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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Volunteer; No Experience OR Training Required!



Note: I wasn’t going to post a blog until after FDIC, but then I watched BC Michael Walker’s address on livestream and it really struck a chord. He spoke to the very essence of what it is to call yourself “fireman”, the strong bond between firefighters and what our communities expect when they call us.
Now and again, Firegeezer ( http://firegeezer.com/) comes up with an article that makes you go, “Hmmm”.
Such is the case with an article written by FireHat. (http://firegeezer.com/2013/04/22/should-fire-training-be-banned-a-commentary/ )
A state senate bill being pushed by Glenn Hegar would eliminate training requirements for volunteer firefighters in Texas. (http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB766)
Mediocrity is over populated by underachievers. It is a culture spawned by Pass/Fail or everyone gets a trophy. We can’t celebrate success, because those who are unsuccessful will feel badly, which is why some schools will have multiple valedictorians. I’m from the old school, where there was ONE valedictorian and if you came in second, you were the salutatorian. Boo hoo!
The fire service is the last place where we need kinder/gentler attitudes. I’m sorry, but “just good enough” just isn’t good enough. As I said in an earlier blog; you don’t do it until you get it right. You do it until you can’t get it wrong.
It is true that I joined the volunteer fire service where I live, so I could help when there was an emergency and I knew in order to do that, I had to learn how to do it through training. I learned early on that I could be of no use in an emergency, if I got hurt in the process. It is absolutely true that you train as if your life depended on it, because it does.
In our state, training is built around the schedule of the full time fire departments. That means that it is held during the week at our state’s fire academy, so unless you have lots of vacation time that you want to burn, you are stuck with on-line classes or hoping for weekend classes, where if you don’t get the required minimum class size, the class is cancelled.
We took steps many years ago and sent two firefighters to school to be certified instructors. They can do all of our training in-house, but if we want to get our firefighters certified, we have to send them to a certified class taught by IFSI instructors and then take the OSFM exam. But, I digress.
Hegar’s SB 766 is being supported by Texas State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association (http://www.sffma.org/) and the Harris County Firefighters Association of Texas (http://www.hcffa.org/). The Texas Commission on Fire Protection (http://www.tcfp.texas.gov/reports/DeptSize.asp) regulates fire departments in Texas in accordance with state statutes. The section of the state statutes affected by SB 766 is italicized and reads:
SUBCHAPTER D. VOLUNTEER FIRE FIGHTERS AND FIRE DEPARTMENTS
§ 419.071. Voluntary Certification Program for Volunteer Fire Fighters and Fire Departments
(a) The commission shall develop a voluntary certification program for volunteer fire fighters and volunteer fire departments. The program must include the same components and requirements as the certification program established under Subchapter B. The certification program for volunteer fire fighters and volunteer fire departments may take into account the different circumstances of volunteer fire fighters in establishing deadlines for completion of various components or requirements of the program.
(b) A certificate for a given type and level of certification that is issued under the certification program established under this section is equivalent to a certificate for the same type and level issued under Subchapter B. The certificate is subject to the same issuance and renewal requirements as a certificate issued under Subchapter B, and a certificate holder may be disciplined and regulated in the same manner 82 as provided by Subchapter B.
(c) A volunteer fire fighter, volunteer fire department, or facility that provides training to volunteer fire fighters is not required to participate in any component of the commission's program under this chapter. A volunteer fire fighter, volunteer fire department, or facility that provides training to volunteer fire fighters may on request participate in one or more components of the program under this subchapter as appropriate. The volunteer fire department with which a volunteer fire fighter is affiliated may, but is not required to, pay the certificate fee for a volunteer fire fighter certified under this subchapter.
(d) At least 30 days before the expiration of a volunteer fire fighter's certificate, the commission shall send written notice of the impending certificate expiration to the last known address of the fire fighter according to the records of the commission.
§ 419.072. Obtaining Paid Employment as Fire Fighter
(a) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in Subchapter B, a fire department may appoint as fire protection personnel a volunteer fire fighter or former volunteer fire fighter who is certified by the commission under this subchapter. On receiving the appointment from the employing fire department, the person is considered to be certified fire protection personnel.
(b) In this section, "fire department" has the meaning assigned by Section 419.021.
§ 419.073. Individual Certificate Holder; Certificate Renewal
(a) A volunteer fire fighter certified under this subchapter may continue to hold and renew the certificate without regard to whether the person continues to be affiliated with a volunteer fire department.
(b) A former volunteer fire fighter who is no longer affiliated with a volunteer fire department may renew an unexpired certificate before the expiration of the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission the required renewal fee.
(c) If a person's certificate has been expired for 30 days or less, the person may renew the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission the required renewal fee and a fee that is one-half of the certification fee for the certificate.
(d) If a person's certificate has been expired for longer than 30 days but less than one year, the person may renew the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission all unpaid renewal fees and a fee that is equal to the certification fee.
(e) If a person's certificate has been expired for one year or longer, the person may not renew the certificate.
(f) The commission shall establish by rule the requirements evidence must meet to be considered satisfactory for the purpose of complying with this section.
(g) Notwithstanding any other law, the commission may by rule establish a procedure to recertify a person if:
(1) the person's certification has lapsed because of the person's good faith clerical error, including the person's failure to submit fees in a timely manner; or
(3) the person's certification has lapsed as a result of termination of the person's employment and the person has been restored to employment as a result of a
disciplinary procedure.
As of 4/23/2013, the TCFP showed 28,233 appointed personnel in regulated departments with 3,135 certificate holders. What confounds me is that, if you take Houston (3838), Dallas (1820), San Antonio (1625), Austin (1098), Fort Worth (880) and El Paso (854), their total is 10,115 firefighters. If full time firefighters are required to be certified and to re-certify, then why are there only 3,135 certificate holders in the entire state of Texas? In addition, the SFFMA claims that 77% of the state’s firefighters are volunteers. So; are there many “unregulated” fire departments in Texas or are the number of volunteer firefighters over stated? I’m asking, because I don’t know.
The state of the volunteer fire service isn’t any different for Texas than it is in the other 49 contiguous states. Recruitment and retention remains a top concern of every volunteer fire department, but easing training and education requirements for firefighter’s flies in the face of Everyone Goes Home® (http://www.everyonegoeshome.com/), the Life Safety Initiatives (http://www.lifesafetyinitiatives.com/), NFPA 1001, Dept. of Labor laws (OSHA), the ISO rating system and common sense. Nationally, we have seen yearly firefighter fatalities below 100 since 2009. I can think of two reasons as to why fatalities have dropped: (1) better training and education and (2) health and wellness initiatives.
State senator Hegar needs to understand that a volunteer firefighter is unlike any other volunteer in a community. Name me one other type of volunteer that takes a solemn oath to serve and to protect their community, knowing that they may risk their life in order to do so.
It is clear that Hegar wants volunteer firefighters treated differently than career firefighters, with regards to training, but Fire doesn’t know the difference! He may believe he has good intentions, but I see nothing but bad consequences.
When a citizen needs help, will they be satisfied with service from a department full of good intentions or will they want a department that is trained to mitigate their incident?
What State senator Glenn Hegar should be doing is finding ways to deliver more and better training to his volunteer firefighters and crafting laws through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection that will make training and education more accessible. , Then, you wouldn’t be worrying about the negative financial impact of your bill. Instead; the certification and re-certification fees would dramatically increase. Perhaps then, you could even offer the training free of charge.
TCSS.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

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