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The standardization of curriculum in the fire service is not new in academia. It follows the model of standardized course numbers and names at many liberal art institutions nationwide. De La Ossa said he sees the future to include more standardization – even beyond education itself.
“The real big push is to get firefighters on a national registry – much as exists for nurses, paramedics and EMTs,” De La Ossa said. “It would be a huge benefit in terms of consistency and standardization. We are finding at the state level there is some resistance, yet here in California the fire marshal is really behind this. Imagine how much more professional and consistent it would be to have a national standard,” he says.
One of the outcomes of the 2000 FESHE conference was the development of the model fire science associate’s curriculum. Committee members and other participants identified six core associate’s-level courses in the model curriculum, which are:
• Building Construction for Fire
• Fire Behavior and Combustion
• Fire Prevention
• Fire Protection Systems
• Principles of Emergency Services
• Principles of Fire and Emergency
Services Safety and Survival
Professor Gary Noll, department chair/Emergency Services for the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy at Utah Valley University, and a bachelor’s committee member, said his committee’s work is really an extension of the associate’s committee endeavors.
“I’m part of the group that takes recommendations for curriculum and then helps standardize that across programs that offer traditional fire science education,” Noll said. “We try to standardize that process as much as possible while looking at the associate degree program courses. We try to make sure that its outcomes provide a foundation for the next level. We are here to make sure that the pieces fit together and the core courses provide a framework, a core for the bachelor’s program across the nation.”
Noll added, “Standardization is extremely difficult. One of the first problems you have is the sheer number of students. Higher education is numbers driven. Yet, the fire science industry is not that large – in my state, 80% of the firefighters are volunteers.”
Volunteers are less likely to pursue fire science higher education than career firefighters. “Further,” he said, “in fire departments there is no standardization per se. For example, in wildland firefighting or aviation firefighting, there are national standards to follow, but as far as the structural side, there are few standards.”
“We are closer to producing a unified curriculum today than we were 10 years ago due to FESHE,” Noll said. “The most difficult aspect is trying to balance the needs of a number of players: the students, the educators, the hiring authority and government entities. My opinion is that the changes are going to happen via the bottom-up model. We have a strong focus of the associate’s side with FESHE. We believe, as a lot of others believe, if students don’t receive these core FESHE courses at the associate’s level, then they’re probably not going to get them as stand-alone courses – that base educational foundation – any time in their careers.
Noll continued, “Our associate’s degree at Utah Valley University is more fire science and applied in nature. I would say the great majority of our students are traditional, not affiliated yet, and are still trying to get a job in the field. It’s just the opposite with the bachelor students who are already affiliated – they have jobs. I think that first of all the students consider the field they’re about to get into…is it really a profession? Most would agree it is. What’s interesting is that disciplines such as law, accounting and others have a standardized curriculum. If you take a course on the East Coast in law, it will look an awful lot like the same course on the West Coast. The push with FESHE is to do something similar. The strength in this profession is to standardize the curriculum. It makes it easier to transfer credits from location to location and to go from associate’s degree into a bachelor’s program courses.”