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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"Being in the learning environment again, i.e., the classroom, with a very diverse group of people allowed me to remember to look at things apart from how they are perceived in the firehouse at the coffee table," Bertholf said.
Higher education combined with training is the future of the fire service. Beaufort Firefighter III and Investigator Ray Murphy said, "I believe in the next five to 10 years you will need a degree just to become a firefighter." There is no going back to the time when a high school diploma and years of experience were all that were needed to advance. As a volunteer firefighter, "pulling hose" may be all that is required, but the career firefighter should look beyond the hose he or she is pulling. In today's complex fire service, on-the-job training is not acceptable. The community expects more from first responders. The community expects first responders to protect them, educate them and manage fire department budgets in a responsible manner. Higher education gives the fire service a way to meet these expectations, and provide an education and path beyond that of basic firefighter.
As a firefighter, think about whether you want to spend your career looking at where you've been or leading where you're going. Those who say, "How can I get where I want to go?" are proactive, are those who look to the future and those who will progress. In five, 10 or 15 years, will you still be sitting in the day room arguing that a college education shouldn't be required for you to be promoted, while the firefighter hired three years after you earned an associate degree and just became the new lieutenant? If you are already an officer on your way to retirement who has no higher education, will you mentor your firefighters to prepare for tomorrow or tell them not to bother with college because you didn't need it?
Does a college degree guarantee someone will be an excellent firefighter or officer? Of course not, but that's no reason to believe that higher education is not beneficial. Every profession has individuals who show little "common sense" or don't measure up to what one expects of a college graduate. The fire service will be no exception. There will always be the example of the great officer with a high school diploma and experience. There will also always be the ineffective officer who has a degree. However, the compelling evidence from firefighters themselves is that a college degree benefits the one "pulling hose" today in more ways than one and ultimately leads to a more productive tomorrow.
BONITA WATTERS is a student services coordinator at the Brashier Campus of Greenville Technical College in Greenville, SC. She began working with the college's Fire Science Technology program during its developmental stages in 2003. Greenville Technical College now offers a certificate in fire service and an associate's degree in applied science with a major in fire science. Watters may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.