Going for the Gold Tassel: Getting a Doctoral Degree

Dr. Burton A. Clark discusses two words you did not learn in firefighter rookie school or in any course you have taken – doctrine and doctorate.


The concepts of doctoral education and firefighter are not usually connected in the same thought by anyone in the fire service, higher education or society in general. At the beginning of the 20th century, “firefighter” and “bachelor degree” were not thought of together. Today...


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The concepts of doctoral education and firefighter are not usually connected in the same thought by anyone in the fire service, higher education or society in general. At the beginning of the 20th century, “firefighter” and “bachelor degree” were not thought of together.

Today, there are 32 bachelor degree and six master degree programs related to fire service. In 2009, a bachelor degree will be required to apply for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designation and the bachelor degree will be the minimal academic requirement to get into the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer (EFO) program. Finally, in 2007, you will need a bachelor degree to take the test for battalion chief in the FDNY.

Why should the firefighters reading this article be interested in doctoral education, especially if the idea of more school turns your stomach? Two words you did not learn in firefighter rookie school or any course you have ever taken – “doctrine” and “doctorate.”

Doctrine impacts you every day. Fire service doctrine is what we know, teach and do. All of our national standards, training materials and books, plus your local standard operating procedures (SOPs), manuals, drills and traditions make up our fire service doctrine. Each profession has its unique doctrine. What makes each one a profession is that all the people who practice in that field are following the same doctrine. A profession’s doctrine is created through scientific research and disseminated through writing, teaching, learning and application.

Today, fire service doctrine is largely based on experience and consensus, not science and research. This explains why East Coast and West Coast fire departments practice differently. Why volunteer fire departments practice differently than paid fire departments. Why some apparatus responds with one firefighter and others respond with four firefighters. Most often, our books are based on the author’s experience, which usually comes from one fire department. Our training manuals are based on our consensus standards. Groups of fire service practitioners come together and agree on the content of the standards and training manuals, based on their collective experience, but that process is not based on research and science. Who is in charge of fire service science and research? As yet, no one!

Now let’s look at the word “doctorate.” According to the Carnegie Foundation study on the doctorate, the purpose of the doctoral education “…is to educate and prepare those to whom we can entrust the vigor, quality and integrity of the field. This person is a scholar first and foremost, in the fullest sense of the term. Such a leader has developed the habits of mind and ability to do three things well: creatively generate new knowledge, critically conserve valuable and useful ideas and responsibly transform those understandings through writing, teaching and application. We call such a person a ‘steward of the discipline.’ ”

The existence of a doctoral degree in a discreet discipline is one of the most significant conditions that must exist for a discipline to be accepted as a true profession by the academic community, other professional disciplines and society in general. The doctoral degree higher education infrastructure is what generates the doctrine for the profession to use. This doctrine must be based on science and research making it generalizable to the entire profession. It is the stewards of the discipline, those with doctorates, who create the doctrine for the profession, by employing science and research.

There are fire service practitioners today who have doctorates, but their degrees are not it in fire service studies because no such program exists. These individuals wanted the science and research skills, but had to study other disciplines because studying the fire service discipline at the doctoral level was not available to them. They studied fire service-related disciplines like education, administration, sociology, psychology, business, engineering, medicine, history and law. These practitioners realized that the fire service is an inter-disciplinary subject. We use the science and research for other disciplines in our daily practice.

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