Progress Being Made Toward Professionalizing The Fire Service

It has been my privilege to be in the forefront of a number of different educational efforts over the years within the fire service that have long held up the goal of professionalizing our field of endeavor as its primary goal. Many have been the battles with people who never could see the need for fire service personnel to have a college education. However, that did not stop those among us who felt the need for advancing our chosen career field.

The battle to raise the profile of knowledge has been fought in a variety of places. The progress has come in an uneven fashion. Some of our earliest victories evolved into the fire programs at Oklahoma State and the University of Maryland. More than that, a wide range of programs have been developed over the years that range from the associate's degree level through the bachelor's degree level and on up to the master's degree level.

Last year, the bar of excellence was raised again when Oklahoma State University approved a doctor of philosophy degree program in fire service administration. This new effort was placed into that school's Political Science Department. It should not be too long before we are all able to benefit from the doctoral research performed within our field.

All of these successes have come about through the efforts of many dedicated people in our nation who saw needs in their areas and labored mightily to meet those needs. One of my earliest successes involved the development of a fire science program in 1977 at the Ocean County College (OCC) in Toms River, NJ. Local fire service leaders saw the need for such a program and worked to convince the college to step up to the plate and meet those needs. It is a source of personal pride that the program is still ongoing today.

Not long before my work at OCC began, I was one of the first four people in New Jersey to earn a bachelor's degree in the field of fire safety administration at what was then known as Jersey City State College. It was an honor to be out front on this important educational front. The program is moving along nicely at the school, which is now known as New Jersey City University. A number of its graduates have moved on to positions of leadership within the American fire service.

Back in 2005, I completed the requirements for the doctor of philosophy degree in organization and management at Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. Capella is a regionally accredited online institution dedicated to providing excellence in distance learning at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. The challenges were daunting, but the support network at the school assisted me in making the grade.

It was my good fortune to be hired last year to teach as a member of the faculty at Capella, teaching within the School of Public Safety Leadership. I have been teaching emergency management and leadership courses within its doctoral programs in emergency management and public safety. A number of people within the school have been lobbying for a fire service component to be developed within the existing public safety framework. Our efforts were rewarded recently when the school approved a doctoral concentration that I created in the area of fire service administration.

The concentration will be available to students at both the master's and doctoral levels. I was selected to develop the doctoral-level concentration for the university. I will also be involved in the program development phase for two of the courses that will make up this new concentration in fire service administration. A fellow Firehouse® Magazine contributing editor, Dr. Hank Christen, will be on the development team for the third of the three courses.

Students who enroll in the fire service administration concentration will be able to develop a focused perspective on the three key elements that make up a fire department's organizational focus. The concentration presents the historical perspective of the field in order to allow for an orderly understanding of the organizational components. Coursework in the fields of leadership, logistical development and strategic planning will be provided to equip the student with the requisite knowledge to function as an effective leader and manager within their field of endeavor.

In addition, our program will be looking to provide challenging research opportunities for our learners. My professional associates and I have long discussed the fact that a great deal of what we do in the fire service is based upon an analysis of anecdotal reflections on how the fire service has developed. We have shared the view that we need to create research into the "how-to" aspects of fire department operations.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I began working with the Capella University development staff to create a doctoral concentration that will address this need. The concentration in fire service administration was approved by the university curriculum committee in October 2009. The courses will be in place by March 2010. This would allow the concentration to be available for the second quarter of the 2010 academic year, which begins in April.

Let me share a secret with you. Truth be told, I have long nurtured a dream. That dream involves the creation of an online doctoral program at an accredited university. It was something that I would have loved to have been able to pursue as a young fire officer on the way up through the ranks. My affiliation with Capella is allowing me to make a beginning toward fulfilling that dream.

Education is a critical element within the success that each of us wants to experience in life. This is an opportunity for those of you who wish to broaden themselves into the challenging world of academic rigor, the opportunities to broaden and deepen your knowledge in the world of public safety leadership and emergency management. For further information about the new program, see

DR. HARRY R. CARTER, PH.D., CFO, MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is the former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Dr. Carter is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Currently chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is vice president of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers (MIFireE). He published Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. He may be contacted at