Why Would a Firefighter Need A College Education to "Pull Hose"?

Even though there are national standards for fire service training, there is little continuity for educational requirements for firefighters. Some states deliver training through a fire academy, and firefighters may choose to pursue college courses...


Even though there are national standards for fire service training, there is little continuity for educational requirements for firefighters. Some states deliver training through a fire academy, and firefighters may choose to pursue college courses locally or online. Education and training are...


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Even though there are national standards for fire service training, there is little continuity for educational requirements for firefighters. Some states deliver training through a fire academy, and firefighters may choose to pursue college courses locally or online. Education and training are incorporated into degree programs in the community college systems of other states, while some states offer both options.

One constant over the years of change in the fire service is the reluctance by some within it to embrace higher education. The question is still posed, "Why does a firefighter need a college education to pull hose?" While this sentiment may be acceptable from the public, it is hard to comprehend from those within the fire service. Firefighters today know that "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff" no longer comes close to describing their responsibilities.

Firefighter/Paramedic Gray Cable of Parris Island, SC, Fire and Rescue, believes that, "My career has become a thinking man's job. The fire service has evolved from the days of just putting out the fire to an industry with the ability to mitigate emergencies involving hazardous materials, confined-space rescue and emergency medical services."

As a result, maybe the question should be, does anyone still just "pull hose"?

Education beyond high school and career training is becoming necessary, not only for the fire service, but for other technical-based occupations as well. Workers in areas such as heating and air conditioning, welding and construction have a better chance of advancement and higher earnings with an associate's degree. Employers see a college education as an asset in their employees. Battalion Chief-Fire/Rescue Training Eric Carlson with Lake Travis, TX, Fire and Rescue, said, "Several departments either encourage or require college to promote, and for a good reason. The more comfortable a person is with their 'basic' skills, they are usually more productive in the majority of the tasks beyond ' pulling hose.' "

No one believes that the chiefs or other officers who have risen through the ranks to their current positions are inadequate because they do not have degrees. Quite the contrary — there are chiefs and officers who achieved their positions with only a high school diploma and years of experience who are exemplary leaders. Undoubtedly, they have natural leadership skills and a drive to self educate. Unfortunately, increased responsibilities mean that fire departments cannot afford to let their officers learn through trial and error.

Another consideration is the skill level of today's high school graduate. A 2005 article by Michelle Diament in The Chronicle of Higher Education states, "As many as four in 10 high-school graduates are not ready for the demands that they face after graduation, whether they are going to college or to work." Fire departments do not have the means or manpower to teach new recruits basic communication, math and leadership skills. Colleges, particularly community colleges, can help firefighters improve the knowledge and skills necessary for a well-rounded firefighter and leader. Todd Milam, a former training officer and current volunteer firefighter who is also a full-time fire science instructor at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina contends that, "Many young firefighters are promoted to positions before they are ready. These programs provide those firefighters with the knowledge they need to serve and protect their communities."

Even if you do not have aspirations to be the next chief of your department, each firefighter has an opportunity and an obligation to be a leader within the department and the community. As Chief Wes Williams from Simpsonville, SC, Fire Department, says, "To be the next leader of your department you must have the education to complement your experience. Experience itself will not get you to where you want to go." Firefighters who are college graduates or current college students articulate well how their courses have helped them on the job. Fire science and fire administration courses, as well as general education courses that are required for all majors, complement and enhance the students' prior training skills.

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