Start a Fire Science Degree at American Public University.
By Randall Hanifen
Special Contributor to Online Career Tips
Note: This article was originally published on EDM Digest.
In the past few weeks, I have been involved in a variety of conversations about the difference between a vocation and a profession. I have discussed the need to foster interest in fire and emergency services before students leave for college and why our new firefighters can reprogram computers but can’t fix anything that requires conventional tools.
A Change from Vocation to Profession
When my parents began working in the fire service, many of their coworkers had prior professions or side jobs. They were carpenters, electricians or mechanics.
That prior training meant most firefighters could more easily diagnose the many building systems they encountered on the job. They understood how electrical mishaps could result in safety hazards and fires; how heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems worked; and how HVAC malfunctions could ignite fires.
That knowledge often came in handy because when the fire department was called to a home, the owner often did not know how to diagnose the problem. Many odors and smoke scares are typically the result of electrical or HVAC issues. If those issues had been diagnosed properly, they might have been corrected without calling in the fire department.
However, 99% of fire personnel today are the product of the change from the industrial age to the information age.
With the creation of EMS, hazardous materials, technical rescue and fire inspection services, a typical paid fire department must now be an all-hazards planning and response organization. As a result, first responder training and education has also undergone improvements.
This transition to an all-hazards planning and response organization provides a career path for people who want to become firefighters. Prospective applicants today need almost an associate degree’s worth of training to serve on a paid fire organization. They can go to firefighting and emergency medical schools directly after high school. They no longer migrate directly to the fire department from a trade school.
In the 1990s and the 2000s, we made significant strides in the training and education levels of newly hired personnel. However, the economic recession and the often negative publicity surrounding government employees, especially police and firefighters, hampered the creation of a large pool of applicants from which we could find new, high-quality employees.
Because of the current strict background standards that are demanded by emergency services, we must have a large pool of interested applicants. These applicants are needed, in part, to replace retiring firefighters and those whose backgrounds do not align with current organizational values.
Firefighter Education and Training Now Starts as Early as High School
The fire service has made great strides to build itself into a profession with verified training and education curricula. However, society places so much emphasis on college-level education that fire departments do not even begin to figure in most students’ career considerations.
We require students to make a choice between going to college or being relegated to entering a vocation at the junior or senior high school level. The stigma created by society is that if you do not have a college education, you will not succeed in life.
This thinking prevents many high school students from seeing the fire service as a career possibility. Fire departments must now actively seek applicants while they are still in high school.
Among the best ways to foster this recruiting technique on a long-term basis is the Pathways program, which gives students who want to become firefighters the opportunity to complete much of their training while they are still in high school.
The Pathways program is beneficial because it lets students join the firefighting workforce immediately after graduation. Those young firefighters can later obtain additional education if they choose to move up in their firefighting organizations, perhaps with the associate degree program in fire science at AMU.