The Impact of the National Fire Academy

My first exposure to the National Fire Academy (NFA) came in 1988. I was a young battalion chief recently assigned to training and was being sent to take a train-the-trainer course in firefighter safety and survival. I had no idea of what to expect. The minute I stepped onto the campus, I fell in love with the atmosphere, architecture, and academia of the NFA. Fifteen years and more than 10 visits later, I still get excited every time I step onto the campus.

My department has two individuals (including myself) who have graduated from the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) program. We have a handful of younger chiefs who are currently in the EFO program. The EFO program is the best offering I know of for chief officer preparation. It not only better prepares you for the leadership role, but it also tests your abilities in other areas such as prevention, strategy and tactics, and self-evaluation. Each two-week course is presented by some of the best instructors in the fire service. I have been a student and an instructor at the academy and also have been involved in course development. I can assure you that much thought and effort go into what is presented. Nothing is taken lightly.

We often send officers new to “staff” positions to the NFA for courses in their specific field such as training techniques, plan review, EMS, and fire prevention. Not only do they come back a little better prepared, but they also have made several friends in their field from other departments across the country. That’s the renowned “networking” often associated with the NFA. I still make several phone calls a year to firefighters I met at the NFA.

I believe my department is a much better place because of the NFA. Stronger officers make for a stronger department. Any training that helps prepare company officers for the next step is of significant value to the individual and the organization. I would like to see more courses offered and a greater commitment for funding from the fire administration.

—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.

Questions: What impact has the National Fire Academy had on your fire department? What would you like to see the NFA do to benefit the fire service?

Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: The NFA provides high-quality education to the American fire service designed to benefit agencies on a wide range of topics. Our department sends members to several sessions every year. The networking opportunities and information-sharing aspects of these classes provide students with a long-lasting learning experience. The relationships the students develop are a very valuable part of the learning experience.

The size and expertise of a department’s training center play an important role in determining how much that department uses the NFA’s class curriculum. We often find it more cost efficient and effective to train individuals at home. It’s often more effective to bring a class or specific instructor to Phoenix or to develop the lesson plans and class curriculum in-house. Obviously, it becomes cost prohibitive to send our 1,340 uniformed members to the NFA for the wide range of subjects on which we are required to train.

A future goal that the academy should focus on is developing a training curriculum for trainers. It would make sense for larger fire organizations to be able to send a few trainers to the NFA to gain knowledge on new topics in the fire service and then be able to bring a complete set of lesson plans and up-to-date information back to our local agencies to disseminate. It doesn’t make much sense for hundreds of individual departments to “reinvent the wheel” and develop lesson plans for new training subjects when the plans could be developed in one place and shared with the whole country.

The NFA is a first-class learning facility. The assistance it provides is invaluable. The NFA has played a key role since its inception in developing better fire service leaders and managers.

Bobby Halton, deputy chief, Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department

Response: Our department has enjoyed an extremely beneficial relationship with the NFA. I feel it is one of the best uses of our federal tax dollars. We have watched the birth and evolution of the NFA and its continued response to our challenges.

Over the past 20 years, we have sent many if not most of our code inspectors from our fire marshal’s office to the NFA. The training they received allows us to maintain a certified and highly effective inspection staff and helps our code enforcement efforts. Many of our arson investigators have attended training at the NFA and speak very highly of it. Our training staff enhanced their skills in course design at the NFA.

Many of our officers attended the multialarm and target hazards classes; we participated in the natural disaster training and the response to earthquake and collapse classes. Our department has hosted a number of regional deliveries as well. These off-site deliveries allowed us to send large numbers of our members as well as to attend with our neighbors.

Our department has also been very active in the Training Resources and Data Ex-change (TRADE) program. We have benefited from the ability to exchange our training programs with those from other departments. TRADE is one of the best assets a training officer can have.

The most positive benefit of the NFA is the networking—the opportunity for our members to travel to Emmitsburg, meet firefighters from around the country, share information, and make friends that last a lifetime.

What I want to see from the NFA in the future is simply more. We want to help our NFA achieve its stated five-year goals: reduce the loss of life overall by 15 percent, reduce the firefighter line-of-duty deaths by 25 percent, have 2,500 communities with comprehensive multihazard risk reduction plans, and respond appropriately to emergent issues.

To reduce line-of-duty deaths, the NFA must address the problem with new approaches and new vision. This vision will come from us, the customer.

A recent survey of 404 departments revealed that only 69 had any junior officer training program; the other 335 had nothing. The NFA should focus on producing a quality junior officer training program. The company officer makes the most critical decision of all: in or out. This often makes all the difference. Teaching firefighters how to make better decisions can be done in the classroom.

A national effort to provide a more systemwide comprehensive approach to fireground management at the company officer and future company officer level will do more to reduce firefighter deaths than any other efforts. Our NFA can and should do more at the task and tactical levels. We can raise company officers’ levels of situational awareness to the threats and dangers facing the American firefighter.

Our academy has an opportunity to embrace the command team concept. It must reach out and instruct firefighters in how to hang on to experienced members and use their knowledge and wisdom even if they can no longer advance the line. The command team allows us to provide support officers to our junior officers who may not have the experience to recognize the threats or possible dangers that exist in different fire scenes.

How about the NFA’s partnering with other existing programs and institutions to provide hands-on training at the national level? The NFA could offer courses for training officers on conducting safe training burns (NFPA 1403-compliant); advancing handlines in residential, commercial, and industrial settings; search; collapse; engine and truck company operations; and even RIT medic training.

The possibility that the National Fire Academy will expand into a university system is in our future, and it is closer than we think. The NFA has incredibly talented leadership and wonderful staff; given the support they deserve, they should be able to exceed their goals.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: Our members have benefited from the NFA in a variety of ways. They have attended courses at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) near Emmitsburg, attended courses off campus, and used the research and reference material from the Learning Resource Center.

Courses at the NETC. These courses provide specialized curriculum that may not be available from other training sources; command and control, plan review, fire investigation, and public education for the fire service are not generally available at local colleges. The exchanges of ideas, materials, and experiences are invaluable in developing and implementing programs in our community. These outstanding multiweek courses engender lasting friendships and contacts.

Courses delivered off campus. Managing Company Tactical Operations (MCTO), Leadership, and Incident Safety Officer (ISO), to name a few, are credible courses supported by textbooks and visual aids. When delivered by experienced instructors, the courses can be quite interactive. They have become the core of many fire officer training programs.

Reference and research. You can contact the Learning Resource Center to obtain a variety of articles on a particular topic or incident. This can have a significant impact on recommending the right equipment and motivating firefighters in training.

There are a number of ways the NFA can enhance the fire service.

More, more, and more. Although funding is limited, there is an obvious need for more people to attend courses at the NETC or receive NFA-developed training locally. Courses should be fire service specific; topics such as instructional design and delivery, human resources, and finance are generally available from local colleges and universities. Cost sharing or sponsorships may allow more people to participate.

Host more networking events. The NFA’s TRADE program might be applied to other fire service groups, such as EMS, fire prevention, and fleet and facility specialists. These events could be conducted regionally and target smaller fire departments that may not have the same resources as large metropolitan fire departments.

Ensure quality instructors. NFA courses are well respected, and the NFA must ensure that instructors are good teachers and have the appropriate level of technical knowledge and experience. There should be some diversity as well; instructors should represent a variety of geographical areas, types and sizes of fire departments, and types of experience.

Update courses. Some of the manuals should be updated to include newer procedures that are part of today’s operations.

Overall, our members have a high regard for the NFA and its services. The NFA’s role as the educational organization for the enrichment of the fire service is an important commodity. The noncommercial environment without special interest groups gives the NFA a unique leadership and facilitator role within the fire service.

Bob Oliphant, lieutenant, Kalamazoo (MI) Department of Public Safety

Response: We have sent personnel to the NFA extensively in the past but not recently. As people were promoted or moved to other positions, an effort was made to send them to the academy for the appropriate training. The feedback from personnel who have attended is that the training was comprehensive, practical, and ultimately useful.

Budget, administrative changes, and department priorities have influenced our approach to delivering training. We are moving away from sending personnel to outside schools such as the NFA. A lot of our training is more condensed and done locally with outside instructors, to include more personnel and keep costs down. Despite our current approach to training, I hope there will be a place for the NFA in the future. It is too valuable a resource to overlook.

Katherine Ridenhour, captain, Aurora (CO) Fire Department

Response: Numerous members of our department have attended the NFA throughout the years. We have sent personnel from every division—suppression, training, fire prevention, fire investigation, and communications—and used many NFA training programs for points in promotional exams.

Currently, all our battalion chiefs are required to apply for the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) and complete it once accepted. We have been lucky—all chiefs have been accepted into the program. This requirement promotes more professional and educated leadership for the department and gives those chiefs the opportunity to research different subjects in depth as they complete their required papers. We value education: All members testing for battalion chief must have a bachelor’s degree; members testing for lieutenant or captain must have a minimum of 60 college credits; and all applicants for firefighter must meet the 60-college-credit requirement at the time of application.

How can the NFA better serve the fire service? Currently, the NFA is doing a tremendous job. Our members who use the NFA resources say the NFA offers a great curriculum and provides excellent facilities. Attending the NFA is a memorable and rewarding experience, offers fantastic networking opportunities, and promotes key professional contacts and life-long friends.

However, I pose the challenge that it is we in the fire/rescue/emergency management services who must better serve the NFA. It is critical that we who attend the courses, whether in Emmitsburg or in outreach programs, go back to our localities and disseminate what we have learned. Without this type of interaction, we will not make positive changes, teach new standards, or promote new ideas to our departments. The NFA offers every fire service member the opportunity to excel in knowledge and have an impact on our departments, jurisdictions, and communities with effective leadership and community-based education strategies.

The NFA offers an incredible and varied selection of programs and training delivery systems designed to reach the fire service protection, emergency services, and management communities around the country. Many colleges and universities around the country recognize NFA courses and will give credit toward degree programs. The EFOP provides fire service leaders with enhanced executive skills to help them become more successful and proactive within their organizations and the entire fire service community. The NFA offers self-study and CD-ROM courses that allow students to learn at their own pace or attend handoff courses designed to be taught at the student’s department. The TRADE program has courses of various lengths that mimic resident courses but are taught in different locations around the states, with the NFA providing instructors and training materials. Off-Campus Direct Delivery programs and On-Campus State Weekend programs are available to advance delivery of distance learning programs. The NFA offers the Degrees at a Distance program to assist fire service members obtaining a bachelor’s degree as well as train-the-trainer programs that teach curriculum to personnel who will in turn teach in their own jurisdictions.

I urge everyone to visit the NFA Web site, www.usfa.org, order a catalog, and apply for classes or request educational courses for your area. Research the in-depth offerings and the magnitude of training programs available to you and your organization. The fire and rescue service must support and serve the NFA better by advancing the ideals and standards of the academy. After all, the NFA exists to serve us. It is OUR academy, our national place of education, and our pinnacle of learning in the fire service.

Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy

Response: The NFA provides a forum to the American fire service where members can meet and interact with professionals from other areas of the country. The instructor corps at the academy is simply the finest available anywhere and gives firefighters the opportunity for top-notch academic instruction that otherwise would be unavailable to many underfunded departments.

The academy’s demonstrated excellence in academic instruction should be broadened to include more practical, hands-on instruction in the basic “bread-and-butter” operations that are often not available to small, rural, or underfinanced departments. This hands-on training should be conducted in concert with and in support of the excellent work already done at some of our state training institutions. The bottom line is that fire in America is a multibillion-dollar social problem in this country that kills many thousands of our fellow citizens annually. This is a federal problem that demands a well-financed federal fire academy.

Anonymous

Response: The NFA has not had any noticeable impact on my department simply because the present chief is not proactive in allowing or encouraging employees to participate at the academy as do many other departments in my area. This is resulting in low enrollment—not allowing those who have gone in the past to share that information with the department and not promoting the value the academy has to offer to the fire service.

The NFA is doing everything it can to bring new technologies and trends to its audiences with the resources it has. The academy annually defends its position with government to support our nation’s fire service. It is not what the academy can do for the departments, it is what the nation’s fire departments can do for the academy—that is, simply support its programs by attending.

Josh Thompson, lieutenant, Avon (IN) Fire Department

Response: I have seen little impact on our department. Our members have attended classes, but little has been brought back to benefit the department as a whole. I have yet to attend a class there, mostly because of time constraints, but also because there is little that has sparked my interest regarding classes offered. In speaking with people I know who have attended the NFA, I have heard two recurring comments: “The class is not really relevant to the operations personnel” and “The class was geared more toward larger fire departments.”

I would like to see the NFA offer many courses; some of the most beneficial might be a line officer program similar to the EFOP, incident safety officer training for real-life incidents, how to manage and interface mutual-aid agreements, and incident command courses for “small-town” departments.

A line officer program does not have to be years long but a week of various topics such as leadership, ethics, decision making, strategy and tactics, safety, and risk management. While these are all in-depth topics, the program should consist of the basics, with more concentrated classes offered individually. This could be a start in the right direction for many departments that want and need a basic officer development program.

Another class topic that would be beneficial involves real-life or scenario-based incidents designed to effectively train incident safety officers for the real thing. We need to start training people to become experienced in recognizing hazards based on real events and scenarios. Developing and using mutual-aid agreements is commonplace in today’s fire service, but how do they actually work? What legalities and responsibilities are involved? When an agreement is established, does it include mutual training, communications, and knowledge of available resources? How can we ensure that all companies operating on the fireground are on the same page?

The last topic that would be beneficial, at least to most of the departments in America, is incident command geared toward smaller departments. I am talking about everyday incidents where mutual aid is used with a command staff consisting of one incident commander and, if we’re lucky, a safety officer.

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