There once was a time when firefighting tactics involved pulling down or dynamiting neighboring homes to prevent fire spread. There once was a time when firefighters fought against the introduction of steamers and gasoline-powered fire apparatus. There once was a time when firefighters entered...
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There once was a time when firefighting tactics involved pulling down or dynamiting neighboring homes to prevent fire spread. There once was a time when firefighters fought against the introduction of steamers and gasoline-powered fire apparatus. There once was a time when firefighters entered burning buildings before the invention of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) - and when they finally were introduced, you were called a coward for wearing one ("leather lungs" was a destructive cliche). There once was a time when rapid intervention teams were as unheard of as property and environmental conservation. There once was a time when all we responded to were fires.
We have come a long way in our profession - and we still have a long way to go.
Over the years, there has been a growing debate on the value of a college education in the fire service and the benefit and need for such when hiring or promoting. The most recent debates pit experience against education: Which should have more value in the fire service and which should the most emphasis be placed on? Should the college degree be in only a fire-related subject to have any value? Does having that piece of paper make a person more intelligent or capable, or does he lack of a degree somehow make a person a better leader?
With the rapid progression of the fire service, technology, the complex nature of emergencies and hazardous environments in which we are finding ourselves, these questions are not so simple to answer. This is an issue that must be explored beyond the surface of firehouse kitchen-table debates. As officers and leaders, we need to understand what's at the heart of this issue, what's at stake if we are to progress as a profession (and the key word is "profession"), and find better, safer and more efficient ways to do our job.
We all know what experience means to the fire service and in no way does any amount of post-secondary education diminish or trump that experience. But looking into the future of our service, we cannot leave this issue so simply defined. Just as we understand how experience comes into play, we also need to know how a college education comes into play, and fully understand what that line on the resume says about the applicant or the promotional candidate. If we do not understand this, our profession and community will suffer.
A college degree has never meant just a piece of paper, an impressive fill-in on a resume, nor does it really matter what area of study that degree is in. It's not about the relativity of that degree to the fire service; it's about what having a college degree represents and says about the person in possession of it. A college degree says that the person in possession has the qualities of: