Do We Need “Emmitsburg West?”
The word from Emmitsburg is that a satellite campus for the National Fire Academy is planned for “somewhere west of the Mississippi” and “sometime soon.” The initial reaction of the fire service to this news is generally positive when the news is taken as a sign of added support and emphasis for the Academy. The fire service has been looking for those signs, hoping that the excellent quality of the courses and programs developed there would win recognition from the powers that control the budget and the agenda at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some further thought about this news, however, causes me to wonder if a second campus is really in the best interests of the fire service and the Academy. While I don’t question the motives, I simply must ask if this would be a good move at this time. My concerns are based on three issues:
- The Melting Pot Effect. There is no question that one of the most positive aspects of the “Emmitsburg experience” is the opportunity to spend time in class and on a self-contained campus with fire service people from ail over the United States. Captains from California end up with fire fighters from Kentucky and public education specialists from Maine, and everyone learns new and different approaches to old and similar problems. The interchange of ideas and experiences in Emmitsburg is truly magic and it is helping to break down the historical regionalism and parochialism of the fire service. Do we want to give that up for a system where east meets east and west meets west?
- The Dilution Effect. The Emmitsburg campus is now operating at near capacity and some classes are booked through the end of the year. The courses offered on campus in the Resident Program are generally praised as being high in quality and long on value. The satellite campus would open up more classroom space and more opportunities to attend, but isn’t there a danger of increasing the quantity while losing ground on the quality? The people who attend Academy classes are destined to become the leaders and the trainers when they get back home, so we should concentrate on selecting the best people to attend the best classes instead of just more people to attend more classes. Some of us may have to wait for space to get into a particular class, but we can count on experiencing the best if and when we are selected to attend.
- The Displacement Effect. Will an expanded National Fire Academy begin to displace many of the good ongoing programs on the state level? The Academy was never intended to replace state and local training programs, it should and does supplement those programs through the Outreach Program, training instructors and turning packaged courses over to the state training directors and major cities to deliver. The Academy courses should attract the students who cannot get what they need at the state level, not draw students away by competing with effective existing programs.