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.