As today’s fire service transcends from a vocation to a profession, it’s imperative for fire service leaders to develop the professional competencies they need to lead their organizations into the future. Fire chiefs today are on a comparable level to others in government service who are charged with strategic planning, human resources and complex budgets, including capital improvements and acquisitions. With these expanding responsibilities, it’s crucial fire service leaders become fully engaged in the communities they serve, become certified and credentialed in their craft and embrace a philosophy of lifelong learning.
Today’s fire service is dismantling the paradigms of yesterday and embracing a future that places its leaders on par with their contemporaries. These conclusions were reinforced during Fire-Rescue International 2017. As firefighters, we have tended to plan our career progression in a microcosm and have tended to self-determine the needs of our communities rather than asking what the base civil engineer, mayor and council, or fire board requires. In so doing, how can we realize the expectations of our communities? Fire service leaders are community stakeholders and must fully understand the gamut of their enterprise-wide corporate strategy.
Through this enterprise-wide prism, fire departments can better advocate for needed funding and be better stewards of the funds they receive. This viewpoint becomes more significant as funding continues to diminish and the competition among the different divisions of public service becomes more challenging.
The days of emotionally-driven requirements are over. Today the fire service is a data-driven industry, and to be successful a fire service leader, one must have the knowledge required to compete for resources on a larger, more complex stage. This stage isn’t set only within the confines of their organization, but also extends to fire service within the community as well.
Therefore, fire service leaders need to understand not only their boss’s expectations, but those of the communities they serve. A parochial approach to fire service is a thing of the past. Firefighters must look beyond the confines of their departments toward determining the overarching needs of their communities.
For our fire service leaders to compete on this new stage and to fully grasp these broadminded perspectives requires education and training. Through education and training, our chief officers can catapult their departments to a higher level of service.
In our industry, we attain this primarily through credentialing, so this transformation of the fire service begins with human-capital development.
Fire service leaders are obliged to look to the future to ensure they’re doing all they can to prepare themselves and their subordinates for sustained success. Personal credentialing can help narrow professional gaps by providing fire service leaders the additional knowledge, understanding and credibility expected by organizational leaders.
This isn’t a new concept for public-sector professions where education, credentialing and licensing obligations have been not only a requirement or condition of employment, but an expectation of leadership. Fire service leaders often sit alongside these professions in both public and military settings.
As an example, senior leaders within our Air Force civil-engineer organizations with whom we reside are engineers and architects. To be licensed in these professions requires a four- to five-year degree from a university accredited by their national boards, completion of a minimum of three to four years of experience and the passing of state exams. Only after this process is complete is an engineer or architect considered a professional within their communities.
These licenses are personal credentialing. Medical and accounting professionals, among many other disciplines, have comparable minimum standards.
Yet, in the fire service, where our leaders are responsible for life-safety and protection of multimillion dollar complexes and aircraft within their communities, we have yet to establish comparable minimum standards in terms of professional credentialing. In addition, fire service leaders are expected to implement an unprecedented barrage of new procedures and policies that demand the requisite knowledge for proper implementation.
In part, these new procedures and policies are the product of our past leaders’ successes, resulting in declining fire rates and losses. Not only must fire service organizations sustain these successes; they must also enhance their community services, such as community risk reduction, emergency management and community paramedicine.
It’s not a coincidence that many fire departments throughout the United States are changing their names from fire department to fire emergency services or fire/medical to capture the expanding nature of the service they provide. To meet these emerging requirements, we need to better invest in our human resources.
While the future of the fire service as a profession—rather than a vocation—continues to be defined, one existing sound method to heighten the competency and credibility of our emerging fire service leaders is to ensure they become certified and credentialed in their craft.
Two established organizations that offer fire credentialing include the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) and the National Fire Academy. CPSE offers personal credentialing to both fire chiefs and fire officers in a program that follows a whole-person approach. Candidates must meet educational and time and duty requirements or complete a portfolio and technical competencies. Some of the credentials offered by CPSE include Chief Fire Officer, Fire Marshal, Chief EMS Officer, Chief Training Officer and Fire Officer.
The National Fire Academy offers the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP). The EFOP focuses on leaders in the fire service. It’s highly competitive and entails an arduous four-year program that provides senior fire officers with a broad perspective on various facets of fire and emergency service administration. This program takes a task approach, where candidates fulfill a two-week on-campus course each year, followed by an annual graduate-level applied research project within six months of the residency.
To meet the future needs of the fire service, our leaders must embrace and model a philosophy of lifelong learning and cultivate and propagate this philosophy within their departments. As our profession matures, the fire service community needs to establish minimum standards for fire credentialing within the ranks of our fire departments.
Fire service leaders must provide the tone and foster an environment conducive to professional development within their departments. As an integral component of our leader’s succession planning model, credentialing can provide the knowledge to absorb those gaps faced by the fire industry today.
The fire service of tomorrow is that of a profession. Strategic prowess is essential. Future planning and budgeting must include expanding human resource development to include and define professional competencies and credentialing in order to meet the everchanging needs of our communities.