Professional Development in the Fire Service
By Richard Marinucci, Executive Director
Fire Department Safety Officers Association
Everyone wants to be successful. While success may come in varying degrees, those with the most success embrace the idea that they must continually learn throughout their career until they decide to retire. This is no different in the fire and emergency service where expectations for outstanding performance are high and the responsibilities are ever-changing. Education has become more important and is absolutely critical for those aspiring to higher ranks. But even those who are comfortable in their role or already reached their goals must not get complacent and have to continue expanding their mind.
Education and training are different. Regardless of your definition of each or your perception, both are important to personal development and the well-being of the organization. There must be ongoing training for all firefighters and every day must be a training day. This is in order to maintain skill levels to the highest possible level and to introduce new concepts, ideas, and methods. Training is the most key component of any high-performing organization and determines the quality of service delivered and reduces the risks to firefighters who are asked to work in hazardous environments.
Do you want to be considered a professional in the fire and emergency service? In order to be considered a professional you will need to be technically competent, qualified, and proficient. You will need to stay current and continually study and practice your trade. Professionals are committed to their work and passionate about pursuing perfection. There is no resting on laurels and those that are not improving are losing ground as others are getting better and the work is continually evolving. The importance of continual education cannot be over-stressed.
The educational component of professional development is important within all ranks within the fire and emergency service.
The educational component of professional development is important within all ranks within the fire and emergency service. Education not only provides specific information and knowledge with the subject being studied but also expands critical thinking skills for the individual. This is vital as firefighters ascend the ranks. There are no standard answers to the many challenges facing officers and the ability to view a problem with critical eyes will lead to better decision making. Thinking, like most everything else, improves with practice. Exercising the mind through education expands its capabilities and affects performance in a positive way.
Another benefit of education is that it will improve an individual’s ability to communicate. Success or failure is often the result of good or poor communication. Those that can clearly deliver their message have a distinct advantage in the workplace and also are significant contributors to the quality of service being delivered. This communication has to be considered in all forms – oral and written especially. Education enhances one’s ability to communicate. Virtually everyone can improve their written skills. The better one is at clearly delivering a message, whether in a formal letter or report or less formal memo or email, the more success they will have.
There are many ways to pursue further education. Those working in the fire and emergency service have challenges due to their work schedule. One option that is available and becoming more effective and accepted is online education. Those that choose this opportunity can learn a great deal while expanding their mind, doing so with a methodology that is more conducive to their personal lifestyle. It provides an alternative means to accomplish a goal of advanced education that minimizes the excuse of not having the time. In fact those working 24 hour shifts or some variation may find this a better opportunity as the work can be done almost anytime, not at a specifically designated class time.
For those that choose this option, they need to understand the discipline that will be needed in order to stay on track and keep up with the workload. Those that are successful not only gain the information and knowledge from the class but improve their organizational skills, which only help performance within a profession.
According to Keith Padgett, Fire and EMS Academic Program Director, Columbia Southern University, "Ongoing professional development throughout your entire career is truly investing in yourself."
The highest performers and most respected people I have ever met have been life-long learners. They understand the need for continual education and never stop learning. They do not let complacency set in. There is a message here – if you want to excel, accept the challenge of becoming a life-long learner.
Richard Marinucci is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.