CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR FIREFIGHTERS

Most states require a minimum of continuing education (CE) hours for EMT and EMT-Paramedic certification. My department is continually running uniformed personnel through EMT-B, paramedic, and haz-mat refresher classes that are mandated by some state or federal entity. Several years ago, it dawned on me: Here we are, “professional” firefighters charged with protecting lives and property from the effects of fire and other emergencies, and all the CE credits we need annually are 34 hours in which we are taught to put on bandages and take blood pressures. We are not required to do anything in CE pertaining to firefighting.

When I graduated from the training academy as a recruit in 1975, except for in-service company drills, no mandated training was required. My officer, who in most cases wasn’t a training officer, conducted the drill. In most cases, that drill wasn’t planned until 10 or 15 minutes before it began.

We are looking at changing this process in Toledo in the near future. It is anticipated that schedules with required training topics and lesson plans will be sent to company officers. Some form of skills-competency review will conclude the year’s training program so that participation and proficiency can be documented. This is a step in the right direction, but what is needed in the long term is state legislation that mandates a specific number of training hours in conjunction with proficiency/competency evaluation at set intervals to ensure that we “remember” what we learned in recruit school.

—John (Skip) Coleman, deputy chief of training and EMS, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue; author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2001); editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering; and member of the FDIC Educational Committee.

Questions: Does your state or department require mandated annual continuing education with proficiency evaluation for firefighters after the initial recruit training period? If not, would your department consider supporting such a program? If so, who should mandate it, and how many hours would you recommend?

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

The state of Arizona does not require CE for firefighters. The Phoenix Fire Department requires its members to participate in all OSHA-required training such as HazCom, SCBA, bloodborne pathogens, and so on annually. We also require that each member complete minimum company standards (MCS) on an annual basis. For the most part, MCS evaluate department members as a company, not individually. MCS evaluations/simulations attempt to replicate realistic situations in all aspects of fire department operations such as hoselays, pump operations, search and rescue, ladders, aerial operations, and ventilation.

They do require a minimum number of CE hours for probationary firefighters. The new Probationary Firefighter CE program consists of 14 six-hour modules, including driver training, tactics and strategy, live burns, customer service, ventilation, wellness for life, EMS documentation, two fireground scenarios, advanced firefighter survival training, triage, extrication, and final evaluations. Probationary firefighters must attend and successfully complete all of the CE classes.

The department also requires that chief officers complete 56 hours of CE annually, during which management, leadership, educational, and incident command training are covered. The department is building a state-of-the-art Incident Command Strategic and Tactical Training Center where members (especially command officers) will receive specific training in how to manage emergency incidents. The curriculum for this center is currently under development.

The other department members receive 12 formal training sessions per year. They are provided through the district training program and are developed and taught by each of the city’s fire districts; the training often is specific to issues within the district. Departmental training typically takes place at the training academy and is focused on issues pertaining to the whole department.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: The Lewisville Fire Department is always looking for ways to improve and fine-tune our training programs. Our Training Division is no different from that of any other fire department in that it faces the same challenges when it comes to meeting the requirements for training in the basics, specialty areas, EMS, and so on, and making it all fit into a scheduled format. You who currently serve as training officers or who have done so in the past know just how difficult that task can be. You also realize that our training is the foundation for it all. We can’t expect our people to go out and perform well if they don’t receive the tools that will enable them to do so. We know that it is next to impossible to provide our firefighters with all of the training that we would like to considering a firefighter’s days off, sessions interrupted or missed by “calls,” and the long list of other duties that come along each day, so we try to identify the high-priority areas and work from there. We make every attempt to give them as much as we can because it’s important to them and to their families. The Texas Commission on Fire Protection requires that an individual certified as a basic firefighter receive a minimum of 20 hours of CE per year. This can be accomplished through two tracks: Track A by training in essentials and Track B through college courses, seminars, and the like.

We feel that the commission is proactive, is always looking at firefighter safety, and is charged with satisfying the needs of the entire state. However, we use the commission’s requirements as a jumping-off point. We train on some topics quarterly, others semiannually, and still others annually. Quarterly topics include hose, ladder, SCBA, and RIT classes and evolutions. Subjects that fall in around these are EMS (monthly), firefighting essentials, haz mat, wildland, dive rescue, extrication, and special rescue, to name a few.

We also provide a mentoring program designed to prepare members to “act-up” or advance to the next level—firefighter to engineer, engineer to captain, captain to battalion chief, for example. We bring outside instructors in occasionally to round out the program.

We support live fire training and attempt to provide it to our members as often as possible at our training academy. Each shift has training coordinators responsible for coordinating the shift’s training and ensuring that training records are kept up-to-date. Our goal is to see each member attain a minimum of 240 training hours per year. Simply put, we try to provide the training that will keep our firefighters safe and alive. It’s not a perfect system, but we work very hard to see that our people receive the required and the “necessary” training they not only need but deserve.

Frank C. Schaper, chief,
St. Charles (MO) Fire Department

Response: The state of Missouri does not require any CE firefighting training. That is left up to individual fire departments and the firefighters themselves. I would favor the additional training. The firefighters in my area are much like those across the country. There are those who take every additional course they can—many times on their own time and with their own money. And then there are those who could care less once they are out of the recruit academy and on the job. Some type of CE program should be used.

When I was assistant chief of training in my old National Guard outfit, the Air Force had a program called “recurring training.” We trained on different basic firefighter topics quarterly. This kept the troops’ skills up. If I remember correctly, among the topics covered were hose and ladder drills and SCBA and live fire training. Training was documented throughout the year, and it had to be accomplished. The next training year, the topics were covered again.

I would like to do something like that in my department. It seems to me that in today’s fire service we spend too much time training on things we rarely use. We forget about basic firefighting. Then, when we do get a fire, it is like the first time we ever saw one, and we do not know how to act. Yes, some type of CE or recurring training is needed.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,
Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: The state of Florida does not require recertification or CE for professional firefighter certification with the following exception: “Any certified firefighter who has not been active as a firefighter or as a volunteer firefighter with an organized fire department for a period of 3 years shall be required to retake the practical portion of the minimum standards state examination in order to maintain certification as a firefighter.” (F.S. 633.352) Cedar Hammock does not have a formal CE program in place; however, all line personnel below the rank of captain are required to successfully complete a monthly exam based on the subject matter of that month’s training. Personnel are required to maintain a monthly average score of 75 percent or higher on all examinations taken, practical or written. This requirement has been in place for about 10 years, with few problems and beneficial results—better trained firefighters who have “knowledge.” It is important to note that knowledge is not what you are taught but what you remember. It is Cedar Hammock’s belief that testing promotes remembering and, therefore, elevates one’s knowledge.

Firefighters are required to maintain a 75 percent average on these exams for six months prior to any scheduled promotion to be eligible for the promotion (Cedar Hammock has four firefighter classifications).

Our firefighters train approximately 25 hours monthly, usually during structured sessions. The exam information is taken from these sessions. With such a system in place, we feel it is most beneficial to our department to set our own standards of continuing education and testing. We would rather not have a state-mandated CE training program, although we certainly would be open to looking at such a proposal.

Larry Anderson, deputy chief,
Dallas (TX) Fire Department

Response: The Texas Commission on Fire Protection requires a minimum of 20 hours of continuous education for maintaining structural firefighting certification. During each fiscal year, 29 subjects are tracked on a form maintained at each work site. The form also includes 21 additional subjects identified by Dallas Fire-Rescue as training targets. The form allows ample space for tracking discretionary training in disciplines not specifically identified. If the firefighter is a haz-mat tech or is ARFF-certified, there are addenda for tracking CE in those areas (also state required). Officers who are certified instructors conduct most of the training at the fire stations.

Additionally, we broadcast training videos to all 55 fire stations and other identified work sites by closed-circuit cable for 16 hours each day. The programs are repeated during the day to facilitate scheduling and emergency response.

The Training Division holds two in-service sessions each year in which all companies are brought to the training facility; subjects identified by a committee of field command officers are covered. Each of these phases is approximately four hours and is broken down into two or three modules.

The training forms are forwarded to the Training Division during the first week of November each year; they are checked for completeness and filed. After verification that a member has completed the minimum CE for the fiscal year, the proper paperwork is submitted to the Commission for certification renewal. The Commission audits our files periodically to ensure proper compliance. Even though the Commission requires a minimum of 20 CE hours, our members average 50 to 60 hours annually in formal CE. CE modules are a great venue for maintaining skills as well as for introducing new programs, tools, and technology.

Joseph Floyd, assistant chief,
Columbia (SC) Fire Department

Response: The state of South Carolina and the Columbia Fire Department do not have any mandated training after the initial recruit firefighting training. The department does require that fire companies train daily and meet the minimum hours set by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). Each company must report its training activities each month. The company’s battalion chief, the Training Bureau, and the assistant chief of operations review the report. Should a fire company or individual firefighters show signs of regression in firefighter abilities, the department can and has required them to undergo refresher training in the below-par skills.

In addition, the Training Bureau sets up training drills throughout the year to keep fire companies updated on new advances in firefighting techniques and to evaluate performance. The department’s Ranks and Advancement Program encourages individuals to seek continuing education by meeting standards set by the department and other nationally recognized standards. If the standards for each rank and position are not met, the individual will not be eligible for advancement within the department.

Ronald Hiraki, assistant chief of employee development, Seattle (WA) Fire Department
Response: The Seattle Fire Department and the state of Washington require annual training in various areas after initial training and evaluation. Neither uses the CE system for documenting firefighter training outside of EMS certification. The department has identified training and drill requirements to ensure that firefighters review or practice knowledge and skills across a broad range of topics. All Seattle firefighters must meet core requirements. Additional training or drills are tailored to the type of unit to which the individual firefighter is assigned (engine company, ladder company, fireboat, haz-mat team, for example).

State mandated training is covered under state safety regulations and includes training or drills in safety, health, SCBA, and confined space. Additionally, the department must meet federal regulations for haz-mat operations. The department, the state, and federal regulations dictate the topic areas. Some training is delivered on a departmentwide basis; however, most training is led by battalion chiefs and company officers, who are empowered to select specific methods to meet their needs.

Topics on which annual training is required, such as EMS, fire prevention, and hazardous materials, require a significant amount of calendar time. In the last quarter of the year, the Training Division receives proposals for in-service training for the approaching year. The management team selects the in-service training to be delivered in addition to the regular topics. These courses are presented to the entire fire department. The battalion chief or company officer may lead a few courses. However, most courses require interaction with an instructor and practical skills. Therefore, these classes are taught by assembling several companies.

All training or drills are documented on the department’s training information management system. We have learned through experience that accurate documentation of each firefighter’s training and drills is essential. Additionally, the Training Division maintains the lesson plans and course materials to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and abilities covered by each course. Nearly every course includes a list of performance objectives that the instructor evaluates and signs off on.

Bob Oliphant, lieutenant, Kalamazoo (MI) Department of Public Safety
Response: Apart from instruction related to OSHA and emergency first aid, Michigan does not require continuing firefighter training beyond the academy level. Many less-demanding occupations require licensing and continuing education to maintain certification, but not firefighters or police officers.

Our department currently supports continuing education for personnel in specialty assignments that require ongoing certification such as fire marshals and EMS instructors. In-service training is the norm for everyone else.

People who must satisfy some type of continuing education requirement are allowed time off from work or are paid to attend; the employer pays all or part of the training costs. If their organization does not have minimum staffing requirements, it may shut down for the day so that the employees can attend training. A continuing education requirement for a 24/7 organization with minimum staffing requirements, such as my department, would be cost-prohibitive unless there is an outside funding source. In-service training is our only choice.

Robert R. Wesley, engineer/turn instructor, Chesterton (IN) Fire Department
Response: The State of Indiana Public Safety Training Institute, Board of Firefighting Personnel Standard & Education does not require any type of CE on the state level. However, our department’s standard operating guidelines stipulate that all department personnel shall obtain a minimum of 24 hours of structural firefighting training, four hours of hazardous materials training at the operations level, and two hours of bloodborne pathogens training annually.

Our training office—just as the state does for EMTs and paramedics—issues all personnel a continuing education logbook in which to track their education hours. The instructor signs, dates, and notes the hours of instruction completed therein. Once the firefighter has met the annual requirements, the book is returned to the training division chief for an audit.

December Roundtable

Would you like to present your viewpoint in Roundtable? Here is the topic for the December issue. Submit your comments to maryjd@pennwell.com. Indicate “Roundtable” on the subject line.

Q: Has your department ever been requested to hose down crowds of unruly people or to become involved directly or indirectly in law enforcement matters?

Background: The International Association of Fire Chiefs recently issued a statement voicing its objections to the “use of firefighter (or other rescue personnel), their uniforms or likeness thereof, or fire apparatus to gain an advantage in criminal action by law enforcement representatives.” The IAFC executive director noted that such activities “violate our public trust” and create hazards for our personnel by “compromising our ability to operate in hostile situations.”

Deadline for submissions: October 25.

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