The transformation of the American Fire Service from the traditional "surround and drown" to one of professionalism in dealing with any emergency situation has come about as a result of people adapting to change. The fire service is no longer in the exclusive business of fighting fires, but rather is more of an emergency response service to provide whatever skill the situation requires. This has placed the entire firefighting profession on notice. To rely on yesterday's procedures and last year's knowledge is unacceptable and even more critical--it's down right hazardous to your health and the health of everyone that depends on you. The days when firefighters of all levels receive basic training in tools, techniques, and fire behavior, and never again are required to update those skills are long gone. We need to have a better overall understanding of exactly how brick walls fall down, how floors cave in, stairs collapse, and truss roofs crash down.
The single greatest expense for government is labor. Governments have scrutinized and criticized public services as never before. Consecutive budget cutbacks coupled with slogans like "do more with less," privatization," or "just be happy you have a job," now dramatically underscore our need to change. Government cannot afford despondent attitudes if it is to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness from its most valuable resource.
When tax payer's fees are raised, a higher level of professional service is expected and must be delivered. What comes to your mind when you hear "Professional Firefighter?" Does it mean a firefighter that receives payment for his or her services or one that acts in a professional manner? Webster's New World Dictionary defines a professional as someone "engaged in, or worthy of, the high standards of a profession." Can a professional firefighter be either a career firefighter or volunteer? How can we become more professional and increase the professionalism of our department?--mainly by becoming better educated.
Firefighters have fought for many years to establish themselves as professionals. Back in the mid-70's the state Journeyman Program started the fire service moving toward professionalism. Firefighters reflect directly the level of professionalism maintained by the department. Having knowledge of building construction, collapse, fire behavior and fire fighting techniques will help firefighters maintain this professional status. The more educated firefighters become, the more versatile we will be as our careers unfold. Because it has been said that professional status begins with education. Firefighters wanting to maintain this status and stay in the mainstream of their profession know that his/her education is the key for survival.
It is hard to imagine any profession that could survive without the need to keep abreast with current technology, innovation or hazards that would effect its operation or service. Keeping abreast can only be done by keeping educated. The goal of higher education is not so much to teach people subjects as it is to teach them to respond to situations. If firefighters have been taught to respond with a logical sequence of actions, their performance on/off the fireground will be prompt, proficient and confident. Thus the need for a higher educational system in the professional ranks becomes obvious.
The function of higher education in the fire service is the development of individuals to levels of competencies necessary to enable them to fulfill their professional responsibilities effectively. Fighting fires is very intense and complex so we must be able to recognize each hazard associated with every particular emergency tactic used. Without keeping up with change, the individual firefighter, regardless of his/her level of authority, will stumble along as best he/she can. Learning only by their mistakes until they cause serious harm or injury. Without a system to maintain a higher level of competency, the profession will soon stagnate and fail.
Higher education helps to upgrade our standards, continuity and service. It also develops and strengthens our professional standards, goals, and will aid us in working in cooperation with others both in and outside the fire service. If the fire service is to survive and carry out its mission, then fire service personnel must be able to anticipate and prepare for tomorrow's emergency and management conditions. After all the nature of the profession requires that a certain level of professionalism be met. For firefighters to command a greater respect from the community we also must accept higher education as part of our work ethic.
Higher education allows us to see the big picture. Higher education is about the content of knowledge, learning and understanding as much as about the mastery of any particular set of skills or information. It's not just learning what to do. It's learning what it is you're really doing, why you do it, what else you might consider doing, and how to weigh those options on and off the emergency scene. Higher education involves understanding what it means personally, professionally, socially and organizationally to make certain actions and how to assess the consequences of those actions or inactions. Higher education develops the firefighter as a professional.
The service we now deliver is in many ways more human, more personal and certainly more diversified than it has ever been in the past. We come in contact with people at the most terrifying moments of their lives. While they are at home, work, play or anywhere in between. That's a whole new ball game from the traditional surround and drown fire service.
The firefighter entering the fire service today is still required to get wet and dirty. Firefighters still need as much technical firefighting skills as those firefighters before them. Now they must combine those skills effectively with judgement, personal interaction and individual initiative to meet the challenging demands of the profession.
Tomorrow is the beginning of the future and we will not be based on what happened five years ago. We must take responsibility for educating ourselves, in order to survive. Remember that the fire service must do it quicker, better and more efficiently than ever before. So ask yourself if you are prepared for the demands of being a true professional firefighter. The investment you make now in your growth may pay off handsomely when it comes time for those who will lead the fire service into the future.
At the local level we need officers who lead their firefighters in both emergency and non-emergency work. Officers must be spark plugs and problem solvers who can manage all types of problems. Our officers must reflect the best that the fire service has to offer and encourage members to get involved in their profession, whether career or volunteer.
Firefighters' morale depends on their ability to believe in the organization. All too often, we allow our officers to become the implement that destroys firefighter morale. Fire chiefs need to step up to the plate and support their organizations. The fire chief should encourage his or her members to be the best they can be; not only for the current positions they hold, but also for promotions they may obtain in future years.
Ninety-nine percent of all employees want to do a good job. How they perform is simply a reflection of the one for whom they work.
There are four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should: First, they do not know what they are supposed to do; second, they do not know how to do it-third, they do not know why they should, and fourth, mostly, there are obstacles beyond their control. These four reasons why people fail to perform at their potential are all responsibilities of leadership.
Only through a proper educational process can we expect company officers to be prepared to take on the leadership role. The Volunteer State Community College Fire Science Technology Program enhances the overall effectiveness of all fire service personnel by providing the individual with critical thinking skills to help make better decisions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 9 percent job growth through 2018 for fire inspectors and investigators and 17 percent job growth for firefighters and their front-line supervisors. Pay varies with experience and setting. The salary for Fire Fighter I, an entry-level position, is between $38,000 and $49,400 a year in Nashville. A Fire Fighter II makes between $42,100 and $54,700 a year. Arson investigators earn more, and many jurisdictions require fire fighters to be cross-trained as paramedics, which means higher salaries. Smaller towns and counties typically pay less than cities. Franklin, for example, starts fire fighters at $34,400 a year.
Lots more information about this profession is available on Vol State's Career Pathways site.