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Certificates or Experience? Which is more important to you?

Recently in our state there has been a lot of discussion about setting a state wide standard for "interior firefighters".  Until now the Authority Having Jurisdiction ( normally the Chief)  has officially had the responsibility of "Certifying" someone to be an interior firefighter.  The expectation is that if this happens then the standard will be Firefighter 1.  (A little more background)  The state has only used the FF1, FF2 curriculum for the past 6 years or so; before then the state had its own curriculum which covered the same material but was not IFSTA certified.  When the state fire academy changed over to IFSTA then it offered challenge tests for those through the old classes to challenge and become FF1 or FF2.  But it also stated that there was no real need to challenge as your current certification as Interior Firefighter would be grandfathered.  Since the state the fire academy has changed everyone transcripts to show that if they were grandfathered then they are now OSHA level certified which is currently the minimum standard for an interior firefighter. ( OSHA FF is 90 hour course, FF1 is 40 hours not including HazMat Operations- 24 hrs. and Flammable liquids and gases 6 hrs.)
I know many firefighters that are now considered only OSHA level however they have had 10-20 years of firefighting experience, they of course resist taking a basic firefighter course over again just to meet a mandate.  Meanwhile I have worked alongside some recent Firefighter 1's and 2's that think that every fire is going to be the same as the ones they experienced in the burn tower at the training grounds.  This is a dangerous trend, I think we must put more emphasis on experience than certificates and we must go back to treating the fire service as an apprenticeship.  You cannot learn to fight fire out of a book!

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I think I am on the other side of the coin being the young up and comer in the fire service but, I have a few ideas on this topic. While I will be the first to say that I approve of the sit down, shut up, and pay attention to the old timers attitude as that was my indoctrination into firefighting, I have to say Certs go a long way also. In todays fire service those of us that are still young have not seen the big fires of the old timers. The only way I know that the guy that I am dragging the hose into an inferno with has any clue as to open a bail or not steam burn the possible entrapped victim, or even find his/her way around a fire is to know s/he has been trained. I have far more time, in my albeit short career in the fire service, fighting fire in a class A burn building than any structure but thats where we get our experience now. Fires are hotter, smokier, and construction is cheaper, more flimsy then ever now days and we still have people fighting sprinklers. A minimum of FF1 is in my opinion the least of a cert that one should have to go interior. Anyone can challenge the test (at least in the state of PA for the IFSAC and Pro-board certs) and if you're a competent firefighter it should be no challenge. At my company we constantly keep up with the state 75% minimum trained members awards. It shouldn't be a fight of why we shouldn't be certified, but rather why should we fight the certifications?
A CERTIFICATION WITHOUT EXPERIENCE IS USELESS, EXPERIENCE WITHOUT A CERTIFICATION IS USELESS!

Your right, ,you cannot learn to mitigate a fire by text alone...however going to fires does not make you a fireman. I know a lot of guys that have gone to a lot of fires...and they haven't got the "cents" God gave a crowbar when it comes to fire-ground operations / hazard mitigation.

Credentialing (i.e. certifications) is the ONLY way we can provide legal proof of knowledge, and its a must in todays fire service that serves todays "sue happy" public. Just because a guy has 20 years "experience" doesn't make him a good fireman. When you speak of men that have 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years of experience....how do you quantify that? It would be more appropriate to say that Fireman Smith has 30 years of Service...not experience. After all I can quantify service by time (years) but how can we quantify experience? Logically, it can only be quantified by the number of "actions" performed OUTSIDE the training environment.

Today's fire service is more dynamic than ever before, we have less fires today than ever before, we have more responsibility today than ever before, we have more liability today than ever before, we have less manpower today than ever before, etc, etc, etc...

Ron, I can appreciate you desire for an apprenticeship, and believe that it still has its place in the fire service...however not at the expense of mandated training. What is needed is mentors as instructors, and a "brood" as protégé...

Your right you cannot learn to fight (I absolutely hate that word..."fight") fire from a book... but you can't know the enemy without it....
I agree with you Brother . When I started you had to have 150 hrs to be FF1 and 400hrs to be FF2 now all you have to do is study a book and take a written test and a for the most part a joke of a hands on test and you have your FF1 and FF2 with no experience. Dont get me wrong I like the idea of the IFSTA program but I think you need the hours and experience before you test for FF1 and then some more toie on yhe front line before you get your FF2,,,
The problem we are facing in our state is that the state is going mandate what the training level should be, and at the same time they plan to ignore the service time and experience of current firefighters that although this very state trained and certified them as firefighters it plans to require them to take the basic courses over without allowing them to challenge the test ( This is my biggest complaint). Every department has those that have 1 year of experience 20 times in row but do not have 20 years of experience. These people probably could not and should not pass the challenge test, but they should have an opportunity to at least take it. As for the new FF1's this is important training and everyone should be learning this material however fire does not behave the same in a real building as it does at the burn tower. I know that many departments have gotten away from conducting live burn training in acquired structures, we can no longer have them because we cannot get approval from DHEC. But I still believe that this is some of the best training we can give our members, new and old. We must get back to the basics of using tools and equipment not just demonstrating how to use it. Based on some of the recent classes I have witnessed being taught and evaluated in our area, sadly I have no more faith in a FF2 to perform than a basic OSHA level FF. For example in FF1 the students were not required to actually ladder a roof and cut a ventilation h***, only to demonstrate how! Fortunately my dept. had access to house that was due to destroyed and we allowed the class to use it so that they could get some hands on training.
About the Sprinklers, I am not against residential sprinklers, but I do think sometimes we get our priorities out of order, we have commercial buildings and multi-family dwellings in our district that are less than 2 years old and they do not even have sprinklers. And I think that those people that need the sprinklers most are those in lower income areas, mobile home parks and they will still be living in the 20 year old mobile home that is unprotected.


Liam Knox said:
I think I am on the other side of the coin being the young up and comer in the fire service but, I have a few ideas on this topic. While I will be the first to say that I approve of the sit down, shut up, and pay attention to the old timers attitude as that was my indoctrination into firefighting, I have to say Certs go a long way also. In todays fire service those of us that are still young have not seen the big fires of the old timers. The only way I know that the guy that I am dragging the hose into an inferno with has any clue as to open a bail or not steam burn the possible entrapped victim, or even find his/her way around a fire is to know s/he has been trained. I have far more time, in my albeit short career in the fire service, fighting fire in a class A burn building than any structure but thats where we get our experience now. Fires are hotter, smokier, and construction is cheaper, more flimsy then ever now days and we still have people fighting sprinklers. A minimum of FF1 is in my opinion the least of a cert that one should have to go interior. Anyone can challenge the test (at least in the state of PA for the IFSAC and Pro-board certs) and if you're a competent firefighter it should be no challenge. At my company we constantly keep up with the state 75% minimum trained members awards. It shouldn't be a fight of why we shouldn't be certified, but rather why should we fight the certifications?
A question for you Ron: Is the state also going to make the individual pay to take the courses and the test?

I am not against any seasoned firefighter from challenging the test if they are given a one week refresher to help them. If they pass the states test then the state should grandfather them. If the can't pass the test then taking the courses over seems like the most logical thing to do to bring them back up to speed on standards and current fire service trends and issues. When and where I grew up in Southern Pa we had the farmers and the retirees and younger guys and mostly us kids who did the stuff. I took my first FFI in 1985 at the age of 14 and don't remember anyone much older than me being in the class. Not sure how Pa certified before then either.The old guys just knew what needed to be done and did their best from being trained by others before them. It wasn't always right or the way we were taught but the fire finally burned down to our level of training and that means mineral rights sometimes!

Now jump forward 25 years and those old guys are dead or can't go on runs now and the younger guys are now the old farts and we, well me, I am the middle aged seasoned firefighter with many certs and training and yet I continually seek to make myself better.

So my thoughts are if the older members with no certs train and are on top of their game and you and the rest of the certified crew feel competent on their abilities then you should have the Chief go to bat for them to be grandfathered by the state.

Just a what if something were to happen to a civilian or even worse a brother dies because someone wasn't properly trained or certified. So their family decides to sue and if the greedy attorney proves the firefighter(s) have no formal training or were handed a certification they may well eat them and the whole department alive if it goes to court. What I am saying is it's better to CYA and protect your veteran members by helping them train and to gain more knowledge and take a few courses so they can get their certification, than it is to watch them get sued and loose their houses or worse causes the fire comapny to go under because the citizens feel you are unsafe. After all it's the citizens we are here for and well it makes us better firefighters at the same time.

We all know there is street smarts and book smarts and these days we have to be both to survive in a sue happy world.

Just my two cents.

Keep the faith

Brad
There has got to be a combination of both, firefighters need the knowledge provided by the books and classwork, but they also need the hands on real life experience to put them all together. The certification is important, but if a firefighter can't physically perform a left or a right hand search in an unfamiliar structure, or force entry on a door, their ability to do the job safely and efficiently doesn't exist. We are starting to see young firefighters applying to our volunteer department with "Firefighter I Certifications" that they earned on line and then attended a two-week hands on training academy and were given certifications. I'm sorry but two weeks of hands on training does not create a firefighter.
Most of the state would not require the individual to pay for the test or classes however the the fire department would be required to pay. The biggest problem is that there has been no mention of even offering a challenge test again, meaning that those that did not take the challenge test several years ago would have no choice but take the entire course over ( I say take it over because it is basically the same material they took years ago just under a different name).

Brad Hoff said:
A question for you Ron: Is the state also going to make the individual pay to take the courses and the test?

I am not against any seasoned firefighter from challenging the test if they are given a one week refresher to help them. If they pass the states test then the state should grandfather them. If the can't pass the test then taking the courses over seems like the most logical thing to do to bring them back up to speed on standards and current fire service trends and issues. When and where I grew up in Southern Pa we had the farmers and the retirees and younger guys and mostly us kids who did the stuff. I took my first FFI in 1985 at the age of 14 and don't remember anyone much older than me being in the class. Not sure how Pa certified before then either.The old guys just knew what needed to be done and did their best from being trained by others before them. It wasn't always right or the way we were taught but the fire finally burned down to our level of training and that means mineral rights sometimes!

Now jump forward 25 years and those old guys are dead or can't go on runs now and the younger guys are now the old farts and we, well me, I am the middle aged seasoned firefighter with many certs and training and yet I continually seek to make myself better.

So my thoughts are if the older members with no certs train and are on top of their game and you and the rest of the certified crew feel competent on their abilities then you should have the Chief go to bat for them to be grandfathered by the state.

Just a what if something were to happen to a civilian or even worse a brother dies because someone wasn't properly trained or certified. So their family decides to sue and if the greedy attorney proves the firefighter(s) have no formal training or were handed a certification they may well eat them and the whole department alive if it goes to court. What I am saying is it's better to CYA and protect your veteran members by helping them train and to gain more knowledge and take a few courses so they can get their certification, than it is to watch them get sued and loose their houses or worse causes the fire comapny to go under because the citizens feel you are unsafe. After all it's the citizens we are here for and well it makes us better firefighters at the same time.

We all know there is street smarts and book smarts and these days we have to be both to survive in a sue happy world.

Just my two cents.

Keep the faith

Brad
I agree whole heartily with this Ricky. I think I worded things wrong. I have the opportunity to have access to a fire training center for free less the cost of books. I agree experience goes a long way and will always go a long way. I have never personally heard of firefighters taking FF1 online and only having 2 weeks of hands on. Just because they hold a FF1 certificate does not make them great firefighters, nor does the black lunged veteran who has "been doing it that way forever" sometimes. I do believe that FF1 does go a long way to assure the basics are understood though. Issues such as knowing what a right handed search is, what a flashover is, basic fire dynamics, and ultimately how, and when to call a mayday or even the simple task of activating a PASS device are paramount to be known. A FF1 certification says that they meet the standard of the day of the test and hopefully can still meet the standard. I came into fire through EMS and continuing education is a fact of life to me. All firefighters I believe should strive to continue to improve/hone their skills, strategies, and tactics throughout their career and this is a true "Experienced" firefighter. But to reference Mr. Hoff, there are a ton of reasons why we should be certified over the top of learning the basics vs why we should ignore certifications. But, to go back to my original point, I do believe that one should have the opportunity to challenge the test and I personally don't have a stance of having to give 180+ hours of ones life up again for FF1 if they can meet the standard without taking the course, while on the flip side, if you cannot meet the standard it never hurts to take the course again to improve your skills/knowledge to meet the standard.

Ricky Teter said:
There has got to be a combination of both, firefighters need the knowledge provided by the books and classwork, but they also need the hands on real life experience to put them all together. The certification is important, but if a firefighter can't physically perform a left or a right hand search in an unfamiliar structure, or force entry on a door, their ability to do the job safely and efficiently doesn't exist. We are starting to see young firefighters applying to our volunteer department with "Firefighter I Certifications" that they earned on line and then attended a two-week hands on training academy and were given certifications. I'm sorry but two weeks of hands on training does not create a firefighter.
The certification provides a standard measure of the fire fighters knowledge. Notice I did not say abilities. I have seen fire fighters with certificates that didn't know how to operate on a fire ground. I have seen "experience" fire fighters that couldn't pass a certification test. I have also had people tell me of all the "experience" they had fighting fire. I've been on scene and been told how it was a "big" fire but I'm not sure I would consider it to mean the same thing. People have a way of embellishing their experience. They can't embellish certifications, you have them with the certificate or you don't. That is why there is a need for certification.

I also like to explain to people that a classroom teaches you what is "inside the box". One you know the basics then you can think "outside the box" which is sometimes needed on an emergency scene.
Ron Becknell said:
Most of the state would not require the individual to pay for the test or classes however the the fire department would be required to pay. The biggest problem is that there has been no mention of even offering a challenge test again, meaning that those that did not take the challenge test several years ago would have no choice but take the entire course over ( I say take it over because it is basically the same material they took years ago just under a different name).

Sounds like the state is trying to recoup some of their funds spent on getting and meeting the credentials of the company that they got the course from like IFSAC or money they spent in manpower on developing the course cirriculum themselves. Called pass the buck on to the end user...YOU! This will be a red tape battle for sure because 1. Most departments are loosing funding because of budget cuts. 2. Politicians are trying to cut spending and recoup funds wherever and however possible. 3. Fire ACT is loosing funding like crazy and 4. You are going to be hard pressed to get firefighters to pay for something that they shouldn't have to pay for.

Keep the Faith brother and fight a good fight!
I firmly believe that we need to document out training and abilities. That comes with being a professional in any job. Lawyers have to pass the BAR exam, Doc's also have a test, and so on. Why would we be different. The thing that separates firefighters from the rest of professions is the physical requirements that our job entails. Far too often I have been in classes and heard some out of shape loudmouth brag about all of his certs and when you get to know brothers from his or her dept. they roll their eyes and tell you that he or she is an "outstanding" FF. Translation out standing on scene in the front yard doing nothing.

This is not to say that our older members don't have a place in fighting fire. Their experience is invaluable. But we as a group must get away from the politicaly correct BS and demand that if someone is going to go into a fire with us, they can handle it. This is no different from the millitary.

If your job description is going to be interior FF, we as a group of professionals must demand not only does you knowlege of FF be tested, but also your physical ability. We must require that line officers and FF do not become more of a hazard than a help on scenes. Someday I hope we can get as far as mandating continuing education AND hands on skills validation in order to MAINTAIN YOUR CERTS. How many times have we all talked to older members of the fire dept. that talk about how things should be done and they are way out of date. Maintinance of our knowlege and physical ability is paramount. This can be illustrated when responses to large events such as Katrina, or Haiti come into play. We must find common ground for our educational structure and build it so it reflects your experience and skill so we all stay safe and are on the same page.

Bottom line, it dosen't take much to learn about a job. It takes hard work to become proficient and professional in any career, especially firefighting.
Experience that is not balanced with training and knowledge can cut both ways and often can contribute to tactical drift. If we develop unsafe habits that are reinforced with positive outcomes, they become the norm and contribute to greater failures that will culminate with an injury or death. Let me break it down. Experience is the best teacher, but only a fool learns in that school alone. We all learn from our own mistakes, but only the wise learn from others. And when we falter have the courage to recognize it, share it, and learn from it. Balance is the key.
Be Safe,
Frank Ricci

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