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  • Center for Public Service Barb Russo
    Barb Russo

    by Barb Russo

    While the events of 9/11 demonstrated that as a whole we were not prepared for a terrorist event of such magnitude, it also raised awareness that our first responders and agency administrators in many instances did not have the education relevant to performing at the highest levels. Don’t take this the wrong way—as first responders we train extensively throughout our careers. The key word here is “train,” but training and education are not the same thing. When training, we learn how to do something. That can be something as simple as catching a hydrant or taking a patient’s blood pressure. Education, on the other hand, explains “why” we do something. In this business, it is not only important to know how to do something, but why we do it because lives depend on it, the way they did that fateful day.

    So how do we move from training to education?
    That answer is simple—through higher education. Webster’s Dictionary defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.” Firefighting and emergency management positions have traditionally been held by blue-collar workers wanting a stable career. Historically, little formal education was required beyond a high school diploma or a GED, and training and preparation was done on the job. However, 9/11 clearly demonstrated a need for educated personnel when emergency management was lifted to a profession almost overnight.

    In 2001, there were just a handful of emergency management degree programs throughout the U.S., and today there are more than 120 degree and certificate programs focusing on both emergency management and homeland security, something rarely considered before 9/11. Fire service experienced a similar growth, with programs aimed at fire service administration as well as wildland firefighting. The field of fire service has been around for some 200 years and it is finally being recognized as a profession by virtue of the education it now requires.

    Today, the public and private sectors recognize the need for a formal education and many may expect candidates to hold academic degrees as well as various certifications.
    Most fire chiefs today hold advanced degrees, including master’s degrees, and company officers typically earn associate’s degrees. In addition, applicants seeking admission to the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program must already possess a bachelor’s degree—further giving credence to higher education. 

    Emergency managers find themselves in the same situation. No longer is being a former public safety professional an automatic qualifier for a position in emergency management. Emergency managers conduct exercises, draft and revise numerous response plans, oversee command at major events, and make decisions that require critical-thinking skills that training simply can’t provide. Because of all these complex duties, a formal education is the key way to attain the writing and communication skills to effectively perform in this setting.

    Kaplan University has carefully considered the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are relevant to fire science and emergency management careers. The associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in fire science are modeled on the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) national curriculum. Programs focus on a balance of knowledge and skills for those seeking advancement or entry to the fire service. The bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency management  provides an understanding of the four phases of disaster and how policy has shaped the way we perform emergency management in a post-9/11 setting. For those wishing to pursue a more advanced degree, the master’s degree in homeland security and emergency management or the master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in emergency management provide excellent opportunities for additional study.

    The events of 9/11 exposed our vulnerabilities but in that same breath opened many opportunities in fire and emergency management that otherwise may have gone untapped. We have learned many lessons from 9/11, but more importantly have finally recognized that there is so much more to learn. That is why the faculty members in our programs not only serve their communities every day, but bring that knowledge and experience to the classroom to prepare tomorrow’s professionals for a lifetime of service.

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