Building an Educational Foundation To a Fire Service Career

Paul Snodgrass evaluates the incentives offered when pursuing college-level studies.


Higher education in the U.S. fire service historically has been a melange of curricula, institutions and departments. States, regions and counties all have a diverse concept of what constitutes acceptable higher education for fire service professionals. Some see all degree programs as a step in...


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The four-year chief and 18-year veteran of CFRD says he is planning to ramp up the minimum qualifications for entry-level firefighters in 2011. "Not only will we require firefighter [training] and EMT, but we will require an associate's degree." His reasoning: "I believe you have to set the bar high at the beginning of a person's career and it will stay high throughout...If you set the bar low, it will stay low."

Incentives in Alaska

In Alaska, the state's largest department, Anchorage, has no higher education benchmarks for promotion, but offers a generous education incentive for firefighters. The department pays a 4% incentive for an associate's degree in fire science, fire administration or paramedicine. Additionally, a bachelor's degree garners an 8% addition to employee pay. "We pay for tuition for IAFF employees enrolled in any job-related subject, as well as other courses, if they are required for a degree," says Doug Schrage, operations chief at the Anchorage Fire Department. "We have 363 IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) employees, 111 of whom possess either a BS or BA degree. We have approximately 18 employees with MS degrees."

Schrage said management was instrumental in adding the incentives to contract language. "It was a deliberate attempt to promote higher education...because we have a pretty progressive town and the department places value on the intellectual and cultural contribution of new employees," he says. "We recruit those who have innovative ideas and who want to contribute to our department, and I think higher education [in the fire service] is more important than ever before."

He too sees it as an investment in employees and the department.

PAUL SNODGRASS, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a firefighter with the Sarasota County, FL, Fire Department and a former fire chief. He is an adjunct fire science instructor at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, FL, and Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, CA. Snodgrass holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Augsburg College and a master's degree in education from the University of Phoenix. He has been writing about, designing and teaching online courses since 2005. He can be reached at e.educational@gmail.com.