COMPANY OFFICER CERTIFICATION: A MINIMUM STANDARD FOR THE FIRE OFFICER
BY BRUCE J. CAVALLARI
In career and volunteer departments as well as industrial fire brigades, we would not use an unqualified or uncertified firefighter for firefighting, an uncertified driver/operator to pump an engine at a fire scene, or an uncertified inspector to conduct a building inspection or plans review. So why are we so willing to authorize the use of uncertified company officers to lead our most important assets–our firefighters–into harm`s way?
Just think about it. The company officer, a lieutenant or a captain, has numerous responsibilities and somewhat limited authority. Traditionally, he must motivate his personnel to accomplish the department`s goals on and off the emergency scene. While he has wide-ranging responsibilities, he seldom has more than on-the-job training (OJT) for the position. Even the guidelines and reading materials established for company officer promotional exams often do not reflect the actual operational tendencies and attitudes of the department. There would seem to be ample safety–if not purely operational–considerations to support a company officer certification requirement on a local, state, or federal level.
The state of Florida has had an established Fire Officer Certification program for many years. However, to my knowledge, no department has yet to require its mid- or lower-level supervisors to attain this certification. Even labor has yet to push for a requirement in this area. I agree that there are many important issues facing the fire service, such as safety, budgets, and labor. However, we should not take for granted leadership`s equally significant role in reducing injuries, costs, and fireground loss and improving departmental working conditions. More highly educated and experienced management will significantly im-prove our workplace.
The Florida Fire Officer Certification Program consists of a seven-part instructional curriculum followed by a test; a certificate of competency is awarded. The concept is to provide mid- and lower-level emergency services managers with a basic understanding of supervisory practices, emergency scene management, and hazardous situation mitigation.
THE INSTRUCTIONAL PROGRAM
Following are the seven courses that make up the program. After reading these brief descriptions, you will understand why I believe this program should be called “Fire Officer Minimum Standards.”
Fire Service Instructor: Methods and Techniques. This course draws from recognized authorities in exploring the methods and mechanics of imparting information and adult learning principles. It emphasizes techniques that have wide application in teaching situations as well as devices for specific areas. Also stressed are measuring teaching effectiveness and the use of media and visual aids.
Company Officer. This course is designed to assist fire officers in solving the varied problems and situations they will be required to manage effectively in today`s everchanging fire service. It includes a review of fire department organization and administration, management theory, leadership, communication, motivation, and group dynamics.
Hazardous Materials I. The objective is to provide an understanding of the basic principles involved in recognizing materials that are hazardous because of their combustibility, toxicity, and reactivity. Pyro-phoric metals, hypergolics, cryogenics, insecticides, as well as the more common materials and chemicals, are covered. Em-phasis is on ways to identify hazardous materials in the field and sources of information relative to the safe handling of materials and the safe extinguishment of fires. It is based on the National Fire Academy`s “Site Operating Practices” program.
Hazardous Materials II. A continuation of Hazardous Materials I, this course delves into the identification of hazardous materials, their properties, and haz-mat modes of transportation. It also identifies the hazards associated with storing such haz mats in a fixed storage facility. The course is also based on the National Fire Academy`s “Site Operating Practices” program.
Firefighting Tactics and Strategy I. This is designed to cover the basics of coping with a fire emergency and determining the best use of available resources in protecting lives and property from fire, heat, and smoke. It emphasizes the changing nature of an emergency situation and the ways in which a fire officer can evaluate the effectiveness of his proposed plan of protection.
Fire Prevention Practices. This is a study in fire inspection practices, including fire prevention bureau activities, hazards, fire causes, construction types and features, flame spread, occupancy and fire load, and inspection techniques.
Private Fire Protection Systems. This is a study of private fire protection and detection systems, such as sprinkler and standpipe systems, chemical extinguishing systems, and detection systems and devices. Each system is discussed in terms of its need, construction, preventive maintenance, and uses.
Each course is 40 hours/three college credits. Successful completion of the seven prerequisite courses makes eligible the individual to test for the Fire Officer I qualification. Again, successful testing results in a certificate of competency from the State of Florida Fire College, Bureau of Fire Standards and Training.
BRINGING OUR EDUCATION TO A NEW LEVEL
Obviously, this is only a basic education for the company officer. Experiences are best interpreted by a well-developed educational background. We must elevate our leadership`s educational values if we are to be taken seriously, and being taken seriously is a very important factor in selling our services to the commissioners or board of directors.
This program represents an important step in the right direction for the fire service. However, one of the steps the fire service must enforce is the old saying, “Practice what you preach.” It is simply inconsistent, for example, for the fire department administration to require the use of a management book as a promotional exam reference if the administration has neither read nor followed the principles laid out in the management book. Such inconsistency will undoubtedly create a major conflict between newly advanced company officers and existing staff members. Most importantly, this conflict will be easily recognized by the front-line firefighters.
This program provides a bridge between firefighters who desire advancement and company officers responsible for leadership duties. And all leaders have a very specific duty: to motivate their personnel to accomplish the goals of the department/business. This program will present the best ways to determine what motivates personnel and how to convey to personnel the administration`s goals. As a firefighter gains this knowledge on his way to achieve advancement, he will become more effective as a firefighter and more valuable as an employee. n
BRUCE J. CAVALLARI, an 18-year veteran of the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Palm Beach County (FL) Fire-Rescue Operations Division. He also operates Environmental Safety Specialists Inc., which services, consults, and instructs industrial and fire service organizations in the use of compressed gas equipment. Cavallari is a state of Florida certified company officer, company officer instructor, fire safety inspector, inspector instructor, and minimum standards instructor. He is on the staff at South Tech Fire Academy in Boynton Beach, Florida.