I have long believed that there is a close tie between knowledge and success. This basic principle, which has guided my life, was driven home by my parents in the early part of my life. College was a prized commodity in the eyes of my parents. I was imbued with a thirst for knowledge and have...
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I have long believed that there is a close tie between knowledge and success. This basic principle, which has guided my life, was driven home by my parents in the early part of my life. College was a prized commodity in the eyes of my parents. I was imbued with a thirst for knowledge and have devoted much of my life to gaining, using, and sharing knowledge. I have pursued this goal throughout my life.
Before going any further with this discussion, I think that an important distinction needs to be made for you. It will allow you to gain a better understanding of why people like me place such great emphasis on gaining a formal education. It is a critical element often overlooked by firefighting personnel. They fail to recognize that there is a difference between training and education.
Training deals with the necessary skills and talents needed to perform the actual tactical tasks during any emergency. People are taught the proper way to do something and then reinforce their knowledge with continuing practice. Things like stretching a hoseline, operating a fire department pumper and properly using self-contained breathing apparatus are excellent examples of skill-level training.
Conversely, gaining an education requires your mind to accumulate new facts to augment your personal, mental database. Gathering, analyzing and distilling these facts into a useable form then allows you to increase your ability to think and to react. Dealing with people, managing budgets and crafting strategic plans are not taught at fire school. We really need more theory in today’s active, ever-changing fire service. Given your busy lives, how are you to gain the knowledge and credential that you need to move ahead in the fire service?
Over the course of the past 38 years, I have spent a great deal of time pursuing knowledge in colleges and universities in a wide variety of locations. Like many in my generation, I came to an awareness of the importance of earning a college degree and worked diligently to reach that goal. For the most part, I was limited to taking my coursework in the standard classroom environment. That is just the way it was back in those days. The schools had the knowledge and if you wanted to gather that knowledge, you had to go to them. That was the classic way.
Fortunately for all of us, this is no longer the situation. In a great many cases, your college education is no further away than the screen of your desktop or notebook computer. Over the past two decades, there has been a move among colleges and universities to take their knowledge to the student. The reasons for this are simple. We Americans now live lives that are exceedingly full and hectic. We have employment obligations, and have the need to squeeze our family obligations into the mix. Many of you in the fire service are working shifts that make it somewhat difficult to achieve your educational aims. It is tough to break away and participate in a formal classroom environment.
Back in the 1970s, Dr. Denis Onieal (now the superintendent of the National Fire Academy) and I were students in New Jersey’s first baccalaureate fire science program. Denis and I juggled our academic responsibilities with our fire department schedules (Jersey City for Denis, and Newark for me) as we dove into the fire science program at the former Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University). After four very difficult years, we were able to don our caps and gowns and receive our bachelor of science degrees. We then both moved on the garner masters’ and doctoral credentials.
As I stated earlier, I am a firm believer in the need to broaden one’s mind. College not only provides knowledge, but it demands of the student such critical attributes as discipline, dedication and persistence if they are to make the grade. If you think about it, these attributes are also critical to success in the fire service. I know that I would not have achieved the successes I have enjoyed were it not for the time spent in pursuit of knowledge.