Our parents try to instill in us as children the importance of education. We all choose different career paths, and some of us end up here in the fire service.
Traditionally the fire service has relatively basic entry requirements: a high school diploma or GED, clean background and possibly some basic fire/EMS classes. This isn't asking much of somebody who'll receive a salary well above minimum wage, attractive benefits, good health insurance and often an above-average retirement plan.
Why then should we, the fire service, require and persuade our members to attend advanced fire-training classes, complete fire-officer training programs or even pursue a college degree?
Most of us understand the need for advanced fire classes and fire-officer training. These classes give us the basic introduction to concepts, terminology and practices that we'll use in our jobs every day. They teach us everything from how to implement motivational techniques and use the latest extrication devices to how to command an emergency incident.
It's easy for us to see the value in these classes and programs; when looking at obtaining a college degree, it isn't always so easy to see the added value. But when you have your college or advanced degree, you constantly find yourself pulling from that set of education when deciding how to lead your company, shift or department.
A college education introduces us to the real world. It gives us credentialing that puts us on a level playing field with other professions. Especially in tough economic times, we must be seen as an equal player at the table by other department heads, mayors and councils.
Understanding how businesses are funded and operate is best learned before we're in a position of leadership and responsibility. Managing the money that's given to us primarily by taxpayers is a tremendous responsibility that we shouldn't take lightly. College courses and degree programs that focus on business management, accounting and public administration will serve any future fire service leader well.
The need for a college degree for promotion should be mandatory and should not be equally weighted with time on the job or seniority.
In addition to a college education, it's important for aspiring leaders to attend fire service-related training, such as the IAFC's Company Officer Leadership Symposium at Fire-Rescue International. This program is designed for current and aspiring company-level officers. The sessions focus on incident operations, leadership, human resources and time management. Most importantly, they allow for great networking. The program helps to develop a well-rounded company officer and helps to lead that individual down the path to becoming a successful chief officer.
The 2-Day Program (formerly State Weekend Program), on-campus and online programs, and the Executive Fire Service program offered by the National Fire Academy allow aspiring and current fire service leaders to network and provide them with additional knowledge to keep in their back pocket. The EFO program is almost a standard requirement for any fire-chief job opening across the country.
Building a culture of continual learning and a commitment to lifelong education will only make the fire service stronger. Don't put off obtaining a college education and beginning a lifelong learning program. Advancing in our careers is only going to get more difficult, as requirements keep increasing and we become a busier society. Stay ahead of those who are coming behind you and try to catch or even pass those in front of you.
Learning today will make us all better leaders tomorrow. The benchmark has been set for us and we need to work on achieving it.