The debate regarding the number of annual training hours volunteers should be required to participate in has resurfaced in a recent article by the Coshocton Tribune in Ohio. I recently read the article dated October 12, 2011 and written by Kathy Thompson, a staff writer for the Coshocton Tribune on the Tribune’s website www.coshoctontribune.com .
The state of Ohio passed a law in 2008 that requires volunteer firefighters to take 18 hours of training each year. Volunteers that allow their certification to lapse for more than 18 months are then required to attend 36 hours of retraining and take a test. Prior to 2008 firefighters were not required to be recertified.
All of the common and expected positions are represented in the article. The volunteers are complaining that they do not have the time, that tough economic times have required many to work two jobs, and the old but faithful claim that increased training requirements are creating hardships and negatively affecting the recruitment process.
The officials of the state of Ohio and the Ohio State Firefighters Association make the standard claims that he training is necessary, the volunteers were provided ample notice of the rule changes, fire does not discriminate, and there are various methods – low cost methods, to attain the 18 hours of training.
I believe there are problems on both sides of the isle. First, the volunteers need to stop with the “we are volunteers” defense every time they are required to do something they simply do not want to do. Training is necessary, regardless of whether you are a volunteer or a career firefighter and regardless of whether you have 1 year, 5 years, or 20 years of experience. Things change, best practices change, and how we mitigate emergency scenes does and will continue to chang
I work in the private sector in a profession where there are no continuing education requirements. However, if I do not attend training on the products I offer, my customers will simply go somewhere else. Therefore, although the ultimate choice to train is mine, the reality is that if I choose not to, I will eventually be out of business.
The fire service does not have the option of going out of business. If we do not continue to train and update ourselves on the latest best practices people die. No one can reasonably argue the fact that our business has changed. From the design and material of the buildings we enter to the flammability of the contents within those buildings. If you are still fighting fire using 1970’s techniques, eventually you will have a very bad day!
Base on the information in the article, I applaud the state of Ohio. The article quotes a number of steps that the state has taken to make training not only available but also very cost effective. Admitting that I do not know the specifics of this law, I question the actual requirements and evaluation process for assuring that actual learning is taking place. These concerns are raised based on experience and wording in the article such as “take 18 hours of training each year” and “attend 36 hours of retraining.”
Simply attending training does not confirm that the information or skill(s) being taught were actually learned. I believe a recertification process should involve continuing training as well as a practical exam. Requiring recertification on an annual basis is too frequent and creates a logistical burden on the fire service as well as the state. I would recommend lowering the annual training hours to 12, and requiring recertification every 5 years. Recertification would include a classroom lecture that would cover specific changes in state and national policy, standards, regulations, and best practices. There should also be a practical test. I am not referring to the same test firefighters take during the original certification process, but rather something that demonstrates their abilities.
Perhaps most troubling is the lack of a national standard to be a firefighter. Many argue that fire on the east side of the nation is different from fire in the Midwest or west side of the nation. I agree; there are not many forest fires in New York or Philadelphia just as there are not many high rises or townhouses in rural Wisconsin.
This is why I am an advocate of a modular system. This type of system would cover the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities required to be a firefighter in the first module. Knowledge like codes, standards, and regulations – skills like starting a saw, donning, and doffing turnout gear and SCB A – abilities like throwing ladders and working a hose line would be taught to every firefighter. Additional modules that are specific to a region would be then be added.
A module system that is accepted nationally would reduce the cost of training for career departments and boost the abilities for volunteer departments to recruit firefighters that have relocated to different states. My concern is that the political powers to be may not have the drive or the desire to put their personal agenda’s to the side in the interest of the fire service as a whole. In addition, there is a great deal of state and federal money in training and certification programs. There is no doubt that those who stand to gain from this money will be quick to mount opposition to any such plan to standardize or allow reciprocation of certifications.