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Qualifications. Training. Education. These are all words that are spoken frequently in the fire service. In my experience, it is typically lip service and when real teeth are put into a policy or guideline for promotions, pre-employment, or to maintain a level of proficiency, they suddenly become a cliché and no longer a mission.
I recently had a friend, who is not in the fire service, ask me about the classes that I take. He wanted to know if my employer required me to take these classes. His curiousness led us to the differences between paramedics/EMTs and firefighters in regards to continuing education units for re-licensure for medical folks and the lack of such CEUs for firefighters. He was sure that we had strict requirements for our people, especially those in leadership positions and was surprised and a little taken back by my answer.
It was explained that a paramedic and EMT must complete a set number of CEUs in a specific number of years in order to re-license. Firefighters on the other hand have no such requirements. Typically there is an academy that is usually from 10-13 weeks and then that is it. You get a certification from the state, but there are no ongoing requirements. You could literally never take another class and finish your career in a recliner.
Additionally, there are no educational requirements for those who lead our troops. Some organizations may have promotional requirements, but for many there are none or very little. There are very few that make their officers take classes after being promoted in order to stay current and motivated.
I have some issues with this personally and professionally. How can we claim to be a profession of the best when we set the bar so low? I understand that some departments have small budgets and few resources. But, I have seen these same organizations with some of the most stringent requirements for their officers in comparison with many career departments.
There needs to be an effort to create a curriculum that would establish minimum requirements for continuing education for firefighters and officers at all levels. It would be required to meet these requirements to keep your rank and to stay actively employed. Obviously this would be a huge undertaking and would meet resistance from many fronts.
If we, as fire service professionals, want to be considered professionals, we must adopt an attitude that is consistent with being such. Not just acting appropriately, but training and getting educated in our field. And, let’s face it, our field is no longer just putting out fires. We are faced with increased responsibilities every time we turn around.
This fall I had the opportunity to interview Chief Vincent Dunn of FDNY. I asked what he thought one of the biggest challenges for the fire service is? He responded that educating our people, especially our officers, is paramount. The days of gaining experience for what we do are gone because we don’t run the volume of those calls like we have in the past. We still gain experience, but he believes that we must get education and training in the things that we are not as familiar with, especially building construction, special rescue, haz mat and fire control.
Let’s take our future seriously and push education and training to the front. I believe that it will create a safer fire service and will create more credibility for what we do and who we are. We owe it to our future firefighters and fire service leaders to get it right now, to make it better for tomorrow.

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Jason,

I don't know about where you're at but in the southeast I've seen and improvement in training/education by leaps and bounds over the past 15 years. As an example, 12 years ago you could look for an administrative officer position and be successful with a high school diploma or an Associates level degree. Now I don't think you could even consider an administrative job unless you've got a BS or BA. In addition, 12 years ago my department and the surrounding departments would get together for fire related training every third month. Now we get together every month for mutual department training and have three other mandatory fire training sessions in house. This isn't just the county that I work for either. I've talked with professional firefighters all over Florida who say essentially the same thing. I think that's an improvement....don't you?

I agree with what you've said.......we need to have mandatory continuing education regarding firefighting to increase our level of professionalism and prevent skills degradation. It is sad that I'm required to take X amount of hours per year to maintain my paramedic certification but the only requirement for my firefighting certification is that I'm employed! The way I see it the department is accountable for training/educating the firefighters. There could be individual state changes making continuing education mandatory but I don't see it happening in every state.....especially in the current economic condition! My opinion.

Jason
Jason,

My experience has been very similar. Before entering the fire service I did all I could to get hired. Fire Science Degree, EMT Certification, Volunteer and Student programs, and taking all the tests I could. It was very competetive. Finally after years of trying I was hired by a large department with a great reputation. The initial feeling was like I got drafted to the pros and was heading for the big time.

Recruit school came first. Weeks of classes, training, drills, policies and proceedures, EMS and rescue. We were graded weekly by the instructors. The expectations were set and the line was towed. After recruit school, we were assigned out to the company with a probationary binder outlining our monthly studies and requirements as well as the drills we were required to complete and show competency. This was to be completed as well as writting up daily summaries that were commented and signed by the Company Officer.

How well were you trained? That was a combination of your own motivation, your company officer and crew, and how busy your station was. That was it!

At the end of your probationary year, you peeled the numbers off your helmet (that is how everyone knew that you were a recruit) and from then on it didn't matter if you were a 1 year or a 30 year veteran. The work schedule didn't seem to help. Working 24 hour shifts is great, I mean it can be the absolute best. But, on the other hand working 24 hour shifts 2-4 days a week, left lots of time to do other stuff. I realized that continuing education became a personal endeavor. The department at that time didn't seem to put much stock in company drills and training and it seemed to be lip service or an empty paper trail.

I pleased to say that our department has come a long way in the last 20 years. These days it seems like we are conducting department wide training for everything; EMS, Operation Skills Enhancement, Rescue Training (HazMat, ConSpace, Rope Rescue, Marine), Asbestos, Infectious Diseases, Software Applications, Light Rail or Rail Car Training, Tunnel Rescue, you name it and it seems that we are doing it. To the point that it seems like almost every month you are going to another training class to meet another requirement or because we have grant money to do it. I am thankful that the department has made training a greater priority for the sake of the membership but I don't know if we are providing the best or most important training possible.

Several issues still remain: We have no formal officer training program (Recently our Local Union put together a promotional program for members who are seeking to get promoted), there are not any career advancement or proficiency programs and members are left to do all the work on there own. We do not seem to recognize individual or company achievements except for member longevity. In addition, I feel that the department has not done a very good job tapping into the knowledge and experience of it's seasoned veterans and that knowledge is lost with each retirement and that increases the possibility of another fire fighter fatality in the future.

Having been in the department for a long time and having taken a personal interest in many different facets of the fire department (CPR training, CISM, Wildland Fire Fighting, Public Education, EMS, Specialty Teams - Marine/Con Space and being involved in training), but non of these functions have gotten me promoted or prepared me to be a company officer. As a matter of fact I could have been promoted if I had just studied harder. (I don't want to get into my frustrations about our promotional process, except to say that if you you can get promoted if you score well on the written and oral test, no other experience required or needed.)

My feeling is that a department has a huge responsibility for taking care of employee moral and it's reputation. These are often built upon the leadership of a department. I also feel that if a department made the training and advancement of it's leadership a priority, there would be fewer issues at the company level and more time could be devoted to serving the public. The department would function more uniformly and the members could confidently embrace their role in the fire service.

Just my thoughts.

Koll Andersen
Seattle
As simply as I can put it the answer lies in Dedication, Devotion and Hunger for knowledge and understanding. Starting at the beginning of ones introduction to the fire service and the examples set by those all ready here and those gone. If you loose these important things then you and your department are sliding a slippery slope. It’s a sad day when we have to resort to tracking of CE hours to ensure that a FF or officer is qualified. These should be made apparent by the drills, training and performance on calls that everyone sees. We know who the slugs are, we know who the senior member is who has skated through their career dodging drills and busy assignments, and that member pukes their "knowledge" onto new folks poisoning them. We see the fast tracking promoting people floating like jellyfish in the various currents of the administrative/political ocean climbing on and over the backs of those Brothers and Sisters to get where the want to. Please. Please. Please stop it now. So many of the problems in today’s fire service is a direct result in many of us forgetting to put our arm out, raising a thumb, reaching around our backs and feeling that bumpy thing that is back there…. It’s our backbone, our spine how soon we forget we have one. Degrees and CE hours are a cop out. Take the time and come up with the classes, time on, time in position, and what ever other relevant tasks and performance based objectives you want to make your own in house “Degree” Have people develop relevant programs that are needed, write real grants, real budgets ect. Stop playing make believe with policy, budget and personnel issues do it all for real and then evaluate it. We play make believe enough with fire training which is necessary. Today’s information rich and video rich internet provides us with real incidents, and the occasional trip to the old sand box simulator is what we have in place of experience, though no substitute it what we got. Sorry to ramble on……. We are passing the buck more and more. It’s not my fault….. It’s not my responsibility……. Blah…Blah….Blah….. What a strange concept to have people in our industry really take strive to become masters of our trade and not just lip service. Yea I know it’s a pipe dream and I know there are those out there who do and who are I know…. But really how many. Go through the personal in your district or department and write back with the percentage of those who really strive and I mean really….. My guess 10%-20%.

Again sorry for rambling
Stay Safe

Ian

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