Lifelong Learning in the Fire Industry

By Marc Revere, Fire Chief

As you look ahead to your educational goals, you should keep in mind two fundamental rules of success: first, attitude and curiosity trump résumé, and second, tenacity in the pursuit of learning and achievement will always eclipse intelligence. There are some people that don’t appreciate the benefits of lifelong learning. They fail to understand the concept of accept, adapt and accelerate or atrophy. Do you know someone that educational atrophy has set in? They are easy to spot. They use statements like “I am too old to go back to school”; or “I could never learn that”, or “If they want me to know it they will send me to school”.

Learn More About Fire Science DegreesIn regards to life and learning there are two basic core principles I’d like to share. We have the power to decide and we are responsible for the consequences of our choices. It is up to you to decide. Lifelong learning is a requirement for your success. There is simply no other way to achieve personal and professional effectiveness.

Furthermore, education is an investment and should not be considered discretionary, it is mandatory! The reason for this conviction is that technology is transforming at such a rate (research, skills development, education) that it demands we grow with it. Maintaining status quo only means you’re losing ground and potential opportunities. In military terms, lifelong learning becomes a “force multiplier” that will have a profound impact on you and your career and truly personifies the motto of the fire service: Semper Vigilance—always vigilant.

Lifelong learning also supports professional development, which is defined as the planned, progressive, career-long process of education, training, self-development and experience. Career-long in this definition means just that—it starts when your career starts, and it doesn’t stop until you retire.

Education is an investment and should not be considered discretionary, it is mandatory!

[My family has more than a century of service within three generations of firefighters.  My son, his uncle, his grandfather and myself.  During this time, the mission has never really changed—protect life and property—but technology and tactics have and embracing lifelong learning has allowed three generations of firefighter keep pace with the demands of our changing roles.]

If you are trying to obtain a public safety position (Fire/EMS/Police) or promote within one of these three disciplines you will always be asked this question, at the entry level, and each promotion including Chief.  “What have you done to prepare yourself?”

Hiring for a public safety position typically is based upon character with minimum requirements on basic competency, EMT/PM; Police/Fire Academy grads etc., and then promotes members based upon competency. Competency in turn, is based upon education and experience. Education will set you apart from your competition; your commitment to lifelong learning will resonate with the oral boards who will see you as someone who is serious and prepared.

Now if you’re just starting own your academic journey, or going back to school mid-career, here are a couple of points for you to consider.

  1. Get organized. Inherently, most of us are not driven by timelines. Attending class, on the other hand, is very predictable. To be successful in school, you need to develop a whole new work/school/life balance approach, which starts with organization and planning.
  2. Secure the support of your family. It will take years to get a degree, so those around you need to be OK with the fact that you’ll have less time to spend with them and that there will be requests for schedule changes, etc.
  3. Be self-reliant. Your life is also your responsibility. It is up to you.  If you’re starting mid-career education endeavors, you should approach it with the same vigor, confidence as you apply to your public safety role.
  4. Be prepared to deal with setbacks. You may start and stop; it may take longer than you thought it would; you may struggle to master an online learning interface while younger students whiz through the screens as though it’s second nature but all of these can be overcome with persistence.

In closing Winston Churchill once said, “Responsibly is the price of greatness”. You must accept responsibility for your own learning. Getting a degree pre-employment or mid-career is a calculated sacrifice to influence promotions and/or achieve a better financial situation for you and your family. It’s a short-term sacrifice with long-term rewards. Ultimately, education is an investment in yourself, one that will open doors you didn’t know existed, expand your knowledge and develop your critical-thinking skills. No one can ever take that away from you.

If you want to be a part of and eventually lead extremely motivated and dedicated men and women in high-risk operations, help them with their career goals and be held in high esteem within the profession and your community, you need to be prepared.

So let me ask you, what are you doing to prepare yourself and what are your educational goals?

marc revereChief Marc Revere’s fire service career has spanned 36 years; 16 as fire chief in three different organizations, retiring at the end of 2012. He is a Harvard Fellow, has a Bachelor of Arts in Management and a Certificate in Fire Protection Administration. He has earned the designations of both Executive Fire Officer from the National Fire Academy and Chief Fire Officer by the Commission on Fire Officer Designation and is a Master Instructor. Revere has served as President of the California Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Los Angeles County Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Santa Clara County Fire Chiefs’ Association and the Marin County Fire Chiefs’ Association. 

Revere has written over 50 articles and contributed to several books focusing on Leadership; Ethics, Values and Professional Development.