The competent fire officer must be guided in their decision-making by a combination of knowledge, skill, and experience. As a means to enhance experience and support professional development, fire service leaders should embrace the concept of Lifelong Learning.
The modern fire service continuously faces new and complex challenges. To remain prepared to confront these challenges and increase public awareness about fire prevention, fire officers must continuously adapt to their learning environment. Organizations whose members are not engaged in regular learning often make the same mistakes over and over again, sometimes culminating in tragedy.
Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organizational Learning, reminds us that “we learn best from our experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions.” We all learn from our mistakes, when the stakes are high we may never get that second chance.
[su_quote cite=”John F. Kennedy”]Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other [/su_quote]
Lifelong Learning is continuous, deliberate, and self-motivated. Committed fire officers routinely seek information for personal as well as professional reasons. When learning is personally relevant to our interests and goals it enhances skill, improves job performance, and develops a higher level of thinking.
When this happens, the motivation to learn is high and leaders pursue new learning opportunities as a basic human need to develop and grow (Stanford, 1998).
Adapting to new technologies
Numerous learning opportunities are present in a variety of formal and informal training and educational networks. In the digital era, we have amplified access to the conventional forms of learning including college programs, videos, and trade journals. Over the past several years, there has been a rapid expansion of non-formal learning opportunities including blogs, podcasts, and video-sharing websites.
The increase of information sharing has had a remarkable impact on our industry. With the advancement of contemporary learning methods, we’ve seen a new level of engagement from our members outside of the halls of time-honored educational institutions.
Continuing education and learning is no longer held exclusively to traditional training systems. With this technological expansion, we have seen an increase in commitment from all roles and ranks in the industry. Self-motivated and active members of our organizations are no longer restricted to the classroom or peer reviewed journals to share their ideas, techniques, and feedback. Popular firefighter web-blogs have a comparable readership to many industry-based publications. One powerful example is Irons and Ladders, a firefighter-run forcible entry blog that has received as many as 30 thousand views in one day (Royal, 2014).
The committed Lifelong Learner should welcome a combination of traditional and non-traditional learning programs. The key is to appreciate is that maximum learning will occur when fire officers blend the two learning styles and not view them in conflict with each other.
Leverage the Overlapping Resources
Amid the rapid growth of information, it becomes increasingly important for fire officers to develop an ability to navigate through the medley of data and advice to find the most valid and relevant material.
As an institution of learning, the library has been a cornerstone for new ideas and progress. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) Library has continued to adapt to emerging technologies to ensure the endurance of its legacy. Recently, the USFA Library in Emmitsburg, Maryland has worked to provide greater access to fire and emergency services literature and resources outside its library walls.
The USFA Library, commonly known as the Learning Resource Center, contains one of “the most comprehensive collections in the United States of materials relating to the fire service and emergency management” (FEMA, 2008). This exclusive collection focuses on literature specifically related to emergency response, fire prevention, homeland security and a myriad of leadership topics.
The library has recently completed a major project that has made much of their material discoverable in the WorldCat search engine (Metz, 2013). WorldCat is the world’s largest database of library materials and is universally available at any library in the world. The materials available through this enhanced cataloging system includes thousands of fire and emergency services books and videos in addition to several hundred professional journals and magazines. All of these materials are available online or through interlibrary loan agreements with your local library through their online catalog, twenty-four hours a day, and all at no cost.
[su_quote cite=”Benjamin Franklin”]An investment in knowledge pays the best interest[/su_quote]
More with Less
During a time when public-sector leaders are being asked to do more with less, the difference between success and failure often depends on how we use our time. The USFA Library has innovative quick access programs that will maximize a leader’s time and provide immediate access to recognized fire prevention and life safety programs.
Solutions for Critical Issues
Among the online programs designed to operate as a consolidated clearinghouse to maximize a leader’s time and provide immediate access to recognized programs stands a unique component of the USFA Library that sets itself apart from other venues for Lifelong Learners. The library has made the collection of Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Applied Research Project papers available through WorldCat. This body of work that once sat idle among the stacks for on-site users only is now available electronically.
The Executive Fire Officer Program is delivered by the United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy. The National Fire Academy provides specialized training courses and advanced management programs for middle and top-level fire officers. The Executive Fire Officer Program provides senior fire officers with a comprehensive curriculum on various aspects of fire and emergency services to develop an officer’s leadership and ability to contend with difficult and adaptive problems in their respective jurisdictions (FEMA, 2014).
As a graduate level development program, the Executive Fire Officer Program requires students to complete an Applied Research Project to address a specific challenge within their organization. With focus on applied problem solving to real world leadership challenges, the papers “have led to numerous improvements and changes to communities” throughout the United States (Metz, 2013).
Although most students in the Executive Fire Officer Program are from the United States, the program has students and graduates from Canada, Guam, Brazil, St. Lucia, Germany, China, Australia, and New Zealand in addition to U.S. military personnel from Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Italy.
A recent paper on response delays related to increased railroad activity resulted in millions of dollars in grant money for a particular jurisdiction. Upon submission of the research project, the applied solution was implemented in the student’s home community and presented to local and state officials resulting in improved response times for the community and decreased risk to emergency responders (Krantz, 2014).
Currently, over 7,000 papers are available on-line. Each paper is searchable by topic or keyword allowing users to locate and apply a wide variety of solutions from the industry’s top leaders. Placing this collection of extensive work on the web and into WorldCat provides tremendous access to an exclusive resource for the entire first responder community.
[su_quote cite=”Alvin Toffler”]Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn [/su_quote]
In order for an organization to maintain the flexibility and adaptability required to confront new and complex challenges, leaders need to discover how to tap into their people’s commitment and capacity to learn. Given that all members of our organizations have the aptitude to learn, many lack the tools and guidance to prepare them for the situations they face. Fire officers that are adept to search out new and innovative learning opportunities for themselves and their staff will develop an atmosphere of enduring excellence among their members.
The development of digital content will remain a focus for Life Long Learners. A visit to today’s USFA Library continues to avow the iconic images of books in stacks and a peaceful retreat for study. Yet the resources, programs and services that abound outside the building also serve to provide new access to critical information and ideas that will help fire officers make timely and appropriate decisions.
The library’s improved approach provides Lifelong Learners with greater access to the best ideas and solutions in leadership, training, and fire prevention.
For fire and emergency services leaders there will always be new ideas and opinions to explore. According to Edward Metz, Head Librarian at the National Fire Academy, the library will continue to serve as a “curator” to help the public make decisions and navigate through the noise and volume of information to find material they can trust and use (Metz, 2014).
Not only does the Untied States Fire Academy Library remain an enduring resource for Lifelong Learning, it continues to provide fire service leaders the greatest opportunity and accessibility to unlock and enhance the talent and best minds of our industry.
[su_box title=”National Emergency Training Learning Resource Center” box_color=”#a00500″ radius=”5″] Mission:
- Support the National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute’s instructional and research programs through ownership of or access to appropriate print and other materials.
- Provide assistance to FEMA and other DHS offices as well as to the general public in their search for useful information.
- Promote the better understanding of effective ways to use these resources by NETC students, faculty and the first responder community across the United States.
- 6,000 videos
- 7,000+ published papers by NFA students
- 18,000 books
- 120,000+ individual journal articles
Fire Prevention and Public Education Exchange
Learning Resource Center
16825 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
[su_box title=”References” box_color=”#a00500″ radius=”5″]
- Stanford University Newsletter. (1998).“Capturing and Directing the Motivation to Learn,” fromSpeaking of Teaching, the Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching, Vol. 10, No. 1, Fall 1998.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency.(2008). Learning Resource Center [Brochure]. Emmitsburg, MD.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2014). Executive Fire Officer Program [Brochure]. Emmitsburg, MD.
- Krantz, Angela. (2014). Personal Communication.
- Metz, Edward J. (2013). New venues for discovering fire and emergency services literature.Fire Technology.
- Metz, Edward J. (2014). Personal Communication.
- Royal, Ryan. (2014). Personal Communication.