I have had this discussion several times with fellow fire service professionals. It is something that is also asked of me in a more indirect manner by friends and family when talking about my job. The fire service professional usually has one answer and my family and friends are shocked that there aren’t any standards.
Personally, I believe that there needs to be, at least at the state level, a system that requires continuing education and minimum job performance evaluations. I have heard that the last thing the fire service needs is more unfunded mandates required by non-firefighting personnel. To that comment, I agree. However, it cannot be overlooked that we are in a time and era of firefighting like we have never seen before. We have all heard someone say that “this ain’t your father’s fire service anymore.”
I have been a paramedic for 17 years and I am required to acquire a certain number of continuing education units over a five year period. In addition, the CEU’s must be in particular categories and areas in order to keep me a well rounded educated paramedic. It works and it is expected by the public. After all, do you want a medic that is keeping up with the profession or one that got his license and then never did another thing in his career working on you or your family?
Well, that is exactly what we have in the fire service. We have what I believe is a majority of our peers getting “in” and never doing anything extra. I know firefighters who are more interested in their side jobs and hobbies than they are in the profession in which so many depend on his skills. I have heard one say that he has no desire to go get any extra training or to read the trade publications because he “just isn’t that in to it.” WTF!
I have seen guys fight and fight to get into the academy. They spend ten weeks learning very basic information that must be continually expanded on and re-learned over years to become proficient. Then they get hired and never do another thing in their career. This leave us open for scrutiny and makes the fire service a dangerous place.
Although I am not a big fan of making government a part of the fire service as we know it, I am fearful that if we don’t fix some of our own problems they will fix them for us. Part of the fix should include requiring recertification, fitness testing and job performance evaluations. Now before some of you have a complete seizure, hear me out.
First, there should a required number of CEU’s that must be obtained in each discipline over a predetermined amount of time. For example, you have to get formal training in ventilation, forcible entry, etc, every three years. Yes, your employment would depend on it, just like my medic license. I want to know that the person crawling down the hall is up to date with our SCBA techniques and rescue drills in the event that something goes bad.
As I said before, I don’t think that this should be regulated by a national standard so much as state oversight. The reason I say this, as much as I would like to see a national standard, is that each state is unique in its needs. If you are a firefighter in California you will need more extensive training in wildland than someone in Missouri. The examples are endless, so I believe each state should meet minimum national requirements and then can adapt their own program.
I think we only hurt ourselves when we don’t train and encourage measurable professional development. We owe it to the people we protect and to our peers and to our families to be highly trained and educated professionals. The only way to be “professional” is to continually train and learn about our profession.