Safety & Health: Education and Today's Complex Fire and Emergency Service

Even new fire service members have very little inspiration to attain more education; they simply want to slay the dragon. They don’t realize how important education and professional development are on their own futures and the future of the fire service.

The fire service has traditionally fallen short in this area. Even now, those of us who know the importance of education and professional development have little motivation to tackle this challenge, much less the understanding of how to start.

The need for education and professional development is all too apparent in the complexities of today’s fire service. Advances in technology and computer use alone make the case for developing personnel in these disciplines. These, along with increased scope of services and the liability with decision-making and documentation, make education and professional development a wicked problem facing the fire service.

Whatever your stance, you can and must address this problem in your department now in order to address the changes the fire service is experiencing now and will continue to in the future.

Start with evaluating your promotional requirements. Do you require education? You can refer to the national professional development model and establish your requirements for your officers. There are other models available, but this provides a guideline to follow to combine education and experience on all levels of your organization.

These new requirements don’t need to go into effect immediately; rather, adopt your new requirements with a four- or even six-year window to allow your personnel time to meet these requirements. This allows buy-in and time for personnel to adapt to changes in the promotional processes.

In addition, help them with their journeys towards educational requirements. Tuition reimbursement and even time to attend classes can incentivize individuals as they balance life, work and future requirements. Eliminate some of the issues that get in their way or may have made it difficult on you while you were pursuing higher education. Use your experiences to help them reach a higher level without experiencing the difficulties you faced; isn’t that what it’s all about and the way it should be?

Speaking of promotional requirements, what certifications do you require? Fire officer I/II may provide a solid foundation, but are really just a beginning of development; your department members need additional, real-life training in officer development. Implement a mandatory officer-development academy that personnel must attend before promotions. Make sure it incorporates the requirements of NFPA 1021, but addresses the areas your department needs.

In addition, task books provide a tremendous opportunity to develop personnel; you can assign to members mentors who will guide their journeys and provide another level of development. Use your good officers to create a mold for the future officers of your department.

Why restrict education and officer development to promotional candidates? Develop a training program that delivers officer development opportunities to all levels, from firefighter to fire chief. You can easily incorporate this into an annual training plan and deliver it throughout the year to address the issues that your organization is facing.

Finally, utilize the credentialing process from the Center for Public Safety Excellence for promotion and development of your personnel. Make these designations mean something in your department by either making it a promotional requirement or a reward for individuals’ efforts or simply promote it at all levels of your department.

Education and professional development is a critical issue in the fire service. Regardless of where you are in your career, it should be a priority for you.

If you’re about to retire, promote these elements and prepare the future of the fire service to succeed. If you have time left in your career, take advantage of the opportunities that your department offers.

The education derived from the school of hard knocks may have served past generations, but the fire service is changing. We can define future successes by building upon how the fire service has always operated.

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