In the quiet Wisconsin woods along the western shore of Lake Michigan, some of the brightest fire service leaders assembled in a mansion designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to produce Statements of National Significance to the Fire Problem in the United States. One of the treatise's 12 points...
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Wall offers anecdotal evidence of the spread of higher education: "Ten to 15 years ago, if we asked a class of new officers how many of you were in college now, we would get one, two or three out of 25. Today when I do that, more than half of the class raises their hands. Why? Because more departments are now embracing it as a requirement."
Lisa Beck, curriculum program specialist for public health and public safety at the Technical College System of Georgia, agrees. "At any one time, we have 10–12 colleges that offer fire science courses statewide. They don't all offer the same things because it's up to the locality to determine what they need," she says. These associate-level degree programs do not have a direct ladder to baccalaureate courses at the state's colleges and universities, but opportunities do exist, she says.
"We have a standard curriculum all the way through the associate's degree," she says. "Our faculty then works locally to make sure we are meeting local fire department needs. If anything changes nationally where we need to update our curriculum, we make those changes immediately. We also revise our curriculum on a three-year cycle. We have looked at the FESHE (U.S. Fire Administration-inspired Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Model) model, and each time we meet with faculty, it's having a bigger impact on our decisions."
In North Carolina, Joseph Woodall found a challenge in Fayetteville State University's mandate to meet the divergent needs of a dispersed population. The solution: Woodall, who is an assistant professor in the Fire Science Program, helped to engineer an online baccalaureate program with a concentration in fire service management or fire investigation.
"It was impossible to bring people to campus, so I was hired to bring the program into service," says Woodall. "We have graduated more than 30 students since then, and are averaging an active base of 100 students. We're just about the right size for what we can handle. We are hearing very good feedback from state fire chiefs and the students." His program caters to those seeking more job responsibilities.
"Ninety-five percent of my students are working in the fire service, preparing for promotional opportunities," he says.
"As a result, the idea in the management side was to prepare them for administrative leadership positions," Woodall says. "We have a capstone course, a fire internship, which is flexible enough for the entry-level firefighter to the chief of the department. The goal is to provide them with a growth experience, a leadership responsibility…something that is beyond their current duties and responsibilities. This has created some very valuable opportunities for area fire departments, because there is always something (they envision) that needs to get done."
Two techniques Woodall uses in the online delivery are discussion questions and academic journals. "Students keep journals and discuss their experiences online," he says. "I am a big advocate of people learning in the online environment…it is especially ideal for a firefighter.
"I think higher education in the fire service is growing very rapidly. The timing was very good because when we really started gaining momentum, the advent of online education was maturing. This made it very advantageous to firefighters. It's one big barrier knocked down limiting access to higher education."
One university in Kentucky has a national presence in fire, safety and emergency management higher education. Eastern Kentucky University offers four degree programs: Occupational Safety, Fire Protection Administration, Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation, and Fire Protection Safety Engineering Technology. Its students are local and from across the country.
According to Dr. Larry Collins, chair of the Department of Safety, Security and Emergency Management program in the College of Justice and Safety at EKU, the genesis and growth of these programs has much to do with the FESHE model.
"We have made some changes to the curriculum over the years," Collins says. "We have been a key part of FESHE and our curriculum is really derived from FESHE, although individual classes might not be titled the same. We came up with a list of what every fire manager should know, regardless of where they are in the country, and derived a series of courses that became the core of the associate's degree. From there, we began to build on that and now we have a bachelor's degree and a master's degree."