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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The National Fire Academy has made a clear commitment to higher education in the fire service. It created the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) program to help support this commitment. College programs that follow this model give firefighters an advanced education in fire-related areas and degrees in fire science and fire administration. Firefighters receive the general education courses that build well-rounded people and the specific courses to aid them in their chosen profession. The courses in a fire-related degree program may sound similar to training courses, so the question arises, why take college classes for areas where you have already received training? Training classes tend to last anywhere from a single day to a couple of weeks, whereas college courses based on a semester system require a minimum of 45 contact hours. Instructors are able to go more in depth on subject matter and a higher level of retention is a benefit of spending more time on a subject.

Training teaches through repetition. Education teaches understanding and critical-thinking skills. Battalion Chief-Fire/Rescue Training Eric Carlson of Lake Travis, TX, Fire and Rescue said this about his fire science courses: "They gave me a more in-depth understanding of several essential components firefighters need to know, such as tactics, chemistry, building construction and fire protection systems."

"Building Construction," "Fire Protection Systems," "Chemistry of Fire" and "Legal Consideration for the Fire Service" are all examples of classes that are required for these degrees. In addition, these classes often take student firefighters out of their comfort zone. City of Cedar Park, TX, Assistant Fire Chief James Mallinger believes that, "Education also allows others to express ideas you may not hear within a normal training class."

Firefighters who are attending or have attended college give valid examples of college courses that have helped them on the job. Lieutenant Aaron Collette of the Burlington, VT, Fire Department, said it well when he described his "Concepts of Fire Science" class. "This course went into detail about fire behavior, fire propagation and development," he said. "Armed with experience and education, decisions could be made whether or not to stretch a line versus trying to affect a rescue of trapped occupants based upon the fire conditions on arrival, the fuel arrangement and the anticipated fire growth."

Experience and education go hand-in-hand in the fire service of the future. There is not a question of one over the other, but the need to recognize both as essential. Another benefit to having college credit for these courses is that you earn a degree that goes with you wherever you go. It is not a folder filled with certificates that means something to your department and/or your state, but a degree that shows you took the initiative to go beyond the minimum requirements. Even if you leave the fire service, a college degree will mean something to employers in other areas, just as degrees outside of fire science and fire administration can be beneficial to firefighters.

One argument in the discussion over college degrees is whether it matters if the degree is fire-related. How is a bachelor's degree in English or history relevant to someone in the fire service? Alone, no one will argue that it is. However, if you put someone with a degree through an excellent training program, then you have a well-rounded firefighter.

Chief Don Alleckson of the Duncan Chapel Fire District in Greenville, SC, was educated and originally employed in Oregon, where associate degrees are the standard for members of the fire service. He said that his general education courses "have laid the foundation for understanding complex situations and aid in the execution of common sense as well as provided the fundamentals to produce sound policy and guidelines."

There are diverse reasons why people with degrees outside of the fire service are entering the fire service and even why a current firefighter would pursue a non-fire-related major. Majors outside of the fire service should not be disregarded as non-beneficial, just as they should not be used solely to justify promotion. Clearly, firefighters feel they have benefited from the general education courses that are required by all degrees. Without hesitation, firefighters who have completed college courses agree they have improved their critical-thinking skills. As Chief Steve Graham of Boiling Springs, SC, Fire Department, stated, "Higher education drives the critical-thinking skills that are vital to all emergency service managers."

Critical-thinking skills are of the essence on the fireground and in the firehouse. When faced with day-to-day activities or repetitive situations, emergency service personnel's training kicks in and there is a clear course of action. It is when an event that is uncommon or a "one-of -a-kind" incident is faced that the ability to make decisions and problem solve create defining moments.