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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  • Six associate of applied science core courses and seven non-core courses commonly offered as core and/or electives
  • Three concentration courses in fire prevention and fire protection engineering
  • Twelve bachelor degree courses in EMS management that are in development and will be available this year
  • A FESHE baccalaureate curriculum that is comprised of 15 upper-level courses
  • Lower- and upper-level courses that concentrate on preventing firefighter deaths and injuries. Most appropriately, these courses were developed with funding provided by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).

The Next Step

The FESHE community has dedicated itself to addressing and resolving the earlier identified and highly frustrating problem of "stovepiping" higher education programs. FESHE's goal has been to simplify the process and help fire officers and EMS managers to reach their educational and career goals. At the annual FESHE conferences and committee meetings, efforts were made to address this problem of a "stovepiped" system of professional development by creating the National Professional Development Model that integrates training, education, and certification. To date, there are models for fire officer, fire prevention and EMS management.

None of these models are promotional; rather, they are competency-based professional development pathways supported by their training, higher education and certification options. Each model has prescribed recommendations for how a competency can be addressed by any of the three elements. Metaphorically, it is best described as "interoperability for professional development," meaning that the imperative for interoperability of radios and hoses so that they connect and work together is matched by the need for training, education and certification entities to do the same.

With the models completed, NFA worked with the FESHE Committee to create the National Professional Development Matrix that moves these models from concept to reality. The Matrix is designed for training and certification agencies and academic fire programs to assist the emergency services personnel they serve. It is a template that cross-walks Fire Officer I-IV competencies with "national"-level courses that included NFA training courses, FESHE model associate's and bachelor's courses, and general-education courses recommended by the International Association of Fire Chiefs in its Officer Development Handbook (from which the competencies are derived).

The Matrix is a spreadsheet designed to bring competencies, education and training together in one common document, customized to meet the needs of stakeholders in each state and fire department. It is designed to be a computer-based tool for fire science and training coordinators, certification advisors and others who advise students and test candidates. Imagine a day when everyone who advises fire and emergency services personnel about professional development decisions will provide the same information about which officer-level competencies they need to address and the college and training course options. That day is rapidly approaching in California, Florida and Pennsylvania, among others. Washington, DC will be the first city in the nation to do the same at the departmental level, when the District of Columbia Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department implements the FESHE Model.

In taking on this pilot in partnership with USFA/NFA, Chief Dennis Rubin and his senior officers face huge challenges. Changes were of such magnitude that:

  • A higher education summit with seven of eight colleges with fire or EMS management degrees in the greater Washington/Baltimore region was needed to ensure a standardized model fire science curriculum was established
  • Negotiations were necessary with the firefighters union over new education requirements for officers
  • New funding for a first-time tuition reimbursement policy apart from the only approved institution, University of District of Columbia, would have to be sought from the mayor and City Council.
  • In addition to tracking department members' training, education and certification, Training Deputy Fire Chief Al Jeffery will now monitor individual achievement of all these elements against the competencies prescribed in the Matrix.
  • A major communication and education campaign for the employees explaining the new approach to their development as officers will be developed and implemented