"Man in the Mirror"

The great entertainer Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson) said it best: “I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

You may not be changing the world, but you are sending a message of change to your fire department with everything you do or don’t do. Understanding that, are you committed to the lifelong learning that’s needed to maintain the knowledge, skills and abilities required of a chief officer in the 21st-century fire service?

Whether you’re dealing with the statistics needed for the placement of your next fire station, implementing required budget cuts without having to implement service cuts, developing and maintaining federal or state grants, or some other administrative element of the job, all these tasks require chief officers to constantly learn.

And just when you think you’re done, it’s time to learn something new.

Continuing education program offered through professional associations and organizations including:

  • International Association of Fire Chiefs
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • International City/County Management Association
  • International Public Management Association
  • International Association of Emergency Managers
  • Society for Human Resource Management

These groups and others like them offer you the opportunity to constantly broaden your knowledge base and learn new skills. These professional-development opportunities enable you to better operate in a highly competitive public-safety arena.

So often now we hear and talk about the need for chief officer higher education that it almost becomes nothing but noise. Frequently fire service pundits espouse the virtues of chief officers with higher education and their ability to better interact with the suits at city hall.

But is it really that important? Can’t a chief officer just get by with the on-the-job training and in-the-trench experiences they’ve garnered throughout their career? After all we are the fire department and everyone loves the fire department.

Actually, it’s up to you to determine whether it’s important, not someone else. It’s up to you to determine what kind of organization you want to have. However, you must be prepared for the message you’re sending. So again, what kind of message do you want to send to your troops on the need for continuous life-long learning and education?

Obviously higher education is important enough on a national agenda that the National Fire Academy (NFA) has it written into the Executive Fire Officer Program and Managing Fire Office Program.

Both of these programs require college degrees as part of their admission policy.

And in today’s technologically connected world, it’s not as hard to go to school as it has been in the past. Programs from institutions such as Columbia Southern University, Texas A&M-San Antonio, American Military University, the NFA Degrees at a Distance Program (PDF) and a number of other college-level programs can be accessed via the web 24/7/365.

In turn, these programs prepare you for the executive-level challenges that go with being a chief officer. But even if these types of programs don’t interest you, you can still access thousands of classes online that will broaden your overall knowledge of today’s world. TED Talks, Khan Academy and EDX are alternative programs that can help quench your ongoing desire for general knowledge. Who knows, maybe a class or two from Harvard University is what you’re looking for; you can access these too!

During Fire-Rescue International 2016, a variety of professional-development classes will allow you to continue your lifelong journey in fire service education. These classes range from company-officer to executive-officer classes.

And new this year are the TED Talk-type classes delivered in 15–20 minute segments right on the exhibit floor. You can look at fire apparatus and protective clothing, then walk a short distance and sit in a class to pick up snippets on subjects such as firefighter health and wellness, firefighter cancer and crew resource management.

FRI is trying very hard each year to make your educational experience one that better fits your schedule. There shouldn’t be any excuses for not participating in some type of professional development.

So again in the words of the King of Pop, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer … You gotta get it right, while you got the time. You can’t close … your mind!”

Is your mind open to something new?

Scott Kerwood, PhD, CFO, EFO, CFPS, FM, FIFireE, is the fire chief of Hutto (Tex.) Fire Rescue and chair of the Safety, Health & Survival Section board. He has been a member of the IAFC since 1988.

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