Could Higher Education Be In Your Future? A New Approach to the "Finish Line"

Dennis L. Rubin and Edward Kaplan report on a pilot project to provide an interoperable, competency-based system of professional development


A universal truth in the fire and emergency services is that working toward obtaining college degrees and career certification don't seem to mix well. One would think that obtaining a college degree and completing career certifications would go hand and hand; however, sometimes the obvious is not...


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A universal truth in the fire and emergency services is that working toward obtaining college degrees and career certification don't seem to mix well. One would think that obtaining a college degree and completing career certifications would go hand and hand; however, sometimes the obvious is not the reality. Merging these two goals has been difficult at best - until now. It has been a little like adding oil to a glass of water; the lighter fluid (oil) stratifies and rises to the top of the glass when the heavier liquid (water) seeks the bottom layer, not a good mix. It is almost as if training and education for career fire-rescue development are mutually exclusive, even though many of the same requirements (competencies) exist for both programs.

Most fire-rescue agencies seek a "panacea" and want to implement a career-development program that is simple, efficient (reduces or eliminates costly course duplication) and, most importantly, effective so that firefighters and fire officers can flawlessly execute their jobs. Sounds easy, but most of the time it is more difficult than it should be for the members and the department to complete this process. This article will look at and examine a better way of educating your members, spending your community's taxpayer dollars and maximizing your precious little (and seemingly always disappearing) training time. Further, we will discuss how a metropolitan fire department is adopting this process to maximize their training efforts and resources. In sum, we will answer the question of what your future in higher education is and how it will benefit your career and professional development goals, or, more appropriately, your "finish line."

In 1998, National Fire Academy (NFA) Higher Education Manager Ed Kaplan was charged by the Superintendent, Dr. Denis Onieal, to develop a national model fire science curriculum that standardizes firefighters' and officers' education while preparing them for their next desired level of certification. The vision was to break down the "stovepipe" systems that keep the two processes separate and merge them into a single, integrated system. It was at this point that the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) program was launched and the landscape of career development was changed forever.

In 1999, Kaplan called the nation's top fire science educators to a summit at the NFA in Emmitsburg, MD, to discuss, produce and implement a plan that would standardize fire-rescue undergraduate degree curriculums in scope and content throughout the country. If this group could pull off this seemingly impossible task, then a major shift would occur from a fragmented system of mix-and-match education to a streamlined experience that would be more student- and department-"friendly." By the second annual FESHE conference in 2000 and through subsequent meetings of the National Fire Science Curriculum Committee (now called the National Fire Science Degree Programs Committee), there was a breakthrough toward advancing fire science education: a recommendation for a national, standardized curriculum. There now exists a robust national model curriculum of fire-related and EMS management courses for colleges and universities to adopt as their own. All the courses share common titles, catalog descriptions, outlines and content to provide a national core of knowledge and competencies delivered by the FESHE programs.

Steadily, the work of the pioneers of FESHE has begun to transform higher education. The day of localized, terminal (non-transferable) college programs isolated from their training and certification counterparts in professional development is giving way to partnerships between all three service providers. If you doubt this, consider this achievement as FESHE celebrates its 10th anniversary. With the model curriculum (including textbooks, lesson plans and other support materials) in place, fire and EMS degree programs across the nation can offer:

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