By Laura King
May 8, 2015, Toronto – I’m going to say it out loud (or, more accurately, type it): there is going to come a day – soon – when municipalities will require the people they hire to be firefighters to have university degrees.
No degree. No job.
That shouldn’t surprise you – it’s a natural evolution given the business, management, political and soft skills required to be promoted in the fire hall or into management.
Education – for firefighters and fire officers – emerged as a theme in my circles the last couple of weeks.
The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs have all announced education programs. Only the OAFC program includes a degree – through the University of Guelph Humber in emergency management.
Essentially, it seems to me, organizations are back filling, trying to get fire personnel the education they need to do their jobs – once they already have the jobs. That’s why I expect municipalities to change the criteria for their firefighters to include a university education.
As OAFC first vice-president Steve Hernan explained to me yesterday, “around the council table, and when fire officers are looking for jobs, [councillors] are looking for degrees rather than diplomas. They want the people they hire to have the critical-thinking skills that come with that.”
Briefly, the OAFC’s program builds on the education that fire officers already have – NFPA Fire Officer I and II – through a certificate program that requires 18 credits in management, human resources, emergency services management and emergency incident management.
Those courses lead to a college diploma and the college credits can then be applied toward the university degree. Make no mistake, Hernan said, it’s a lot of work and requires consistent part-time study.
The point, said Hernan, is to build on the courses and certificates a fire officer already has rather than start from scratch, and develop the skills municipalities are demanding of their senior-management team members.
There have, for years, been issues in Ontario (and other provinces) with fire officer training – access to it, funding for it, delivery of it.
And there have been complaints that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management doesn’t provide a full range of necessary courses and programs.
Now, Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek told delegates to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference this week, there’s a deal with the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. – the OFMEM will be the only external organization accredited to deliver National Fire Academy programs, including the executive fire officer course.
Interestingly, when Wieclawek asked who in the room of more than 300 chief officers might be interested in taking such courses, not a single hand went up.
I messaged OAFC president Matt Pegg to ask why.
“The NFA executive fire officer program is both exclusive and well regarded,” he said. “I suspect that most Ontario chiefs will not be familiar with it.”
Which is probably the case. As Pegg said, you can’t want what you don’t know about.
The deal, I’m told, required some finagling to do with student background checks, academic history, and such.
As for the CAFC, its professional development program launched last week. Details were in our February issue.
The three organizations’ programs – the OAFC’s, the OFMEM’s and the CAFC’s – have different goals but the message is clear.
What’s also clear is that getting hired after doing a quick stint at a firefighter training campus or a community college will soon be unlikely.