best possible people. I can hear the moaning now, "If you make it hard our guys won't get the promotion or we won't have enough volunteers!" Well, tough!!! Not everyone should be allowed to be a firefighter or a chief, and if your not dedicated to preparing yourself and others to be in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, do we want to risk other peoples lives by letting you operate in our battle?
Hey Chief,

I've been watching what's going on down there and feel your pain. We've been through the same cycle before and it sucks! All I can say is hang in there and stay safe, it does come back around. Unfortunately for us it took the death of 3 brothers in a flashover before it did.....that was in 1989 and I'm afraid I'll be around to see it happen all over again.

To your question- most certifications don't rate "wiping paper" after a beans and cornbread supper at the station. Certifications are for lawyers, mayors, bean counters and politicians. I'm not foolish enough to say that we shouldn't have a starting point somewhere but there are many classes out there that I've attended and some that I've taught that don't carry anything more than a "good job brother" at the end of the class. They are also the same classes that I've learned the most valueable lessons to keep me alive every shift. I'll take a guy that's opened up 100 roofs and no cert. over the one with a 16 hr. class and his golden cert. badge of "Truckie guru" anyday. When I'm getting roasted on the line I need someone who can perform, not talk about how it should be done.

For my money Qualification= more than all the fancy certifications you can stuff in your pockets. And yes, I've got a bunch of those fancy certs in a folder in my office. When it counts, give me the one with the experience over the paper trail!

Stay safe,
Qual's or Cert's ???

The customer in the wrecked car/collapsed trench/house fire/scaffolding emergency and the firefighters calling the mayday one floor away don't care how many pieces of paper someone has on the wall.

All they want is someone who can actually perform the rescue - whatever combination of brains, strength & grit will get the job done - so they can have another day.

Certifications should denote qualifications (at that point in time - we all know about perishable skills.)

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