Spanish Emergency Services Personnel—Professional Qualifications

By George H. Potter

The Spanish Ministry of Labor and Social Security has published the up-to-date Professional Qualifications for Public Service Emergency Responders in a Royal Decree of more than 330 pages. This latest law supercedes several previously published documents which, to certain degrees, defined the professional qualifications for firefighters and rescue personnel in the regional and municipal fire brigades and civil aviation airport fire brigades.

The new law establishes eight professional qualification categories for personnel in public safety and environmental protection activities. The following are the overall occupational categories:

    I.    Fire extinction and rescue—level 2

    II.   Fire prevention and maintenance—level 2

    III.  Vigilance and extinction operations in wildland fires and contingency support in rural wildland and forest         areas—level 2

    IV.   Hygienic—sanitary control in installations susceptible to possible spread of dangerous microorganisms—level 2

    V.    Management and coordination of civil protection and emergencies—level 2

    VI.   Coordination of operations in forest fires and contingency support in rural and forest areas—level 3

    VII.  Management of services for control of dangerous microorganisms—level 3

    VIII. Control of noise, vibrations, and acoustic insulation—level 3


The levels 2 and 3 are not clarified in the law.

The latest law establishes the job qualification for professional certification in Fire Extinction and Rescue as set forth in a previous law published in 2005. That specific law established the following Performance Requirements:

  • Perform operations necessary to save lives exposed to danger.
  • Perform operations necessary for the control and extinction of fires.
  • Act in uncontrolled situations that threaten persons or the environment.
  • Perform operations necessary for the control of emergencies employing the adequate resources.

The 2013 document carries over much of the specific statements that appeared in the 2005 law as well as other previous decrees and laws.

The 2005 law also established a criterion of general competencies which appear somewhat vague and too generalized: Aid and protect lives and property; control and extinguish fires using adequate resources; intervene in any place where an emergency, accident, or catastrophe might occur.

The professional environment contemplated specified that personnel will perform professional activities in any and all fire services located in any part of the country as a public service employee (national, regional, local), in large corporate entities (industrial sectors), and being able to exercise actions of international cooperation.

The law also establishes the sectors in which personnel would operate: in national, regional, or local administrations (public services employees); airports; and industries dedicated to production, distribution, manufacture, and storage of dangerous substances and products.

A critical question comes up now regarding instructor qualifications. The law defines the requirements for instructors based principally on the following academic profiles:

  • All instructors must have university diplomas in either education (any specific area) or psychology.
  • They must have teaching experience at either secondary level (equivalent to high school) or university level.
  • An alternative teaching area is vocational training.
  • Still another alternative is being able to accredit having performed a minimum of 600 hours of instruction during the preceding seven years in vocational training or in the public education system.

Potential instructors can also be engineers in any discipline; architects; or graduate level technicians in workplace safety and prevention or professional hazards prevention.

Looking into the instructor requirements, no specific experience in fire protection training appears anywhere. (I will look into this particular aspect later in the article.)

The new law also covers occupations in management of hazardous wastes and substances in urban and industrial environments, which specifically implies hazmat operations.

The following job positions are established in the new law, most of which have appeared in previous legislation, while several others have been included in the new law, which follow:

  • Firefighters in general.
  • Airport firefighters.
  • Firefighters specialized in maritime port protection.
  • Personnel in forest fire response teams.
  • Firefighters specialized in mines.
  • Municipal fire brigade firefighters.
  • Provincial fire brigade firefighters.
  • Autonomous region fire brigade firefighters.
  • Local community fire brigade firefighters.
  • Volunteer firefighters.
  • Firefighters assigned to the Nature Conservation Directorate.
  • Private company firefighters.
  • Firefighters in other services (military, public entities, and so on).


Professional Requirements

To work as a firefighter, candidates must comply with the following requirements including Job Competency Training certification:

  • Possession of a valid Class C driving permit which qualifies the holder to drive motor vehicles of up to 7,500 kilogram (kg) plus trailers of 750 kg maximum weight, and emergency vehicles.
  • Having received basic competency training of 650 hours duration, which includes the following generalized modules:

            > Rescue operations (160 hours).

            > High angle and confined space rescue operations (50 hours).

            > Motor vehicle and water rescue operations (50 hours).

            > Basic life support (60 hours).

            > Fire control and extinction (260 hours).

            > Extinction of urban and industrial fires. Extinction of interior fires (90 hours).

            > Fire extinction operations in forest fires (90 hours).

            > Intervention in emergencies involving hazardous substances (80 hours).

            > Natural phenomena emergencies (130 hours).

            > Intervention in emergency situations including high winds, floods, earth movements caused by earthquakes or                     landslides (50 hours).

            > Intervention in emergencies involving hazardous substances (80 hours).

            > Technical assistance operations (140 hours).

            > Structural collapse shoring and cribbing (80 hours).

            > Draining, elevator and machinery rescue, forcible entry, problems with mental illness or potential suicides,                     animal rescue, and massive power interruptions (60 hours).

            > Live Fire extinction and rescue practice (40 hours).


Within the text of this legislation, specific actions and operations are defined with each competency clearly explained. The following example of high-angle rescue gives a more complete view of the structure and content of a typical job performance requirement:

  • Basic principles of physics as applied to high-angle rescue operations.
  • Preparation, use and maintenance of high-angle rescue material and equipment.
  • Characteristics of materials normally carried in a rescue pack or similar dedicated unit.
  • Characteristics, use, and basic maintenance of rescue equipment.
  • Individual and collective materials used in high-angle rescue: ropes; tape; anchors; harness; descenders; brakes; antifall devices; pullies; carabiners; tripods; and other materials, their characteristics, uses, and maintenance.
  • Rescue ladders: characteristics, use, maintenance, and limitations.
  • Preparation and setup of tools and equipment used in high-angle and underground rescue operations.
  • Techniques of high-angle rescue.
  • Ropes: knots, use of ropes, anchorage, splicing, extending ropes, blockers, tensors, and other special equipment and resistances.
  • Dynamic safety chains, fall factors, impact forces, leverage, pully effects, and dynamic and static characteristics.
  • Safety anchorage: inline and triangle.
  • Techniques: anchorage, descent by rope, progression, lifelines, ascent by rope, fractioning stages in ascent and descent, zip lines, and other equipment.
  • Ascent and descent rescue techniques.
  • Immobilization, evacuation and transport of victims.
  • Use of mobile aerial apparatus for rescue.
  • Safety procedures.

This legislation lumps all competencies of virtually all areas of emergency response into one package: structural fire and rescue, hazmat, motor vehicle and road traffic accidents, high-and low-angle rescue, industrial fire intervention, aviation emergency operations, forest and wildland fire operations, and many more.

There are no distinct competency levels in the Spanish fire services structures; a firefighter is a firefighter, period. Among the requirements not mentioned above is the academic level for access to the profession. In most cases, the minimum academic level is the Spanish equivalent to high school in the U.S., while further studies such as vocational training are given added values. The only levels requiring university levels are the officer ranks. In fact, no Spanish firefighter who does not have a university degree can ascend any higher than subofficer rank. In the Spanish fire services structure, the following ranks are the most common:

  • Bombero (firefighter).
  • Conductor (apparatus driver/operator).
  • Jefe de dotación (crew chief or senior assigned firefighter).
  • Cabo or corporal (lieutenant).
  • Sargento or sergeant (captain).
  • Sub-oficial or subofficer (somewhere between captain and battalion chief).
  • Jefe de turno = shift leader, in one-station localities; this will often be a sergeant).
  • Jefe de parquet (station chief). Minimally, this is a sergeant, but in many services, it is a subofficer or even an officer.
  • Jefe de guardia (battalion chief). Depending on the size of the service, this may be a subofficer or possibly an officer, especially in localities with two or more stations or in provincial or regional services with several stations.
  • Jefe de zona (district chief—officer rank). This is only in major cities and provincial and regional services with geographic divisions.
  • Jefe de operationes (assistant chief). Normally a senior or chief officer.
  • Jefe del servicio (fire chief). The maximum functional or operational rank. There are a very few fire chiefs in very small municipal fire brigades who are not officers.

In several very large regional and a few of major municipal fire services, the absolute senior fire chief is often a politically appointed person, normally holding a senior degree in some engineering field or architecture. Some services have incorporated the titles of “subinspector,” “inspector,” and other similar titles for senior rank positions. However, until now, no officer rank candidates are required to have any academic or practical knowledge or experience related to fire safety and fire protection. No university undergraduate diploma programs contain curriculum related to fire safety. At this time, there are a couple of lawyers, at least one school teacher, and others in diverse career fields occupying fire service chief officer positions. A field not qualified until very recently for chief officer position is Chemical Engineering.


Fire Service Instructor Qualifications

As mentioned previously, this legislation requires that instructors for training firefighters must have degrees in education, psychology, engineering, architecture, and so on. A program developed by the Alcoi Politechnic University specifically for professional firefighters and fire service instructors was held for several years, and several hundred firefighters and officers participated in this very valid “train the trainer” course. The first three 100 academic-hour courses were held at the university’s campus in the city of Alcoi in the province of Alicante, while the following courses were online. The program was terminated several years ago. Although not being officially recognized by the Education Ministry as an official academic program, it is the only fire service instructor training course in Spain to merit being referred to as certified.

The European Confederation of Fire Protection Associations (CFPA) is a group of 18 European national associations very similar to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The CFPA has developed more than 30 specific fire safety and protection training programs, several leading to CFPA diplomas and which are oriented toward specialists in multiple areas of fire safety, including fire services. Again, although not being recognized as “official” by the government, these courses, delivered by CFPA’s Spanish member—CEPREVEN—are highly respected throughout the country.

The Danish/Spanish alliance, FALCK/LAINSA, has an agreement with the American certification entity PRO BOARD, through which FALCK/LAINSA has developed an instructor course based on the criteria established in NFPA 1041, Standard for Fire Service Instructor Professional Qualifications. This week-long course held at one of the firm’s training facilities leads to PRO BOARD; not official NFPA certification at the instructor level.

Over the past 30 some years, a number of Spanish public service firefighters and industrial emergency responders have attended the TEEX (formerly Texas A&M) Industrial Firefighting and Emergency Response courses in Spanish. Some of these participants have returned to Spain claiming to be Texas A&M instructors. At this time, there are less than a dozen officially certified TEEX instructors, certified to instruct the specific industrial course.

Also, several Valencia provincial fire brigade members and at least one Madrid municipal brigade sergeant have received certification as instructors of Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFBT), or flashover training, from the Swedish National Fire Training Academy.

However, none of these training programs are officially recognized for qualification as a fire service instructor. In fact, there is no official fire instructor training course which would certify Spanish instructors for certification according to the requisites of this legislation.

As with the firefighter qualifications, there are no competency levels stipulated for instructors. The Spanish Firefighters Association, ASELF, is working on a project that would establish competency levels similar to those set down in NFPA 1041.

The Spanish Industrial Firefighters Association, APBE, is also working on specific qualifications for industrial emergency responder and instructor competencies. When reading the 337-page document, one gets the impression that some bureaucrats got together to create an unnecessarily complicated legislation, which appears to be at this point in time very difficult with which to comply and simultaneously puts all emergency responders, be they municipal firefighters, rural firefighters, wildland firefighters, aviation firefighters, or medical emergency responders, into one very generalized category.

Photo found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Milodon3.


George H. Potter is a practicing fire protection specialist who has lived in Spain for the past 45 years. He served as an Anne Arundel County, Maryland, volunteer firefighter with the Riva Volunteer Fire Department and the Independent Hose Company in Annapolis and as an ambulance driver with the Wheaton (MD) Rescue Squad. He served six years in the United States Air Force as a firefighter, an apparatus driver/operator, and a crew chief. He has been involved in fire protection system installation, mobile fire apparatus design, and construction and fire safety training. He is a Spain-certified fire service instructor and a hazmat specialist, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Spanish Firefighters‘ Association (ASELF).



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