Where Public Safety Policy Meets Higher Education

Younes Mourchid discusses the influence of higher education on public policy and whether the reverse is true.


American higher education has been recently in the midst of one of the most exciting and yet challenging periods in its history. Earning a college degree is climbing toward a universal expectation. At the same time, post-secondary education faces serious fiscal constraints and the urgency to...


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The circumstances that have instigated the need for reform and change in the California State Fire Training and Education resemble the variables which compel similar public safety organization to reform. Chief Mike Richwine, division chief of State Fire Training (SFT), elaborates further on these circumstances: "Blue Print 2020 arose from a need to update antiquated curricula and delivery methods as major shifts have taken place in fire and emergency services that changed the paradigm for training and education."

Chief Coleman affirms: "The 1971 model became obsolete and eventually led to system-wide failure. Many other states' fire service training programs moved forward while California's languished. Powerful shifts are occurring in our society and we must move quickly to take advantage of them. Now individuals have communications tools and information readily available, which open up enormous possibilities."

The second novelty of Blue Print 2020 is that its inception process involved various stakeholders and its lessons and guidelines were not limited to one or two specific organizations: "...the plan is for the whole fire service community and a collaboration of stakeholders has been involved in its development from the very foundation. The stakeholders come from the local, state, and federal fire service in California as well as career and volunteer fire fighters, fire chiefs, organized labor, training officers, and community college" (Blue Print 2020, page 4). In the words of Chief Coleman, "the plan seeks to build relationships and alliances with stakeholders in the public and private sectors."

On a collaboration platform, various stakeholders with the mediation of a professional consultant firm conducted an internal needs analysis and identified eight specific areas where improvement is imminent. These areas include, as outlined in Blue Print 2020 p.5, the following themes:

  • Quality Control - There is a lack of accountability in the field and SFT does not have the staff to monitor instructors and training programs statewide.
  • Data Management - Student, instructor and class information is stored in software that was not designed to hold the volume of data that SFT collects.
  • Outdated Curriculum - The volume of courses offered through SFT is difficult to update and maintain as the information in each program changes.
  • Certification - Security of certification exams is consistently breached. Many current certification standards are not competency based.
  • Continuing Education - There is no requirement for firefighters, fire officers, chief officers or instructors to maintain their skill and knowledge through a comprehensive continuing education program.
  • Professional Development - There is an increased demand and expectation for professional development training to meet the challenges of today.
  • Lack of Innovation - The SFT system is unresponsive to change and does not utilize technology to its fullest advantage. Many SFT business processes can and should be automated.
  • Understaffing - At a time when there are more people than ever relying on the system, SFT's inability to maintain a responsive level of staffing limits its ability for curriculum development, field review, and research and development of new programs.

These contingencies are not limited to the context of California, but are nationwide areas of concern and drivers for change and reform. However, the plan underlines the specificity and uniqueness of California situation: "...California is a large state both geographically and demographically. This fact makes it very difficult to develop consensus about the direction SFT should be taking. At the same time, there are national initiatives that threaten the California program but also show the way to take advantage of what others have done..." (Blue Print 2020, page 5).

As a response to the aforementioned challenges, Blue Print 2020 devised five strategic goals and actions plans in page 8 of the plan as follows: