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In an industry with a deep commitment to volunteers – all the way back to Benjamin Franklin and the formation of the Union Fire Company – it’s a fitting tribute that federal fire service higher education committees are composed of volunteers who are helping to shape career professionalism.
The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) program at the National Fire Academy (NFA) is composed of volunteers from both the fire service and academia. FESHE strives to produce academically educated fire and emergency services leaders using a curriculum derived from years of on-the-job experience and uncounted hours of committee work.
As the program progressed, committee members saw a need to standardize curriculum. As a result, they have produced core courses for both the associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Under the umbrella of the “Professional Development Committees,” both associate’s and bachelor’s degree committee members agree that the process has been far from easy, with ponderous discussions and difficult decisions the norm.
In 2000, at FESHE II, the six model courses for the associate’s degree were identified. In 2001, groups were formed to develop skeletal outlines for the courses and volunteers were tagged to begin writing the outlines. The associate’s group of the now-called National Fire Science Degree Programs Committee spawned from this initial band of volunteers, according to Ed Kaplan, section chief for Education, Training and Partnerships at the NFA.
“The year 2001 was very much a breakout year for us,” Kaplan said. “In the addition to the development of outlines, the very first discussion and early depiction of the NPD (National Professional Development) model occurred. Jim Broman, then chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Professional Development Committee, was the intellectual force behind this. The model went through several iterations since then. We also had the first meeting with book publishers…which was the start of an incredible partnership.”
It has proved to be a successful model that is based on the empowerment of peer-driven committees to identify their respective audiences’ needs and develop products and recommendations to meet them. As committees governed under the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), all recommendations are compiled in a report and then submitted to the NFA’s Board of Visitors, which then approves or sometimes modifies or adds recommendations.
Ralph De La Ossa, associate’s committee chair and director of Public Services/professor at Long Beach City College in California, is a founding member of the associate’s committee. The retired Riverside, CA, firefighter and arson investigator was on the ground floor when at a FESHE meeting in 1998 he recalls the humble beginnings of what was to become a national standard and curriculum.
“We’ve come a long ways and it’s quite a feather in our hats and to the nation in particular – the accomplishments FESHE has made,” he said. “Prior to committee efforts at the national level, every state had its own program and its own curriculum – now the states are adopting our curriculum. Most of the people in the committees at the time were retired from the fire service and part of the academic community, so we had a lot of good discussions.”
The building construction curriculum, he pointed out, was derived from one he and his colleagues developed as instructors in California. That core course, although updated, remains a staple for the associate’s core.
“I’ve met people from all over the world at our meetings, who say having a standardized curriculum is really a benefit to the students,” De La Ossa said. “If a student moves from New Jersey to California and has taken a course that is recognized by FESHE, we recognize it and give them full credit for it.”