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What's More Important: Credentials or Experience?

What's More Important: Credentials or Experience?

At my Firehouse, 30 years ago (a little before my time), if we were toned out for a medical call, two members would grab the rescue (we call it the rescue, some communities call it the ambulance, rig, bus, etc) and respond to the call even if neither one was an EMT. The mentality was the same as in the pre-EMT days – at least you would get the victim to the hospital.

Clearly, the “Train As You Go” method is no longer acceptable anywhere in the country, for medical calls. So how is it that some communities think nothing of allowing untrained, firefighters to gear up and march into a burning structure? It boggles the mind… Certification programs are great. Every member should be encouraged to complete NFPA 1001 Firefighter Level I and Level II. Those are two very good credentials to obtain. However, getting both of those certifications does not, in and of itself, guarantee a successful evolution on the fireground. Even if live burns are part of the certification, there is a big difference between burning bales of hay in a concrete and steel building, and Joe Dokes’ condo on fire (room and contents) down the street.

In my own career I have come across some fantastic firefighters who never received their Firefighter Level I or Level II certification, but could easily teach advanced courses on fire behavior and fire control. Are these individuals less qualified than someone with the certificates? Of course not.

Don’t get me wrong; I am all for certified training and seminars. In my opinion, we owe it to ourselves to keep abreast of the latest trends, and discoveries in this profession. Education is one of our strongest and most flexible tools. But even in communities where the access to these types of training and seminars is limited because of distance, dollars, or opportunities, EXCELLENT training programs can be put together by a couple of highly motivated fire officers or firefighters and delivered right in your own firehouse. You don’t need a certificate to prove you know something! Let your actions speak!! Every department should have at least a three-tiered training program. We call ours the “Training Roadmap”. We have training for our under-aged, junior firefighter program. We also have training for members split up into: Bootcamp (new firefighter orientation), Basics (basic firefighter competencies), and Beyond the Basics (tips, strategies and theories).

There are lots of monthly magazines and websites available for you to use when developing your training programs. Some of these cost you nothing but the time to research them. There is no – zero – zip – zilch reason why Fire Departments today allow members to stay on the active list without being trained.

There is tremendous value for your department in sending people to training. The National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, offers the “NFA State Weekend” Program, which is free training, room, and board Friday through Sunday for the cost of a registration fee (I think it’s $75 a person).

You just have to get your people to the Academy and they will receive world-class training (and certificates, if that’s your motivation) plus the chance to meet firefighters from different parts of your State as well as at least one other State during the training. The instructors are seasoned professionals teaching state-of-the-art fireground theories and techniques.

Do we need State-mandated levels of training? I don’t think so. What we need is a commitment from each and every one of us to stop fighting fires by the seat of our pants, and research and learn the proper methods, tools, strategies and tactics to fight fires.

As previously stated: It is not important if the person beside me is board certified and has a wall full of certificates from all the classes they have attended or not. I want the person beside me to know when to use a fog stream and when to use a straight stream, when to ladder a building, how to vent a roof, how to search a residence and how to search a commercial structure. I want them to know when to pull the inch-and-three-quarter line and when to pull the deuce-and-a-half. I want my officers to know when is it worth the risk to make entry and when to order everyone out and switch to a defensive attack. When to put a stop to 15 separate individuals failing to put out a fire, and switch it to one team of 15 being successful.

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