When I first started out in this job, I expected to fight fires. I knew that I would occasionally spend some time treating ill and injured people but, for the most part, I’d be fighting fires. Three months after being hired, excluding the occasional “company” drill and a few more formal citywide drills or training programs in firefighting, I could have stopped my formal education in the art and science of firefighting if I chose. There was and still is no mandated training requirement or recertification for firefighters in the state of Ohio.
However, as we all know, things in the fire service have changed. About 25 or so years ago, we got into this “emergency medical” thing. The state believed that it was important for every EMT to demonstrate competence in bandaging and splinting and so on-so much so that we are required to document annual EMT training hours and recertification every few years. We eventually got into haz-mat, water rescue, confined space, and-most recently-weapons of mass destruction (WMD) training, certification, and response. To be a “technician” in most of these “specialties” requires documentation of mandated annual training and, in some instances, recertification. However, the state still believes that everything you need to know about the art and science of firefighting must be demonstrated only once, at the end of your probationary period. After that, apparently, you’re good to go for the rest of your career.
In my opinion, it’s time to stop the madness. Every firefighter in the country should be required to “prove” proficiency in the art and science of firefighting, period.
-John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is the author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000). He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.
Question: In light of the mandated training and certification that “specialties” require, how would the concept of annual recertification (testing) coupled with mandatory documented firefighting training of approximately eight hours a month, similar to state EMT training requirements, go over in your department? Would anyone be against it? Should the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs begin to lobby for such training?
Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: With all of the required “specialties” training our firefighters must accomplish annually, the thought of another required, mandatory training program at first elicits the response, “Here we go again.” But, that is at first. The thought of having an eight-hour-a-month training requirement just for firefighting is not that far out of whack. It’s the lack of basics, not following standard operating procedures (SOPs), and the like that are getting our troops into trouble more than anything else. So having to train at least eight hours a month on firefighting doesn’t seem that bad of an idea.
My question, though, is: What are we doing already? If most are following the standard set by the National Fire Protection Association or the ISO, it’s 240 hours per year per firefighter regardless of sick or vacation time. In Texas, the State Commission requires only 20 hours of continuing education (CE) annually for a firefighter. In Lewisville, we already provide training six days a week; the same topic is covered on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so all three shifts get the same training. We often conduct our multicompany drills on these days. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the same (new) topic is presented for all three shifts (usually single company, in-house training). Makeup lessons are on Sunday; we seldom have to use this day for training. It works well. The troops have no complaints and go along with the program. It’s not perfect, but they make it work even if obstacles arise or a high number of calls occur.
Considering the ever-present need to train in the basics and to keep firefighting skills sharp, if the way to achieve this is through a mandate that says you have to have eight hours of continuing education in firefighting training per month, go for it. With all of the other stuff we’re squeezing into our training programs, maybe we do need to squeeze some firefighter training back into them. If we’re not already training our firefighters in the basics of firefighting, then we’re just a stone’s throw away from a really bad thing.
Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One
Response: From the fire department’s perspective, there is always a concern when unfunded mandates are proposed. In this case, we are not concerned because we are currently meeting the training component of this proposal. There would be some concern over annual testing. We would have to pay any fee for the annual test and for the members to take it. If the test could not be administered locally, there would be the cost for travel. There is an additional concern if members do not pass the annual test. Although we would not want these members practicing their specialty, it’s difficult to have to tell experienced members they can no longer perform the work because they failed a test. Additionally, service delivery and labor concerns may arise while we strive to remedy this situation.
There are pros and cons to mandated training and certification. The pros are that a standard must be followed and there will be an increase in professionalism. The cons are that an “hours” or curriculum requirement may “box in” the members to train to meet a standard vs. training to meet their needs. Consider a few other questions: Are fire departments forced to devote resources to this training and certification unnecessarily? Is there a “safety net” just because everyone has a certificate? Who certifies the people administering the test? We are not opposed to mandated training and certification. We simply need to consider all of the issues before we implement such programs.
Christopher J. Weir, division chief-operations, Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Rescue Department
Response: I don’t see a problem with the concept as long as it doesn’t overload an organization’s tight training and overtime budgets, not to mention perhaps overtaxing understaffed training divisions in many fire and EMS organizations. Of course, that may be remedied with the pooling of multijurisdictional resources in some cases. State and national labor and management leaders should definitely review and evaluate such a proposal to see if it is feasible. In Fort Lauderdale and surrounding jurisdictions, we are constantly training our staff to meet the required state and county continuing education units (CEUs) for recertification mandates in EMT/Paramedic; Fire Service Instructor I, II, and III; Fire Inspector/Investigator; Haz-Mat Specialists; SWAT Medics; and TRT. Often, we place units out of service to meet the training demands and leave a heavy call volume to the units left in service. The proposal looks good on paper; we just need to see if it’s feasible and fiscally possible.
Robert Shelton, firefighter/EMT-I, Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department
Response: I appreciate that “specialties” require mandated training and certification. In my opinion, ALL of us on the line are a part of specialties. When I look at line-of-duty deaths (LODDs), normally it is not “special” situations that kill us; it’s the “bread-and-butter” operations, to borrow the phrase. What do we need to do to help lower LODDs? TRAINING! If EMS skills must be maintained to the point that we need so many hours of CE, why not firefighting? We do more EMS than firefighting. I seriously doubt that our EMS skills will deteriorate drastically without recertification testing or CE. Firefighting is a different story. We don’t do as much, and our skills can and do deteriorate, or we become complacent through a lack of use. Whatever the prevailing situation, we are dying because of it.
Our department has one of the best training staffs we have ever had. The members’ skill, dedication, and experience have been unparalleled. I have seen firsthand the benefit of the training they have given the line companies. And yet with all the dedication and effort they have put in, they are maligned and unappreciated by administration, line officers, and firefighters.
I absolutely believe that training and certification CEUs should be mandated for firefighting. The IAFF and the IAFC should be 100 percent behind the push toward it. Do I see it as a reality? No. The reason is that-and I can speak only based on what I see in my department-many don’t like training. It interrupts coffee or dinner or TV. It doesn’t matter what the benefit. It is a disruption. I attribute that to a lack of example from our line officers and chiefs. If training is not important to them, how or why would it be important to the line firefighters?
We are sometimes our own worst enemy-at least in my department. I think that annual certification and documented firefighting training will benefit us in the long run by making us better at our jobs and, most importantly, saving our lives.
Craig H. Shelley, CFO, EFO, MIFireE, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco
Response: My department currently has no requirements for specific annual training but does require at least one hour of training every shift. There is no set training curriculum for this training. Fire officers can choose their own subjects. We also have strict requirements for promotions that mandate candidates complete certain courses before they are promoted. Every rank has a series of required courses. In Vermont, where I worked previously, annual training was required to maintain certification. The state had mandated that all full-time career firefighters obtain Firefighter Level I certification. Annually thereafter, those firefighters had to maintain and document 24 hours of annual training that included the following: CPR (two hours), Haz Mat Awareness (one hour), and SCBA (four hours). The other 17 hours could be divided among areas such as hose handling, ladders, water supply, safety, and so on. This is a start and should be expanded.
I believe that at least 40 hours per year should be required for instruction in firefighting skills and that an additional 30 to 40 hours should be mandated for other specialty areas. The fire service has gotten away from the basics, and this is injuring and killing firefighters. We need to focus on and maintain competence in our bread-and-butter operations. Only then will injuries and deaths be reduced.
Bobby Halton, chief, Coppell (TX) Fire Department
Response: This is one of the most interesting questions facing the fire service. However, it is not a matter of if we will support it but rather how we will direct it. Our firefighters here in Coppell would support any mandated or legislated training. In Texas, the Texas State Fire Commission ensures that training and continuing education in fire suppression and tactics are ongoing.
The idea of local certification is long overdue. Our wildland brothers and sisters carry red cards that outline their successful education and mentoring and continued proficiency in various levels of functions and skills. Soon, structural firefighters will have blue cards indicative of their education, mentoring, and proficiency. Education and training are best managed and directed locally, where we work. We are all familiar with the command training center concept, through which we can simulate incidents and demonstrate competence.
The technology to create simulations and conduct training and certification locally without having to spend more than a couple of hundred dollars is available today. The programs are commercially available and user-friendly. The real issue is finding good facilitators. We should begin to measure and capture what we want from alarm assignments and process those data. Once processed, we can then run basic simulations that will capture the participants’ ability to recognize critical factors and cues to manage the event.
The local aspect is the key because Coppell, Texas, is not and will never be New York City in size, resources, vulnerability, and capability. This is important because blue card certification is local first and national second. It is local in terms of routine emergencies, resources, and players/neighbors and local strategic and tactical command. It becomes national because the National Incident Management System (NIMS) is the tool of choice for managing super big, bad stuff. NIMS Texas or NIMS Coppell is local. We are familiar with what we are doing locally, individually, and with our neighbors and friends. As such, we are prepared to run, direct, and manage well-run local emergencies.
We are not saying we are messing with NIMS-we know better. We are saying we have mutual-aid and automatic systems in place that support and protect us. We are saying, One size does not fit all. We understand the concepts and principles of NIMS and will use NIMS when disasters strike. We want to quantify and qualify what makes someone competent to run a fire here. It is not necessarily predicated on how far out that person can expand the NIMS system, as an incident may require only the very basic elements.
The IAFF and the IAFC should be supporting certification and minimum training requirements. IAFF support for the hazardous materials program is evidence of its commitment. I believe the IAFC safety section would be among the first to support minimum training hours.
In summary, I support it. Everyone I know supports it. Although we talk it to death, very little is getting done. There should be more training and certification. Testing should be developed and managed separately on the local and national levels.
Keith Smith, chief, Westfield Washington Township (IN) Fire Department
Response: A requirement to document or recertify firefighter training is more of a burden than a need. In smaller departments like ours, the annual recertification of specialty and EMS skills is physically and administratively difficult enough without adding another layer. I know it is more difficult to accomplish in bigger departments because recertification never ends, but, generally, a training staff person is dedicated to recertification documentation.
At some point, fire chiefs are going to have to say, “Stop the bureaucracy.”
We have a professional, legal, and ethical reason to record and document firefighter training now. Why be redundant with records by having another agency hold them as official? Records and record keeping can be patronized and fabricated because of too many mandates. We can easily overadministrate, and adding to the workload of our staff members as a rule is not in our best interests.
Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department
Response: I believe in evaluations based on the testing of all members, regardless of rank, in their daily all-risk emergency duties. These duties include basic operations (ladders, hoselays, tools, equipment, PPE, medical, and so on), apparatus operator operations (driving, spotting, pumping/aerial ladder evolutions), officer development (size-up, strategies/tactics, leadership, management), and company operations (all-risk scenario based for all personnel).
Each phase can be conducted in modules, or, if time is available, in a one-time training session. Evaluations need to be positive and designed to reinforce safe practices, sound principles, crew efficiency/effectiveness, and teamwork. This type of program also validates the training instilled in our probationary firefighters.
In today’s fire service, it is imperative to establish annual training schedules that are organized, prioritized, effective, and efficient. The program should not be redundant. It should be all-inclusive and allow the presenters time to plan and prepare. The testing site should be nearby and near the resources that may be needed to augment an emergency response.
As stated in a motto initiated by the Los Angeles Fire Department, “Train as if your life depends on it … because it does.” We have carried this motto into the Hillsboro Fire Department. It reflects how we do business, which is “planning to protect and acting to save.” It’s all about professionalism and pride: How dare we be anything but the best?
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York
Response: My department requires fire companies to conduct drills on day and night tours. In addition, we hold regular firefighting competency critiques for our units. I am continually pleased to note a high level of proficiency in our personnel. There is no doubt that our steady level of fire duty contributes to this, but the constant training is also a factor.
I am not in favor of annual recertification. I believe that there can be a big gap between “certification” and actual job competency, with the former placing too much emphasis on a yearly test. Continual training and critique of fire operations may be more effective in maintaining knowledgeable personnel. Also, annual certification might create union issues for some departments.
Firefighting is physically brutal work. Approximately one-half of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attack. With this in mind, the fire service might be better served by requiring an annual medical exam for firefighters along with some form of mandatory physical training.
A weekly reading and drill schedule can keep firefighters sharp. I prefer to see more emphasis on keeping our people healthy and physically prepared than in fostering a culture that may be becoming a bit too “certificate-obsessed.”
Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant, Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services
Response: My department currently has written and practical testing annually for all members as part of our evaluation process. A specific number of firefighting training hours are required-in the engine house and off-duty-to keep ourselves up to date on the changes we face every day. Currently, we exceed eight hours of fire training a month. The IAFF and the IAFC should work together to ensure adequate mandatory training hours to properly educate our firefighters. You should keep in mind, whether for or against mandatory training hours, the safety of the firefighter standing next to you. You owe it to yourself, your family, and the citizens you serve to be properly trained to handle whatever is thrown your way.
Jeff A. Welch, reserve firefighter, Coeur d’ Alene (ID) Fire Department
Response: Before there can be mandated recertification in the specialties, there should be standardization of the curriculums offered. Several courses are offered in collapse, trench, and rope rescue, to name a few of the specialty training opportunities. These courses probably range from acceptable to good to excellent and have instructors with the best of intentions. Essential objectives or job performance requirements, much like the ones identified by IFSTA or the NFPA, could be identified in each specialty area. A group of dedicated individuals should be able to identify the goals and objectives to accomplish this daunting task. One textbook recognized by the majority of the responders would be a welcome addition. The IAFF and the IAFC should collectively work to accomplish this task.
Any paid fire department worth its salt should not have any problem documenting 10 to 20 hours of training per month. A monthly goal identified by the rating folks is 20 hours per individual, eight to 10 shifts per month, 24 hours a day-well, you can do the math. This can be a challenge for other fire agencies; therefore, you must identify how safe you want your people to be on the fire scene and how much liability you are willing to assume. Training should support the goals of the organization. If done properly, everyone should support and welcome the training they receive.
Ed Herrmann, lieutenant, City of Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: Periodic firefighter recertification makes a great deal of sense, especially when you consider the number years or decades a graduate of a fire academy may be using the skills learned over a period of a few months. However, I don’t believe a yearly testing cycle is warranted or wise. As noted in the question, members of today’s fire rescue service already face a myriad of tests and recertifications. Add to this the constant barrage of new education in tasks and specialties being added to the growing list of responsibilities. Between the monthly training requirements, periodic testing for these areas, and, of course, those incessant calls, there is barely enough time left in the average shift to handle the scheduling of the next shift’s training.
The danger of our job is obvious to any who scrutinize firefighter death and injury incidents/statistics trying to squeeze guidance from past tragedies. Our best chance for not making that list ourselves is to continually train and learn at every opportunity. So, while hours of monthly training are certainly advisable, their mandate may not be practical. Scheduling tests every two or three years to target the basic skills for each position (firefighter, driver, officer, for example) and follow-up remedial training, if necessary, would be a better approach. Allow departments and individuals to set their own pace for training.
Gary L. Weiss, chief, Mulberry (FL) Fire Department
Response: The State of Florida has a Firefighter 2 state certification program all career firefighters are required to complete and pass within one year of employment. In addition, firefighters out of the fire service for three years must recertify their skills. This is an excellent initial training program for firefighters and has produced good results.
For years, there has been talk about some type of recertification for firefighters. The idea is good; the fire service has changed dramatically over the years-computers; MDTs; compressed air foams; hazardous materials; technical rescue; and, of course, WMD, NIMS, and wildland certifications. The need for ongoing training is apparent. The ISO requires 20 hours per month of training per firefighter, broken down into firefighter, driver operator, and company-level training. All fire departments have some type of training. Requiring documentation of training on listed objectives is a great idea that has been a long time coming. The fire service should support federal and state agencies, the IAFC, and the IAFF in developing some ongoing recertification process that not only keeps our firefighters current but also works to follow the U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Academy national professional development model.
Randy Brown, lieutenant, Angola (IN) Fire Department
Response: Mandated recertification and continuing education should have been introduced in the NFPA 1001 requirements. This can be accomplished very easily, and many departments have implemented competency evaluations using the skills directly related to NFPA 1001.
The Indiana Special Training Taskforce has discussed this issue with career and volunteer firefighters from across the state. The solution presented was to implement an evaluation of 12 skills a year, to be documented and reported over a 24-month period. The skills were to be taken from the NFPA 1001 requirements; the chief or administration of the authority having jurisdiction was to determine which skills from NFPA 1001 should be evaluated.
Setting specific hour requirements does not ensure competency evaluations. We should set and mandate a process that ensures competency in a specific area, such as basic firefighting, using the guidelines of NFPA 1001.
This type of recertification process would be much easer to implement and track, and it would be easier for smaller departments to comply. Indiana currently does not have a process for recertification; however, our fire department already has implemented specific competency testing evaluations to comply with local and federal OSHA guidelines. Requiring skill competency testing for recertification is much better than stipulating hour requirements.
Andrew T. Jones Jr., instructor, Orange County, New York
Response: Annual recertification can only help our cause, as can eight-hour-a-month training mandated by the local, state, or federal government for what most departments would consider bread-and-butter operations. The Municipal Police Training Council in New York requires regular in-service training. It documents that refresher courses have been taken in a multitude of basic areas and provides for employer tort protection. With the new wave of lawsuits headed our way, it would show an active interest in protecting our members and the people we serve. Unions should negotiate this suggestion in collective bargaining agreements. Training is always ongoing and is probably done on a regular basis in stations across the United States. Let us formalize it, document it, and have our employers recognize it. Does anyone remember what OSHA and the NFPA did for us? FAST? RIT? Two-in/two out?
Jamie C. Morelock, firefighter, Fremont (OH) Fire Department
Response: I have heard the question many times: “Why are we still killing an average of 100 of us each year, even with all of the advancements in protective clothing and equipment?” I believe the reason for this is a lack of proper and appropriate fire training at all levels. I have seen an increased number of people entering the fire service who supposedly are trained “firefighters.” In reality, they are highly trained in EMS, technical rescue, and haz mat. Many have seen very little fire and lack even the most basic firefighting skills.
Giving recruits and veterans the needed live-burn fire training is very difficult because of a lack of facilities and money and current Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Local, state, and federal governments must understand the need for this type of training. Additionally, we must evaluate the support operations of firefighting. With a reduction in the number of fires nationwide, the fireground is not going to generate “experienced” firefighters as in the past.
Mandatory continuing education would be an excellent method of ensuring this type of training. Some who fear change or lack motivation may resist mandatory training. However, once in place it will help ensure that the firefighters who are responding will have the skills needed to operate in a professional and safe manner. Any organization affiliated with firefighter safety and operations should join to make this a reality.
John Grussing, lieutenant, Normal (IL) Fire Department
Response: We definitely need to formalize our recurrent training and certification processes, especially in the areas of hazardous-materials mitigation and technical-rescue response. These fields are highly technical and require constant training to maintain proficiency.
What is the measuring device now in place to measure performance? We speak of interoperability on a national scale, yet there is no mechanism in place to ensure that a firefighter trained in technical rescue was trained to the same standards or curriculum in Florida as in Illinois. This is yet another reason a fire chief needs to be at the top management levels of the Department of Homeland Security. We need to develop a national training curriculum that provides true interoperability among teams from different parts of the country. We receive our specialized training through the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), which is an outstanding facility. However, after certification, we are rarely asked to demonstrate our proficiency until an emergency arises. Regional training institutions such as the IFSI would be excellent agencies for managing a statewide recertification program that adheres to national standards.
As far as documented recertification for firefighter training is concerned, I believe most departments are training on firefighter skills at least eight hours per month. If not, they have more serious organizational issues than recurrent training. Documented recertification would provide a formal record of the training. By managing this information, overlaps or gaps in training could be identified/remedied more readily. Firefighters could be kept abreast of the areas in which they need more training hours.
Some people in my department would be against this. They are the same people who probably would be against any type of cultural/organizational change. But, we should proceed anyway. It is a fire department’s responsibility to provide adequate training for its members. A formal recertification process is one of the best tools for monitoring the efficacy of a training program.
The fire service is faced with ever-growing demands for response capability. The areas we are taking on are extremely technical and inherently dangerous. They are unforgiving of mistakes. This, coupled with the fact that the incidence of fire is down 40 percent in some areas, leads to the inescapable conclusion that formalized training is more important than ever in successfully completing our mission and ensuring firefighter safety. Although the incidence of fire has decreased, the incidence of firefighter injuries and fatalities has remained the same, which means that the rate of firefighter injuries/fatalities has actually increased! Why? Could it be that with our added responsibilities we are not training in basic firefighting as we should? Instituting a recurrent training/recertification process is an excellent way to manage the myriad subject areas in which we must maintain proficiency.
Craig Flannigan, former chief, Oakurst (NJ) Fire Department
Response: Mandated training never goes over well anywhere, including in my department. Over the past few years, mandated training has grown from one or two classes to five or six, depending on where you live or work. The problem now is, we are getting away from firematic training-for instance, requiring sexual harassment training. What’s that about? We are being told we have to take certain classes because employers (commissioners or councils) are afraid of being held responsible for people’s actions. Mandated training like this takes away from real training that is desperately needed everywhere.
In 15 years, basic training for firefighters has gone from 16 hours to more than 90 hours. This type of increase is necessary, but it is still a lot to ask of someone who wants to give a little back to the community. We have such a problem recruiting and retaining these people. In a few years, we will have a much bigger problem if we start mandating training for firefighters. We all know that if we start mandating yearly training or start a CEU program, it will go from a few hours the first year to many hours two years later.
I think ongoing training is a must for firefighters to gain experience and learn new techniques to save themselves and others, but it should not be mandated. Most of the departments around the country take pride in their training and train on a regular basis. Those troubled training divisions need to step up and take responsibility for their departments’ training. If the person in charge isn’t doing the job, then the membership needs to replace that person. Mandating training is the wrong move.
Ross A. Baker, firefighter, Washington Township, Dublin, Ohio
Response: Mandatory fire and specialty training is long overdue. Many departments don’t even recognize that they have a problem until it’s too late. Denial has become an excellent defense mechanism for when things don’t go well. Too many departments give themselves too much praise when things are mediocre, and the chiefs and company officers just let training go by the wayside. They work harder making excuses than inspiring and leading the troops to get out there and be prepared.
I feel fortunate that my department has many training opportunities and also that companies and shifts pick up and train themselves if things are a little slow, not leaving the whole burden on the administration. Our current goal is to have a 10 percent increase over the number of training hours recorded last year. This is probably not far out of reach, since some hours don’t get recorded anyway. Mandatory requirements would be embraced and probably easily incorporated into our current mainstream training program at the department and company levels. The time has come for departments to get on the ball and increase training requirements.
Steven M. De Lisi, deputy chief, Virginia Air National Guard Fire Rescue, Sandston, Virginia
Response: The question of whether to require mandatory training and annual recertification testing for firefighters is nothing new. While this concept may enjoy limited success when implemented at the discretion of local fire chiefs, discussions to “mandate” anything, including training, at the state or national level are often met with suspicion and fear. Yet, representatives attending the first-ever Firefighter Life Safety Summit, in support of the United States Fire Administration’s goal to reduce firefighter fatalities, recently identified as one of many initiatives the need to “develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters.”
There are those who will argue against national requirements for training and recertification for fear of losing their autonomy, others will fear the perceived threat of increased costs, and-to no one’s surprise-some will protest for fear of their own accountability. Yet, the real fears are not of costs measured in dollars but rather those measured in untold human suffering endured far too long by firefighters and their families. The real fears are not that accountability will rest with an individual or an organization but with our nation’s fire service for failing to seriously embrace long-overdue initiatives to stem the constant tide of firefighter fatalities. One of these initiatives is for increased training and recertification. As firefighters, we must accept the challenge to conquer these fears as our solemn debt to those who have perished, lest their deaths be tragically in vain.
Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy
Response: Certainly, remaining proficient in such technical specialties as hazardous materials; EMS; high angle, confined space, trench, collapse, swiftwater, and cold water rescue; and auto extrication require tremendous amounts of training time to remain proficient. It is foolhardy to rely on a training class taken long ago when responding to challenging and dangerous incidents. Eight hours is not a sufficient amount of time per month to train in the technical disciplines.
However, such a mandate would present practical challenges. As an example, allocating eight hours of study a month for each discipline could add up to an overwhelming amount of time. And, we would still have to get Mrs. Smith’s cat out of the tree, test the hose, give Mr. Johnson his nitroglycerin, and clean the bathroom. It also might be nice to train a little bit on fighting the old red devil.
Clearly, annual recertification should be required to validate that a firefighter maintain the requisite skills needed to perform technical rescues safely. Surely, some specific number of hours should be dedicated each month to each of the disciplines in NFPA 1670. What that number should be is an issue for informed debate. In any event, chief and company officers should ensure that their members have the best training available.
Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department
Response: Annual testing for firefighter recertification can only add to professional credibility and, by default, create a contingent of firefighters who are truly masters of their craft. Most specialties require some type of annual, semiannual, or quarterly assessment already. Why shouldn’t firefighting? The difficulty would lie in firefighters’ being willing to submit to yet another annual test, which produces stress and anxiety, whether warranted or not.
Testing is the trend in our industry, though-and rightfully so, when you consider what is on the line. The EMS system in our area is working on a program of quarterly intubation skill verification. Quarterly verification allows paramedics to practice a skill not used very often and provides managers with a measure with which to gauge improvement in performance.
From a risk-management perspective, annual testing is a positive thing. You have a verifiable, measurable tool with which to prove your firefighting force has retained and honed their skills. Include a department-specific SOP evaluation as well, and you are then assured that your members are aware of departmental policy.
It is too easy, and the temptation is too great, to pencil-whip training modules to satisfy hour quotas. Names on a roster are our only means of verifying training was received, and that method of verification is inadequate. Training, coupled with mandatory testing, is the only way to be sure the forces we are sending into harm’s way truly have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to safely accomplish their tasks. Testing will be met with resistance because of the unknown, so the consequences of unsatisfactory performance will have to be made clear up front.
Jim Mason, lieutenant,Chicago (IL) Fire Department
Response: If there were mandatory fire training, how would it be done? My district is high-rises; yours is single-family dwellings. For example, the assigned task of cutting a ventilation hole in a flat roof is likely to be universally the same, but the size-up (possibilities of problems at the scene) and tactics employed (position of the hole to resolve the problems) would be quite different in many situations. It seems that the national training books do as well as possible in giving us a consensus on when to do what, where, and how.
It seems that we generally do three things on the fireground: size up, determine what is wrong, and fix it to the best of our ability. Of these three, it seems that the failures are almost always in the size-up. What is or can possibly go wrong with the situation we are looking at? Can my crew do this, or do we need to go defensive? On arrival, the in or out decision is tough to make for crews that don’t train on sizing up. If interior operations are started, can the interior officers give the IC the feedback he needs to make the decision to stay or pull out? Training can help make decisions on the side of safety, but it seems that it would be tough to solve from the national level. Maybe we should try to make good leadership mandatory.
Brian Singles, firefighter. Hampton (VA) Fire Department
Response: There would be mixed feelings in our department. A majority of the suppression forces would be for annual firefighter recertification that includes new members and also some of us old dinosaurs who still love this job. Other members may think that a one-time certification in a certain firefighter category is all they need. These people, including the “I know it all and have seen it all” probies to some of the fire officers who have hardly any firefighting experience, should apply for a position outside the fire service.
Those members would adamantly be against annual testing and certification; they fall back on the old excuses, “It takes too much of our precious time” and “There is a shortage of personnel.” Firefighter training and certification are at least as important as EMS training and certification. Firefighters are getting killed and injured every day. They are responding all across America to all types of fires with varying degrees of training-some with nothing more than basic Firefighter I.
What fire chiefs or company officers in their right mind would send such individuals into a burning structure with little or no training? Hopefully, none in this day and age. I have been in the fire service for more than 20 years and still am learning the business. In a class I attended with other firefighters who had l0 years or more on the job, a very wise, seasoned veteran fire captain from the Fire Department of New York told us: “If you think that you have learned everything there is to know about firefighting and no longer have a will to train, then it’s time to retire.”
I will continue to train and learn as much as I can about this job until I retire and then will continue to pass my experience and knowledge to firefighters of the next generation who are willing to listen and learn. Training and certification are the best tools in all careers, not just the fire department.
Mitch Brooks, lieutenant, Columbus (OH) Division of Fire
Response: Training is an absolute necessity. Every firefighter in this country should have at least eight hours of documented training every month. The choice to be a firefighter is just that, a choice. If someone chooses to be the person that the public depends on for rescue in times of trial, the least that firefighter can do is invest eight hours per month for training. The IAFF and the IAFC should have lobbied for this years ago. ■