Overcome Common Obstacles by Following the National Fire Academy Model*
*Published in Firehouse Magazine. Reprinted with permission by the author.
When Matt Wilson, a fire captain with 10 years of service, took a hard look at his future in the fire service and evaluated his training and education credentials in light of what is required these days by fire departments to promote to leadership management positions,he realized that he does not have what it takes. He completed all required state fire marshal training courses and more, and he took academic classes here and there,but never set out to actually earn an associate’s degree from his local community college or for that matter a bachelor’s degree from a provider of the National Fire Academy baccalaureate program in his state.
Currently, in many states, a bachelor of science degree in fire science is required of junior fire professionals to promote to senior positions. Matt does not meet this requirement and is in a quandary about where to start. The prospect of going back to school, devoting long hours to studying, and balancing his job, family, and school obligations is daunting and discouraging for now.
Matt is part of an ever-growing number of fire and emergency professionals heading back to the classroom after double-digit years of hiatus. Fueled by economic factors, higher standards for promotion and increased competition, fire service veterans are finding it necessary to return to school and earn accredited fire science degrees to become eligible for promotion and update their knowledge to better serve their fire departments and communities.
The primary reason many working adults resist returning to the classroom is that it is logistically more challenging for older students to graduate than for fresh-faced undergraduates. According to the Lumina Foundation, a private research organization that specializes in studying the educational needs of underserved students, more than 30% of all college students are adult learners ages 25 and above. In reality, colleges and universities frequently focus more heavily on the needs of students below the age of 22 and oftentimes do not acknowledge and smooth out the obstacles that working adults face.
For Susan Hayward, a 45-year-old fire officer and mother of two who recently completed an associate’s degree in fire science at her local community college, fear not only long kept her from returning to school, it nearly caused her to drop out.
“I was very uncomfortable on the first night of class; I left in the middle of the class with tears in my eyes,” she recalled. “I didn’t think I was smart enough as those 18-year-old kids. I had not been in a classroom for over 20 years. I was terrified!”
An additional challenge facing fire and emergency services professionals planning to return to school is choosing a school and academic program compatible with their long-term goals, their state or fire department education requirements in terms of
accreditation and certification, and balancing school with family and work obligations. This article seeks to address these challenges and offer returning adult learners in the fire service a clear road map to follow toward attaining their goal of becoming a college graduate with an accredited education infused with excellence and certified by the National Fire Academy’s Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education consortium.
There are educational indicators to consider when selecting a program of study: