One Educational Journey: Battalion Chief Laurie Mooney

Bill Lowe details the journey of one of the City of Longwood, FL, Fire Rescue Department’s first female firefighters to the position of battalion chief.


Laurie Mooney’s fire service career started in 1983, when she was hired by the City of Longwood, FL, Fire Rescue Department as one of its first female firefighters. In preparation for getting hired as a firefighter, Mooney became certified as both a Florida EMT and paramedic. Consequently...


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Many firefighters have held similar discussions with college admissions counselors. It’s a long, reflective walk to the parking lot after getting the news that earning two more years of credit for a bachelor’s degree will take three or more years of classroom commitment and expense.

Mooney decided to redirect her career development by gaining acceptance to the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program. The process for gaining acceptance to the EFO program is competitive, given there are only 175 to 200 appointments annually. As with many EFO applicants, her first application was denied, but she gained acceptance onher second attempt.

In June 2002, Mooney attended the Federal Emergency Training Center (FETC) to complete her first two-week-long EFO course, Executive Development. The intensive curriculum was spent discussing fire service organizational issues with chiefs representing departments from around the globe (other countries regularly sponsor their senior chiefs to attend the EFO program on a space-available basis).

Earning the title Executive Fire Officer (EFO) requires completing a two-week residency course every year for four years, plus submitting an applied research project for each of the four courses. Participants must attend all sessions and complete all four of the research projects to be awarded the EFO designation. Officers seeking the finest executive development curriculum specific to the fire service should strongly consider submitting their applications. (The EFO website is http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fire service/nfa/courses/ oncampus/nfa-on2.shtm.)

One of Mooney’s course presenters spoke of the National Fire Academy’s Degrees at a Distance Program (DDP). The NFA develops and coordinates an approved curriculum through a network of seven universities for a bachelor of science degree in fire protection engineering. Mooney contacted Cogswell College and quickly gained acceptance to the program with the majority of her existing college classes transferring for full credit. Additionally, some of her technical college and National Fire Academy courses also transferred.

Mooney juggled many academic assignments completing both her first two EFO applied research projects and coursework from Cogswell. Since her first EFO course in June 2002, Mooney is halfway through the EFO program, has earned high grades on her first two EFO applied research projects and expects to graduate in July 2004 with her bachelor of science degree in fire and safety engineering technology from Cogswell College. Additionally, she had seven articles published in fire service magazines, and has presented training sessions at four international, national and regional fire service conferences.

Expanded Opportunities

Mooney’s momentum for continuing her education is ongoing. She will attend her third EFO course in July 2004, and has submitted applications to pursue a master of business administration degree with an emphasis in human resource management. Earning a master’s degree offers expanded career and post-career opportunities. It’s becoming more standard that agencies hiring fire chiefs are mandating candidates possess both the EFO designation and a graduate degree.

While Mooney is appreciative and fulfilled in her present position as a battalion chief, she is looking ahead at her future.

“I’m fast approaching my 25th anniversary with the City of Longwood, but I’m naturally asking myself what the next phase of my life is going to offer,” she said. “Pursuing a position as a fire chief, fire science program director or perhaps a management position with the Department of Homeland Security are all being considered as long-term career goals.”

Mooney offers an educational challenge to readers: “The time to start acquiring credits toward earning a bachelor degree was yesterday. Time is short, money is precious, college is getting more expensive, but the potential rewards are definitely worth the effort. I really struggled understanding the best approach for myself and should have spent more time earning college credits earlier in my career. Find and nurture relationships with positive role models to keep you focused and moving in the right direction. Attend professional fire service conferences and take leadership roles in fire service organizations. Keep the faith, earn college credits and eventually you’ll be walking down the aisle to accept your diploma. It’ll be one of the most satisfying days of your life.”