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December 6, 2013
By Les Karpluk

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Dec. 6, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Writing magazine articles and blogs has never been a challenge for me. I usually sit down and start tapping at the keyboard and the thoughts just seem to flow. However, in the last month, it has been a challenge for me to focus on writing. Maybe I needed a break from everything so I could finish one of my courses from the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Or maybe my body was telling me something and it took a visit to my doctor to realize that there isn’t a Superman costume underneath my uniform and it was time to deal with some health issues.

Dec. 6, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Writing magazine articles and blogs has never been a challenge for me. I usually sit down and start tapping at the keyboard and the thoughts just seem to flow. However, in the last month, it has been a challenge for me to focus on writing. Maybe I needed a break from everything so I could finish one of my courses from the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Or maybe my body was telling me something and it took a visit to my doctor to realize that there isn’t a Superman costume underneath my uniform and it was time to deal with some health issues.

I feel honored when I get an email or phone call from another chief officer or firefighter asking for my thoughts on a topic. I always say, “I have an opinion and it’s only my opinion,” and emphasize the fact that it’s somewhat like a patient getting a second opinion from a doctor: the people making the inquiries must base the final decisions on the information they receive.

This brings me to questions I’ve been asked about education in the fire service – who should be taking courses, and what courses should they be taking. These types of inquiries could form the foundation for a book, but since my opinion has been sought, I thought education would be a good topic for a blog. So, here are my thoughts on education in the fire service.

Question: What education should firefighters take to better themselves?

Answer: It depends where you want to go in your career. If you have a passion for public education, then seminars focused on public education should be a priority. If the interest is in firefighting strategy and tactics, then seek out this type of education or online courses. If you want it badly enough, spend some of your own money. You will never go wrong educating yourself.

Question: Should an up-and-coming officer take leadership training?

Answer: If you have read my columns in Fire Fighting in Canada and my blogs, then you already know my answer. Firefighters should be exposed to, or given the opportunity to take leadership training as soon as they walk through the doors of the station. Why would we deliver this only to up-and-coming or existing officers? Whether volunteer or career, I believe every firefighter must have an understanding of fire-service leadership. This not only helps us understand each other better, it helps the department grow together and be stronger.

Question: Should officers take post-secondary education or should they strive for education that meets the NFPA 1021 Fire Officer I-IV training?

Answer: Yes to both.

Question: Is it necessary for the fire chief to take courses and attend seminars?

Answer: Yes. Why wouldn’t we want fire chiefs to educate themselves? The more education, the more the department benefits. I am not aware of anyone who has become a fire chief without having a solid educational background. Our communities today demand more from the fire service and this requires education. So, let me emphasize another point: the more education the department gets, the more the department benefits.

Question: I am looking to advance my career but I do not see any opportunities in the horizon. Why should I start now?

Answer: When it comes to education or seminars, sooner rather than later is the motto. Do not wait until you see an opportunity on the horizon because at that point, it’s too late. I firmly believe that a firefighter should look at a five-year education timeframe. Look at what you want to take and plan it. Don’t forget to give yourself some me time and take breaks, otherwise you may burn out and then you will face an uphill battle to get motivated again.

Question: Is education really necessary for a paid on-call fire department?

Answer: Of course! I facilitate for Dalhousie University and Lakeland College and am continuously exposed to the work of students from paid on-call fire departments. Trust me, a business case for increasing the budget is necessary for a paid on-call department. Putting together a good business case makes you look professional. And, if you look professional, guess what? Your department looks professional.

Last question: Do you see the fire service moving toward more education in the future?

Answer: Not only do I see this as the case, I believe it is an absolute necessity if we want to demonstrate professionalism.

All of this reminded me that I need to make it a priority to review our department’s career-management program and add the competencies that are required by today’s firefighters and officers.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes


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