by Frank R. Myers
Originally Published in MultiBriefs, 10-12-16
One of the most valuable courses a firefighter can take is the SCBA technician certification course. Many departments have personnel assigned to a station and a specialty apparatus that maintains department SCBAs. These individuals are responsible for fit testing, filling the cylinders, air mask repairs, PASS issues, harness repairs, etc.
We all know respiratory protection is one of the most valuable protections we have in the fire service. What better way to know your equipment than to have an intimate knowledge of how it functions and how to troubleshoot it when issues occur, for whatever reason? Plus, you can assist at major incidents and "fill in" when there is a shortage of qualified people.
Another valuable certification is fire safety inspector. Whether you work in the code enforcement area or in emergency response, this can also reap benefits. Knowing how to spot problem areas or offer advice for a business or domicile goes a long way in the public's eye.
Knowledge will come from such "code" books as the life safety code, state codes and local building codes. Knowing how to use the code books and search for info not only assists you in your career, but also may come in handy for personal use.
Continuing down this certification path, you can also gain more expertise in becoming a hazmat inspector, arson investigator or plans examiner.
Becoming a hazmat technician requires much dedication. Special gear, techniques and knowledge are all required. You need to like to drill and constantly continue to stay updated through training and education.
There is no greater reward than to be part of an elite specialty team. Technicians can be put in precarious situations and will need to work in encapsulating suits that are hot and uncomfortable. This is for highly-motivated people.
Technical rescue teams (TRT) can carry many different types of certifications, including: high angle rope courses, vehicle and machinery rescue (VMR), elevated victim rescue (EVR), confined space rescue, trench rescue, building collapse and concrete shoring, swift water rescue, etc.
Staying engaged and having the drive to learn these skills, you can succeed and become a valuable asset to your department and community. Some of these certifications also apply to individual crews or stations depending on the type of equipment they carry on their trucks.
Becoming SCUBA certified is not only a personal asset that can be used for recreation, but it is also useful for your profession. A position can be acquired on your department's "dive" team.
The bar is raised when you become a rescue diver. This is also not for everyone. It requires many more skills and hours of training than just becoming an open-water diver. You need to keep a cool head and feel comfortable when in the water working in confined areas with low visibility. This also requires a person to be fit and have stamina.
All personnel should obtain fire service instructor or instructional methodology certifications. When you instruct a subject, you gain a profound knowledge of the material being delivered. You will learn those valuable techniques to be able to deliver a message or curriculum to a group of people. Whether it is the public, the firefighters at your station, supervisors and administration or large groups, it will help you gain confidence and also get you noticed.
Besides leading to instructor status, many of the above certifications also offer "train the trainer" courses (TTT). This is invaluable because you do not have to rely on outside agencies to deliver the necessary training. Why not invest it into your own personnel? You will gain the asset of delivering these courses "in house." Share the information you've learned. One of the most challenging certifications (at least from my experience) was getting certified as a paramedic. For many departments, this has become the "norm" — becoming the standard, synonymous with being a firefighter. This is an ever-changing certification since there are always new developments in medicine. It requires constant ongoing education and skills practice.
Most departments also offer tuition reimbursement for obtaining an associate's degree and/or bachelor's degree. They also offer opportunities to take "executive" courses for officers whether at the National Fire Academy or through local universities or colleges. Some of these degrees can be in public administration, emergency management, EMS, fire service administration, etc.
A great way to get much of this training — at no additional cost to the individual — is to join an urban search-and-rescue team (USAR). Being part of such a team is irreplaceable for the amount of experience one can gain and the learning/training opportunities the team has to offer.
Many of these certifications were the result of "buzzwords" that occurred over the years within the fire service. For instance, weapons of mass destruction, confined space, SCUBA in the fire service and TRT training came about as a result of new trends.
One of the most rewarding parts of a career in the fire service is that it is ever-changing, always challenging and extremely rewarding. Stay involved and curious; you never know where your attained knowledge can lead you.
Frank R. Myers is a retired lieutenant with the City of Miami (Florida) Fire Rescue, where he served for 32 years. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment and inventory checks.
Originally Published in MultiBriefs, 10-12-16