What is the answer? The fire service needs to promote higher education. Chief officers need to set the example for their personnel by enrolling in degree programs. Employers must offer tuition assistance programs and pay incentives for personnel who achieve college degrees. Fire fighters must include achieving a college degree as part of their career development plans.
Where do you start? Decide what kind of degree do you want, and how much time you have to devote to college. With sufficient available time, an Associate's Degree will take about two-years to complete, while a Bachelor's Degree will take about four years to complete. A Master's Degree can take from 18 to 24 months to complete after achieving a Bachelor's Degree. For fire fighters working 24-hour shifts, the time at the station between responding to calls and daily duties provides the perfect opportunity for study.
Compared with most jobs fire fighters work unusual shifts, so even night classes may not suit a fire fighter's shift schedule. Is there a local college that offers courses that fit a fire fighter's schedule? Will the fire department and/or course instructors work to accommodate a fire fighter who wants to attend college? Does the local college offer a degree program in your chosen field of study? If the answer to these questions is no, then distance learning may provide the solution.
However, distance learning is not for everyone. The courses are as challenging as on-campus courses, and the lack of classroom discussion and the inability to have face-to-face contact with the instructor places a greater burden on the student to solve problems on their own. While some may think that it is easy to study at home, family demands and unfinished chores around the house compete for study time. Distance learning students must have a high level of self-motivation and dedication in order to be successful. The College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois offers a web page with a questionnaire to help people decide if distance learning is right for them. The questionnaire is available on the Internet here.
Where do you look to find colleges that offer fire service related degrees? The following are few examples of such colleges.
The University of Florida offers Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in fire and emergency services and certificate programs via the Internet. The web site for information is here and the contact person is Dottie Beaupied.
Arizona State University offers a Master of Science in Technology in Fire Service Administration degree.
Grand Canyon University offers a Master of Science in Executive Fire Service Leadership. This program offers graduates of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program (NFA-EFOP) to complete their graduate degree. The web site for program information is here and the contact person is Kim Coffman.
In 1977, Randal Collins wrote a book called The Credentialed Society. Collins posits that society and business, through the promotion of higher education, has established screening processes that favor those with degrees with better jobs, more opportunities, and better wages. The business community recognized this and established minimum education standards for employment. The fire service is undergoing a cultural change from a mostly blue-collar vocation to that of a credentialed profession. We are witnessing the birth of a professional culture in the fire service, and the future of the fire service belongs to the well-educated fire service leaders. It is time for the fire service to recognize that we conduct our business in a credentialed society and for our leaders to prepare accordingly.
Dennis Wolf completed a Bachelor's Degree in Fire Administration through the University of Memphis taking both traditional and on-line courses. He is currently enrolled in Grand Canyon University's Master of Science in Executive Fire Service Leadership program. He will be pleased to answer questions and share his experiences with distance learning. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.