Training for the First Responder

By: James P. Smith, Deputy Chief (Ret.)

Firefighting and emergency medical services (EMS) go hand-in-hand and provide excellent benefits to the citizens of our communities. Though they present different challenges, they offer exciting and personally rewarding careers to firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). The bonuses of performing these jobs can be a simple thank you or a broad smile from a child.

Proficiency requires training and it is the backbone of firefighting and EMS organizations. Whether it is firefighting training, or EMS training, it starts on day one and continues throughout one’s career. Those who excel in their profession will continually seek information. It becomes second nature to be constantly observant for hazards and dangers whether on or offduty.

There are career opportunities in both fields, or one can serve as a volunteer in their city or town. Fire and EMS agencies seek members who strive to continue their training and constantly improve upon their skills. Firefighting and EMS are sought after careers due to many factors. The greatest reason is the tremendous satisfaction gained from the challenges faced and accomplishments achieved. There are also the attractive working hours, salaries and retirement benefits. Career personnel can often retire and receive a pension at an earlier age than most occupations.

Today, fire departments and EMS agencies are finding that with the large number of applicants seeking employment, they can be highly selective in their hiring process. Many agencies are demanding higher entry-level requirements. This increases the competitiveness for these positions and applicants are finding that requirements include not only the basic skills taught in fire academies and state training courses, but advanced education found in college curricula including fire science and EMS degrees. This change in hiring practices has seen more personnel being hired with college degrees.

Not only are degrees being required for new hires, but also for those seeking promotions within the organizations.

Not only are degrees being required for new hires, but also for those seeking promotions within the organizations. Agencies may differ in their promotional process; they may require a degree as a basis to apply for promotional positions or give additional points to applicants who have achieved them. In any case, the value of these degrees is easily understood. Salary and pension are based upon an individual’s rank. Promotions to higher ranks will be accompanied by salaries commensurate with the roles and responsibilities of those positions. The ability to be successful in firefighting or EMS, and the incentives that accompany those promotions, make it an added attraction to advance within an organization.

All types of training are encouraged and important, but obtaining a fire science degree or an EMS degree is an indication of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. As the past director of the Philadelphia Fire Training Academy, I observed that the best cadets and candidates for promotion were those who had fire and EMS degrees. These individuals had gained additional knowledge that was not typically known to the other cadets or candidates. It allowed those individuals to excel and easily grasp advanced concepts.

The internet allows one the ability to take college courses in the comfort of their own home. This ease of education permits one to apply the degrees that they earn by seeking employment and advancing in their chosen profession. As a professional firefighter for close to 50 years I realize that training and education is an ongoing quest for know-how. We must continually seek information to ensure the safety and protection of ourselves and our brother and sister responders.

Deputy Chief James P. Smith (ret) was a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department for 41 years.  A member of Atlantic County New Jersey Incident Management Team, he has published over 185 articles in various national publications and is author of the book “Strategic and Tactical Considerations on the Fireground, third edition,” and Study Guide. Smith is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer’s Program. He has developed courses for the National Fire Academy and has served as an adjunct instructor since 1984. He also teaches incident command for the Emergency Management Institute. He has developed and taught over 400 courses and has been a keynote speaker for many national, state and local functions.