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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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Amen, Kevin.

You mentioned the live burn standard. A perfect example. While my department struggles with a lot of the afore mentioned b*******, I can say that when we set out to perform live burns, in aquired structures, the department let the most "qualified" officers run the show, plan it according to the standard and held it to the standard. No certs were issued for performance, but no one was hurt either. I'm grateful to my Chief for trusting us to do the right thing. That first one went really well and became a model for seven more structures.
To me, the qualification allows you to meet the standard, and go beyond it. The Certification merely means you took a course. I think the truth is that your qualifications can only be verified by your peers.
Smoke Daddy
I have seen Certified firefighters that could tell you the advantages and disadvantages between a smooth bore and a fog nozzle, but given the two nozzles they could not tell you which one was a smooth bore and which was a fog. To me if you are a certified firefighter you can quote the text about why and how to vent a house but you can’t safely vent a house. The certified firefighter would be too worried about the proper angel of the ladder and what depth to set the gage on the saw that he or she would fail to see the sagging roof line. A qualified firefighter may not be able to tell you what the book says about venting a house but he or she can tell you that you will only have about five minuets to get it cut and get off.
Here is what it all boils down to; Certification is a way you can test mass amounts of people on a level playing field. Think of it as paint by number coloring book. Follow the numbers and stay inside the lines and you will paint a firefighter. It does not matter who the artist is, you will paint a firefighter. One that has to have lines and numbers but he/she is a firefighter. Qualification isn’t so easily tested. A qualified firefighter has no set lines and no set colors, only an end result. In this case to paint a firefighter he/she uses abstract colors while using what they have learned in their past from watching others work and things they talked about with their peers over a beer or two. In the end he/she has painted a firefighter too. Now mass-produce the two paintings. The Certified firefighter is easy copied but you can’t even make one copy of the qualified firefighter because it is so unique. Now try selling the two paintings. The only value of the certified firefighter painting is the cost of the paint, However; the value of the qualified firefighter painting is not measured on cost alone, but the time, effort, and determination it took to mold that painting.
We will always have the politicians that like all the pretty papers that say what we can do. So it is up to us to make sure that we as a crew, as a company, as a department, and as a profession do not stay inside the lines. It is up to us to make sure that our Certified rookies become Qualified firefighters that will teach the next generation how to be FIREMEN.
Wow! Amen-Amen-Amen, Rhudy I don't think anyone can top that. I think this would be a great opening monolog for any officer training program. Great post!
While reading this thread I felt compelled to write something. With regards to “Certification” let’s not confuse the term with attending a training class and getting a sheet of paper stating you attended the class. A certification is document of accomplishment and recognition that usually means the holder meets a professional standard. The term “Qualified” most often means that the individual meets and demonstrates the abilities to perform at a position or task.

Personally, I’m certified and qualified for what duties I am expected to do. I would much rather have a qualified individual then a certified one who is not qualified. Obtaining a combination of both is a standard each professional should strive for. In a system where being a professional is not required or desired, being qualified is a must because a hazardous situation does not care what you are certified or qualified but to get through it safely one must be qualified…..JMHO
I think both are important. From a legal aspect you have to be certified for the position you hold. While we all know that NFPA are guidelines and not law they do carry weight in a court of law as accepted industry practices and you could be found guilty on civil liability if you were the officer in charge and one of your fireman had a LODD. We live in a lawsuit world unfortunatly and it is what it is.

Obviously qualified or experience means more on the street and is gonna save you 90% of the time.

Make an effort to obtain both and give it your best shot is all I can say.
If you are enjoying this exchange you might also enjoy the August Roundtable "Chief Qualifications" pg.42 August Fire Engineering.
Qualified or Certified?

I feel that each one is important, because you have to obtain one to start towards the other. What i mean by this is that in order to ride a rig as a paid firefighter you have to become certified by the state of GA saying that you have met the requriments set fourth. The certifaction part is important because this is where people learn the fundimentals that are needed to start the process of becoming qualified. With the basics now under the belt comes the real world where people are fresh out of school and are sent to their first assigment, the very first call they run the set back watching the actions of the seasoned men & women in the field. When asked the seasoned personnel explain that the way you were taught in the text-book is just a guideline for the task that is placed in front of you. Through trial error , countless traning hours and guiadnece from the seasoned personnel the basics that were taught will evolve and the certified person will become a qualified person.
Brothers and Sisters,
I could not stop myself from adding to this outstanding post. I feel the time invested to get the "paper" needed to get a certification matters but it is just that paper, until the professional invests their time, energy and dedication (as stated several times before and much better than I am doing now) to become qualified.

The issue we all have is that gaining the paper is not enough it is just the beginning. The other eight hundred pound gorilla is how "local" our profession is. A certified officer in rural OK, who through experience and hard work is actually qualified locally, may not be a qualified to be officer in Philly or Dallas and the opposite is just as true.

I struggle everyday with how to be effective in my lobbying efforts for the fire service. I will never stop fighting for more staffing but at the same time I am proud as hell of my brothers and sisters in rural America who step up everyday to answer the call regardless of how many folks can show up. Are they qualified you bet they are, certified maybe or maybe not.

The fire service is a living contradiction and it requires a lot of mental agility to keep our heads wrapped around all our issues nationally and locally. You all blew me away with your insights and understanding of a really complicated topic. Thanks for sharing I get better at doing my job because of your passion.

Brother Dave’s other issues regarding the city of Atlanta and what is going on there needs much more time and study. But at first glance I am not impressed with the local governments disregard for the value and capabilities of the AFD, which have little or nothing to do with the seals or decals on the side of AFD rigs. The capabilities of AFD are found in the dedication and the legacy of values found in the qualified professionals who ride on those rigs. The process of achieving these seals and decals, how it was done and why it was done is what makes these recognitions valuable.

The reactions of the city are like many that we have seen before, so far nothing creative all negatives possibly leading to critical shortcomings. Cuts, layoffs, suspending training, shell games with responses are all common political responses which we know never work and have proven time and again to be difficult to recover from. It will take firemen and firewomen of courage and integrity to stand fast and untie to protect and defend Atlanta the their beloved AFD. Good luck and God Bless Bobby
Brother Rhodes:
First, let me say "Outstanding Mr. Rhudy!!" Preach on, brother, preach on!
This is an awesome topic that has fueled a fire for me personally.

I would like to touch on a couple of issues that, I feel, delineate between certified and qualified firefighters.

First - - administrative expectations.
If the Dept. Administration dumbs down hiring practices and whittles away at recruit level training to meet MINIMUM requirements, they are affirming their belief in the CERTIFICATION process. I have listened to Fire Administrators say that the public only cares how quickly the fire truck shows up, not how many responders arrive or what level of training they may have. These administrators are the first to get bent out of shape because a rookie firefighter failed to deploy a hand line efficiently at fire, despite the fact that recruit training time was cut in half. I believe that the Administrative staff should be good stewards for their colleagues first and the community second. In the end, a department is a reflection of its administration.
Second - - certification testing.
The fire service will spend hundreds of hours training personnel and only a fraction of that time is put toward testing the knowledge, skill and ability of the candidate. Testing models are usually a simplistic, step-by-step process. We might as well hand out flashcards for firefighters to put in their bunker gear. We’ve all said it. . . “do it this way for the TEST, but do it this way in the REAL WORLD”. Heaven forbid that we actually raise the bar and make testing harder and more interactive. Testing should not be a “do this first, then do this second” approach. Testing should be aimed more toward the determination of a candidates understanding of the principles of executing the task, the resources needed and any safety considerations associated with the scenario. This might make it more difficult on the test takers. The excuse is given that "the candidates will eventually begin to suffer from testing fatigue”. I believe the test evaluators are the ones suffering from fatigue. Apathy on the part of a test moderator or evaluator only releases a poorly trained candidate back into the gene pool.
This is why lateral transfer of a firefighter from one agency to another is acceptable for some agencies and looked at with disdain by others. Many agencies feel it’s necessary to put everyone through “their rookie school”, NPQ certified or not! There’s a red flag for you! One states NPQ FF test may be really hard and another’s may be really easy. End result…. You’re still a certified NPQ FF. Shame on NPQ for allowing this to occur!!!

Yes, there is a difference between CERTIFIED and QUALIFIED. It starts with the expectations an administration places on their staff. If these expectations are to train, test and operate to a set of MINIMUM requirements… then we have ourselves a certified “whatever”. . . Not worth the paper it’s written on.
Well, I'm not really sure that I am "Qualified" to respond to this post, -I'm definitely not "Certified"- but I would like to give some "Straight from the horse's mouth" input. I have been an officer for several years and I have been in charge of a Heavy Rescue for a large portion of that time. I have been on many technical rescue calls ranging from high angle rescues to highly technical vehicle extrications. I have been placed in the position of having to deal with the "Certified or Qualified" many times. I can't count the number of times I have rolled out on a call wondering if we were going to be able to successfully control an incident with the personnel the city has placed on my unit. Even as we speak I have been blessed, by my chief, with a highly certified individual who happens to be a really nice guy. Well, after his first training exercise (evaluation) with me it was clear that this kid could not even tie a half hitch, but he does have a piece of paper saying he has been "certified" as a Rope Rescue Technician. You may say that it is my job to job to train these guys up to standard but I will disagree. It is my job to make sure that these trained guys are operating within the guidelines set forth by the department or unit. I have had guys on my truck that did not have any certifications but could out perform some certified guys.

I guess the bottom line is that there are departments, chief officers, station officers and so on that live in the cloud of "It looks good on paper". It has become apparent to me over my career that those people are the ones that "earned" their certification but always knew deep down that they were never "Qualified". Keep pushing Chief Rhodes, there are a few renegades left!

Capt. C. Trapp, Squad 4-A (well, used to be)
(Not George Nour)
I whole heartedly agree!! I would rather have Qualified over Certified. At our dept. we try to have a live burn with members just finishing basic firefighter class asap, even if it is just in a burn tower. This way we can teach them our way of doing things which may differ a little from class and it gives us a chance to evaluate them ourselves. We encourage our members to take HazMat classes but whether they do or not they will receive HazMat training on meeting night. Because we think it is more important to have a basic understanding and be qualified to do certain things than to be ignorant or certified and unqualified.
I can relate very well on the ad hoc special ops teams as a volunteer dept. many of our routine calls turn into the same scenerio who is qualified to do what? Notice I said qualified and not certified. We only allow a new recruit (certified basic interior fierfighter) to enter a structure fire with another member of 5 years experience or more. This ensures at least one "qualified" member on the line.
Well it looks like everyone who wanted to have their say have spoken. To wrap it up I offer this:
Certification can be a useful tool on the way to becoming qualified but it never makes you qualified. Being qualified means that you have practiced, experienced and proven that you are capable at performing or handling tasks or situations in a non sterile environment. But even being qualified doesn’t mean you have mastered the subject but that you can function and be reasonably successful.

Why has certification taken a higher priority in some departments? Simple – it’s easy and cheap. As a fire chief I could send a guy to a 5 day class to become a “certified xyz”. In order to ensure that he is qualified I have to have a structure in place to mentor, continue training and provide opportunities for the individual to perform and gain experience in this area. This is difficult because it requires actual work, time and effort. Certification also protects the chief’s from liability. When it boils down to it certifications don’t really mean a whole lot on the street.

The US Navy SEAL candidates spend 30-31 weeks training and enduring to earn their spot in the 19 weeks of SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). Upon completion of SQT then you get your Trident. Notice it doesn’t say anything about certification. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Thanks for you great comments on this subject and keep working hard to ensure you and your members are qualified. Stay safe and remember, everyday is a training day!

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