I was having lunch with a chief and two other company officers. We got into a discussion if a college education benefits us better as line firefighters or does it serve us better down the road as company officers and chief officers. I was curious about how everyone else felt about the subject because the discussion brought up some good points

It was one opinion that there is too much emphasis on college education which teaches how to administrate which erodes ones fireground skills because "too much book lernin" means they've spent too much time in the classroom and not enough on the fireground and that (in his opinion) was going to cause more firefighter injuries and deaths because they have too little practical experience in actual firefighting.

Another stated that firefighting is not a "college profession" but a "trade" which requires a certain amount of "OJT" and that's something you don't (and cannot) get in a college setting.

We recalled a chief officer who frequently taught fireground tactics and touted his MA, BUT despite his years of service (in their opinion not mine) really had "no right" teaching the subject because he had no real fireground experience since moving off the line and into administration. His department is EMS busy and not fire busy. they get fires but they cover a more affluent area therefore didn't get the big fires we get in our areas of the county.

I kept my mouth shut most of the time because I thought the all of them had a good points but I also sensed a little class warfare in their opinions. All of us have college educations in the fire service but I stated that I have worked with people who thought their "badge was brighter" because they had an AA, AS, BS or BA behind their name and thought that "should" rank them higher among colleagues who didn't have college. I stood by my personal assertion that nothing replaces practical experience

The chief officer pointed out how many general officers in the military today don't have Combat infantry badges (CIB) meaning that they have not seen a lot of "real combat" yet have degrees and have graduated from schools of combat yet command troops in the field. I don't know that much about the army so I didn't comment but the observation made sense that if I were a solijer I would feel more confident if my commanding general had "been there and done that before" but sometimes you get generals between wars

I wondered about that as it related to the fire service because I see more emphasis being placed on academics and less on fireground  experience as one advances. I know that in most larger departments chiefs are administrates and not fireground commanders and I guess that's the trend

I enjoyed my college experience but I do recall having classmates that dropped out thinking that college level fire science was going to teach them firefighting and when we got into the true curriculum, they lost interest and quit

We all admitted that we are seeing more probies with degrees walking through the door and we wondered just how much it was going to help them in their formative years (since some departments rank college grads higher in the hiring process) or was it just something they will need to have as they advance and was having a degree making them too smart to learn the job

Is it your opinion that a college education in the lower ranks (below chief) enhances one's practical experience in the fire service or does college just make you a better administrator down the road when you promote?


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The truth isn't as simple as any of you want to make it.  More education, as long as the one being educated is able to apply it, is always good.


The issue isn't the college education in and of itself, it is the fact that that education alone will NEVER make anyone a good firefighter.  You can talk about thermal imbalance/balance, flashover, backdraft, rollover, flameover, and so mucgmore but until you see them for real it is all theory.  The same with actual fire attack.  Crawling down a hallway with black pushing smoke, flames rolling overhead, heat pushing you down, and the effect that the WRONG pattern selection on your combo nozzle can cause simply can't be understood through books and videos.


Firefighters NEED to get out in the real world and experience firefighting, add that to education, and you make a rounded firefighter.

I think you are mistakenly making this an either/or situation. Getting a college education does not preclude you from getting a "real world" education. It's hard to argue against education of any type. I do agree that there are many firefighting tasks that you just can't learn in a classroom. But that doesn't make the classroom education pointless. I also disagree that college classes are only useful for officers/administrators. There is plenty you could learn about fire prevention, building construction, fire protection systems, management principles, etc. in a classroom setting.

I work in a large department where chiefs are administrators but first and foremost they are fire ground commanders, ALL of whom came up through the ranks.

I think educaion is always a key to better decision making - and the fire service is all about making the correct decision at the correct time.


I obtained my Bachelors in Public Fire Administration as a means to an end and it has allowed me to pogress within my own department and be better able to deal with the public and union issues on a better plane.  Having a deeper understanding of the goings-ons of different levels (through education) allows for the development of a better working relationship both internally and externally 

For me the fire service is all about making the correct decision at the correct time ON THE FIREGROUND. Dealing with the public and unions is fine but I consider it a support function to the main mission. I'd rather see a person gain an understanding of different levels by actually experiencing those levels.

IMO education is only one small part of decision-making.

I understand yoru position but have to say this - If as a firefighter, a line officer, or a chief officer, you are unable to properly deal with the public and unions you will not remain in you position for very long. 


Consider why there is a national and state fire academies - to educate the firefighter.  Most, if not all, of these academies have progressed to the point of offering college level course work for the purpose of communications and leadership.  So to take off from that concept then making the right decision on the fire ground may have some base in making good decisions on all levels - thereby the education.  


When I entered the fire service (1980's) the chief was not necessarily the brightest member of the department, many times it was the person who was recognized by the community as being a good firefighter - and many times this same "good firefighter" could not talk his way out of a paperbag and the fire service suffered because the chief could not talk the talk - they could only walk the walk. 


By having a better education the correct decisions are being made - on and off the fireground

would you agree that there has been a trend in the fire service that puts more emphasis on being college educated as an equivilant of credibility or suitability to do the job?

I'm only asking because I worked with a guy that never wanted to become an officer and topped out as a respected engineer and senior firefighter. It was not uncommen for the chiefs to ask him for direction or advice on a subject and when I became an engineer I asked him why he never wanted to advance past where he was and he told me he simply liked doing what he was doing.

some departments put what appears to be too much emphasis on colligate education and the discussion drifted around the belief that too many incident commanders have too little "firefighting" expierence

I agree that coming up in the ranks is the best way to make sure you have "field expireence" but the bunch I was with was saying it seems to be slipping away to which I said "that's because we're not getting the volume of fires we got in the 70's 80'and 90's"...(prevention is doing a better job)


  I think what needs to be looked at is how in your Department rank is made.  Does your dept. use a system that incorperates a multi sysytem. For example in Indianapolis  to be promoted you must have X amount of time on the job to try for your Lt. as a Lt. you must have X amount of time on the Job plus X amount of time as a Lt. before you can go through the Capt.processes, and so on and so forth. All ranks are merit up to and including Battalion chiefs. The Chief of the Dept. is appointed by the Mayor and comes from the Lower chief ranks. The Shift commanders and other chiefs ie. ems,training, special ops etc. are appointed by the Chief of the dept. 

  The promotion process involves. Written and oral tests. Inerviews, simulations. Points are given for fire certs, college and Military service. 

  I know officers who have no college and are great fire officers, I know ones that have college and are great too. I also know a few who have a degree and are sub par to say the least and of course there are ones who have no college and are also below average. 

  Putting a time in service requerment  in the promotion procesess helps to insure that a fireman gets some experience befor they are put in a leadership role. Regardless of weather or not they have a degree. 

The dept. also helps to prepare people for the next step. We have what is called a second officer course. This course once taken allows a Pvt. to ride as the officer. When his or her officer is on Kellie day,Vacation or sick leave. The person in the seat does get RO ride out pay. 

  As long as the dept. has promotion guidlines that insure a firefighter is promoted not just on there class room merits, be it college or fire training etc. But are tested on there over all knowlege of the job. 

  This way you try to insure that the best person gets the job. I say try because lets face it there are times when a smuck slips through the cracks. 

  I hope this helps. 

God bless


your comment was exactly the way I think levels the playing field because I believe that you should be able to advance without college.

thank you for your time on this subject. it was just a bunch of old friends having lunch (non liquid for a change) and chatting

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