The Need for Fire Service Education and Associations
By Randall Hanifen
Columnist, EDM Digest
In my career, I have frequently worked with numerous people in regard to mentoring and education. I often hear, “I had no idea I could join and take this class/program.”
Start an Emergency & Disaster Management degree at American Military University.
Some people will argue, “You don’t need an academic degree to ride a fire truck!” To a certain degree, I will say they are correct. But some education is still needed for effective firefighting.
The Need for Fire Service Education Varies by Position
For example, firefighters need lots of training that involves pulling the hose line from a fire truck into a burning building. Similarly, company officers must have some training and some education so that they can recommend the proper equipment for their company and document how well the hose line went into the building to extinguish the fire.
At the battalion level, an individual must understand through education how to coordinate the hose line in conjunction with the search crew and other crews to rescue people and extinguish the fire based on the building. Those actions mean that someone must understand and apply National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, complete a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) fatality report, and study basic business principles to help put together a comprehensive response program.
At the Assistant Chief level, the coordination of resources must occur through learning modern firefighting practices. Also, resource coordination and modern firefighting practices are connected to the staffing budget, the capital improvement budget, the dispatch center, and a whole host of external factors to ensure that the proper number of hose lines and other fire-related activities properly occur on the fireground.
At the chief level, master planning must occur through the elected and appointed officials to ensure they understand how funds are translated into necessary activities on the fireground.
So the higher you ascend in the fire service, the less hands-on training you will utilize and the more you will rely upon business education that is centered around the fire department. The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) group through the National Fire Academy recognized this need many years ago.
The training and education realm of the fire service is the National Fire Academy’s Officer and Executive Development programs, which include the Managing Officer Program and the Executive Fire Officer Program. According to the National Fire Academy (NFA), “The Managing Officer Program is a multiyear curriculum that introduces emerging emergency services leaders to personal and professional skills in change management, risk reduction and adaptive leadership.”
Acceptance to this program is based on your completion of an associate degree or 60 college hours towards a bachelor’s degree and supervisory experience, which could include time as an acting officer.
NFA also says, “The Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program is the flagship program of the National Fire Academy. It provides senior fire officers with a broad perspective on various facets of fire and emergency medical services (EMS) administration.”
The selection criteria for the EFO program includes completion of a bachelor’s degree and also requires a student to hold a managerial position, either as a fire chief or as a supervisor/manager with three years of experience and responsibility for two or more subordinates. The trend based on the current applicants is to provide this educational experience prior to appointment to fire chief, as was the case at the introduction of the program.
Build Your Network through Chiefs’ and Fire Service Associations
Beyond a solid education is the ability to develop a network of people who can help you grow professionally and who have a like-minded mentality. One way to build this network is through joining fire chiefs' associations.
Ironically, the inclusiveness of lower-ranking officers in these associations started at the national level and has moved toward the local level. Many local organizations still permit only people in the fire and deputy/assistant ranks.
Joining the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) was one of the best actions of my career. If you want to be a fire chief, you should surround yourself with fire chiefs.
The IAFC also allows different levels of officers to join at different membership levels. At the firefighter to chief officer rank, you can join at the affiliate rank. The only benefit lacking is the ability to vote on association-wide elections.
If you belong to one of the IAFC sections, you can vote on section leadership. At this level, the cost is significantly reduced, and the association has created the Company Officers Section to help current and aspiring company officers develop their leadership skills, management skills, and resources for company officers.
One of the first documents one section created was “Succession Management in the Fire Service.” This document helped provide guidance to both organizations and individuals.
At the state level, the Ohio Fire Chiefs allow all ranks in the association and do not have any distinguishing criteria for membership grade. You could be the president of the association at the Lieutenant rank, but you may have to convince the majority of association members who are fire chiefs to elect you. Accomplishing that goal may be difficult, but it is feasible based on their inclusion criteria for membership and elected office.
Some Associations Offer the Possibility of International Fire Service Networking
The Institution of Fire Engineers-USA Branch offers an international perspective to your fire service networking. Many of the fire service’s key leaders have been the president of the USA branch, including Dr. Yetter, Dr. Kerwood, Phillip Stittleburg, J.D., and Bruce Varner. In addition, this organization has a parent branch in the United Kingdom and other branches worldwide.
The connections you can make through IFE association membership are limitless. To receive membership through the Individual Case Procedure, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and meet professional development criteria.
A secondary method is to attain the Chief Fire Officer Designation and conduct a lateral transfer of qualifications. Often, the membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers holds advanced and terminal degrees, as one of the goals of the organization is to support academic research in the fire service.
Association Membership Provides Valuable Experience for Your Career
Getting involved in any association allows you to become involved in resource development or hold an elected office. This is a benefit when you see a more advanced career position. How many of the other candidates competing for the same promotion will be able to say they developed a national level white paper for the fire service or served on a national fire service organization board? Not many.