Professional Designations: Afterthought or Forethought?

Nov. 5, 1987, is the day I first went to the Stoney Point, NC, Fire Department and picked up my application to join. Little did I know that I was starting on the path to a career that has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Beginning...


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Nov. 5, 1987, is the day I first went to the Stoney Point, NC, Fire Department and picked up my application to join. Little did I know that I was starting on the path to a career that has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Beginning as a 14-year-old in a department-sponsored Junior Firefighter program, I was fortunate to have many experienced people help guide, mentor and correct me along the way. By the age of 16, I was firmly focused on my goal of going into the fire service as a career. Although the engaged leadership of the department was helping me, there was no real path or map to guide me and show me what I needed to do to progress toward my chosen career. Even with the robust training and certification system in North Carolina, navigating what I would need to attain my ultimate goals in the fire service was difficult and confusing.

When I look back over the past 25 years of my career, it amazes me how many choices new as well as veteran firefighters have to help them develop. As a profession we have come a long way in developing our firefighters and preparing them for the roles they seek, but determining the steps to take to prepare for promotion can be confusing.

A complex profession

One question I hear from new firefighters is what do I need to do to advance in my career? This is not an easy question to answer when you take into account just how complex the fire service has become. The issue of professional development has also been a question pondered at all the Wingspread Conferences since 1976. This is where the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) of the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) becomes part of the equation: “The mission of the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) is to assist in the professional development of emergency service personnel by providing guidance for career planning through participation in the Professional Designation Program. The nine-member commission consists of individuals from the emergency services profession, federal and local government and academia” (http://www.publicsafetyexcellence.org/professional-credentialing/about-credentialing-cpc.aspx).

When you consider the CPC’s mission statement, it becomes evident that designations are a tool for professional development. So many times, this is not the case when it comes to applicants like me who sought the designation only after they had obtained a certain rank within the fire service. Obtaining a designation in this manner is an afterthought, and it is how a majority of the designees are awarded. The program is still valuable as it challenges you to strive to continually improve yourself, but the process can be used for so much more.

The CPC has recognized the importance of career planning since the inception of the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designation in 2000. The CPC has continued to look for ways to help fire and emergency service personnel achieve their professional goals. CPC now offers the Chief EMS Officer (CEMSO), started in 2008; Chief Training Officer (CTO), started in 2012; Fire Marshal (FM), started in 2011; and Fire Officer (FO), started in 2009. The diversity of the programs offered by the CPC in the form of professional designations can provide the guidance needed for anyone trying to obtain their career goals in many areas of the fire service.

Setting goals & objectives

So how do we use the designation system as forethought instead of an afterthought? It is as simple as printing the application. Departments or individuals can print the application and use it to help give guidance to someone seeking to improve him or herself and prepare them for promotion.

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