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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  1. Quality Improvement - Ensure the highest levels of service and quality by implementing an oversight program that ensures the qualifications, currency and accountability of all instructors and curriculum.
  2. National Professional Development Model - Participate in the FESHE National Model of fire service training and education that includes an integrated, competency-based system of fire and emergency services professional development and an integrated system of higher education from a two-year associate degree to doctoral degrees.
  3. Capstone Testing - Administer a comprehensive evaluation tool after a candidate completes all the requirements and applies for a position certificate. Capstone testing would replace the current system of administering a written certification exam at the end of each course in the certification track.
  4. State Fire Training Business Processes and Training Delivery - Utilize a computer-aided training and education delivery system that includes appropriate distance learning and educational material, and the ability for participants to track and access completed training and certification records.
  5. California Public Safety Institute - Create a unified system that integrates all public safety training and education toward a common mission. The crown jewel of this initiative is the envisioned all-risk California Public Safety Institute (a California equivalent of the federal National Emergency Training Center).

Of preponderant relevance to this discussion is goal and action item two: the National Professional Development Model shown on page 92. The model was developed by the National Fire Academy and Fire and Emergency Higher Education Consortium to serve as a national model of fire service training and education around the country. The model is credited for helping move the fire and emergency services from an occupation to a profession and standardize higher education curricula.

The application of the model is expected to result in well-trained and academically educated fire and emergency services. The SFT intends to enter into partnerships with other states to ensure national recognition of educational achievement and training certification. In this regard, the SFT intends to form a partnership with like-minded national programs and create a common platform whereby accreditation follows national standards and national recognition and equivalency is attained. Plan Blue Print 2020 asserts, however, that "SFT will continue to be a leader in the innovation and development of standards, curricula, and new techniques particularly in those aspects of training unique to California" (page 11).

Chief Richwine elaborates further on the significance of following the National Professional Development Model: "The model will help us meet our strategic plan to professionalize the fire service in California, create a paradigm shift and a generational turn-over, and produce more educated personnel with more mechanical aptitudes and analytical competencies."

The FESHE National Professional Development Model of fire service training and education can then be seen as a nexus linking and cementing efforts between public safety policy and operators of higher education in California. Both Chiefs Coleman and Richwine see the State Training and Education Advisory Committee as "a policy maker..." The National Fire Academy also sees its charge as a training and education policy maker. The institutions of higher education: community colleges and baccalaureate Degree at a Distance universities and colleges around the country which offer the FESHE curriculum are willing and committed participants in the FESHE National Professional Development Model of fire service training and education and thus have stake in such public safety policy. These higher education institutions participate at the level of providing valuable feedback and the services of subject matter experts back to policy makers as to how the model plays out in practice and reality.

The workings and the expected dynamics of this partnership are then evidence that higher education institutions have a streak of influence in the direction of public safety policy. Reciprocally, public policy making symbiotically has implications for higher education policy recommendation and implementation. To implement Blue Print 2020's certain goals, especially goal and action two "FESHE National Professional Development Model of fire service training and education", the California State Training & Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) will have to enroll and work closely with the 20-plus community colleges in California which offer an associate FESHE degrees and the one provider of the upper-division baccalaureate FESHE degree, Cogswell College. In kind, these colleges are behooved to align their strategic short and long term planning and processes with the recommendations made by Blue Print 2020. It is in this fashion that the vision Chief Coleman contemplates of "building and sustaining strategic alliances" will come to fruition and the fire and emergency services in California will thrive and be prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century and thus globalization.

A full copy of Blue Print 2020 is available at the website http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/training/pdf/BP2020finaldraft0108.pdf.

YOUNES MOURCHID, Ph.D., is an associate professor and the director of the Degrees at a Distance Program (DDP) - Fire Science at Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, CA.