What Higher Education Means for My Fire Service Career

Dr. Harry R. Carter interviews five fire service leaders who recount their personal education experiences.


For far too many people in the fire service, the educational process stops when they complete Firefighter I training. In many instances, they move into fire stations in their communities and begin doing the same things over and over again. They make no effort to gather knowledge in a systematic...


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For far too many people in the fire service, the educational process stops when they complete Firefighter I training. In many instances, they move into fire stations in their communities and begin doing the same things over and over again. They make no effort to gather knowledge in a systematic fashion. Maybe they read and learn just enough to be promoted to a higher rank. This is the fire service within which I have spent the majority of my time in career, volunteer and military units.

On the other hand, a great part of my career has been spent in pursuit of knowledge. Why? The reasons are both personal and professional. My parents raised me to value the pursuit of knowledge. Early failures in my college career focused me to keep pushing on toward my degrees. I also discovered early that there was a lot more to learn than the prescribed courses in firefighting and apparatus operations.

An inquisitive mind is the key to learning. I have long believed that we do not go to school in pursuit of grades. We go to acquire new knowledge. Far too many among us in the fire service see the world of higher education as a place with a beginning, a middle and an end. These folks see the receipt of the degree as the be all and end all of their educational career. That is sad indeed.

As new knowledge is acquired, new questions should begin to flood the mind of the learner. Each new fact should create many more questions. Perhaps the one thing which has impressed me the most about my journey through the world of education is that just when you think you know it all, you discover how little you really know. Another door opens and a new journey begins.

Many times during my career with the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, I was called on to handle unique and challenging assignments. I am not sure whether my educational background equipped me to answer the questions I continually faced. What I am sure of is that my education experiences equipped me with the skills to ask good questions and do proper research. Trust me when I tell you that those were skills not available within the standard fire department drill-ground manuals.

I see the need to create a new level of educational opportunities within the fire service. Much of what we do in every aspect of our field of endeavor is based on anecdotal experiences. We do things which have been done in a particular way because that's the way it has always been done. The world needs to change and it is the function of higher education, particularly at the doctoral level, to advance the body of knowledge by using research studies. We need to create more solid knowledge on which to build the future structure we call the American fire service.

Firehouse Magazine has asked me to poll some of my friends in the fire service world about their educational experiences. To create a level playing field, I asked each of them to respond to a common set of questions. The questions may seem simple, but they serve as the starting point for each person to describe personal experiences in the world of higher education. I hope that you enjoy the way in which my friends have shared their thoughts with you. Let me begin with the questions:

  1. Why did you pursue degrees to support your career in the fire service?
  2. Did the additional knowledge and skills learned in college or university make a difference in your career?
  3. What do you see in the future?

KEN FOLISI is a retired battalion chief with the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District in Lisle, IL. He currently serves as a faculty member in the bachelor's degree program in fire service administration at Lewis University in Romeoville, IL.

Entering the fire service in 1979, I was fortunate to be associated with a very progressive department and a training officer who instilled in me the understanding that to be a professional in the fire service takes constant learning to be the best you can be, not just for individual gain, but also for those you serve with and for because others depend on your abilities. Training, education and experience must all come together in a professional way in the fire service.

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