Peers Are Driving Force For National Fire Curriculum

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...

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Gary Kistner, bachelor’s committee chair, and program coordinator for Fire Service and director of Graduate Studies at Southern Illinois University/Carbondale, said much discussion went into the creation of the core bachelor’s curriculum.

“One of the activities of the bachelor’s committee involves looking at the syllabus, the outcomes and other aspects of a course to make sure that it meets the requirements of the corresponding FESHE course,” Kistner said.

These courses take aim at managerial-level positions in the fire service, unlike the associate’s courses, which tend to serve firefighters and first-tier fire officers. The core courses are:

• Political and Legal Foundations of

Fire Protection

• Applications of Fire Research

• Fire Prevention Organization and


• Personnel Management for the Fire

and Emergency Services

• Fire and Emergency Services


• Community Risk Reduction

for the Fire and Emergency Services

“I would describe them as core courses that would be needed by a chief officer,” Kistner said. “These are courses that a fire department would say as someone moves into the officers ranks, ‘This is what we’re looking for.’ We worked quite closely with fire departments to ensure that when a student progresses through this program that it is a worthwhile endeavor. Using the National Professional Development matrix, these core courses are part of the matrix for Fire Officer III. Having the development matrix helped, but having experts in the fire service assisting us, knowing what they do and their experience really helped. This was not a bunch of educators sitting around the table saying what we wanted to see, but we used the input from those who have spent a career in the fire service as a basis for creating these core courses.”

As for the future, Kistner said, “We’re looking at what a master’s degree should look like. I think we pretty much have that nailed down in that the committee decided as a whole; it will not limit a master’s degree to specific courses. In the master’s program, courses must be recognizable by community leaders so that they know the individual has a solid background in various disciplines. The fire service itself has been the driving force for standardization of curriculum at the college level.” Much of it had to do with duplication of courses, course names and course descriptions, which only led to a certain amount of confusion, he added.

Committee member Dr. Larry Collins, who is department chair for Safety, Security and Emergency Management at Eastern Kentucky University, said the associate’s core is of inestimable value to the bachelor’s curriculum.

The associate’s core came first and it seemed to be a normal progression for the courses that all committee members could agree upon and it sets the pace for the bachelor’s program,” he said. “I think the bachelor’s curriculum is of particular value in fire admin…and that’s good. But people get into a chief’s position through a lot of different routes: prevention, investigation, human resources or logistics. I think the biggest success with FESHE is that we have more people pursuing degrees. I don’t know if it’s because of FESHE, but for whatever reason, the bar is being raised.”

Collins continued, “Another area that’s very important is accreditation and regional accreditation – especially now with the influx of online education. I’m not sure some institutions are doing a quality job with online education. And this could hurt this delivery modality.”

And because of online delivery’s flexibility, especially with shift schedules, those institutions that are riding the profit wave versus those pursuing quality education could devalue the entire process, Collins cautioned. “The committee members pore through each of the individual classes to see exactly what’s in them,” Collins said. “Having standardized curriculum allows for the development of textbooks for these classes. Publishers are much more willing to develop a book when courses are standardized.”