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Firefighter jobs: What returning vets must know about their certs

Most states accept military firefighting certifications, some with additional training requirements; here's why those states that don't should

By Robert Rielage

You may recall a story of how several Illinois state legislators had petitioned Gov. Pat Quinn to recognize by executive order the fire training certification of returning military veterans as an equivalency to the Illinois Firefighter I and II standard. 

Illinois is one of only 12 states that have yet to recognize the U.S. military's fire certification as a basis to meet its basic state standards. This legislative proposal has the support of the Association of Fire Fighters of Illinois.

The story itself is interesting, and as yet Gov. Quinn has not given any indication if he will issue the executive order. His spokesperson indicated that a state task force has been meeting for nearly a year to decide if returning veterans meet state licensure requirements. 

In the meantime, career and volunteer fire departments that want to utilize these returning veterans, have the expense of what appears to many as redundant fire training.

Perhaps both some historic and current background will lead to a better understanding of the issues surrounding these certifications.

In the beginning
Today's fire service can trace its rich heritage back to colonial times when many of those leaders who would later shape the founding of the United States first turned their energy toward another common enemy — fire.

For example, Benjamin Franklin was the first chief of the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia that was the first organized volunteer fire company in the American colonies. Hence, we also recognizes Franklin as the first fire chief in America.

George Washington, prior to the Declaration of Independence and his selection as general of the Continental Army and subsequently his election as the first president of the United States, was a founding member of the Friendship Company of Alexandria, Va. that formed in 1775. Washington purchased the company's first engine from the Gibbs Co. of Philadelphia, and the station was built in a central location to cover both Alexandria and his estate at Mt. Vernon.

Civil War era
In the early days of the Civil War, some 1,100 volunteer firefighters from New York City formed the Eleventh New York Infantry Regiment under Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. Informally, the regiment was referred to as the First Regiment of Fire Zouaves and was known for their colorful uniforms consisting of a red firefighter's shirt, gray jacket and gray flowing trousers bloused into their boots.

While stationed outside Washington in May 1861, the regiment helped extinguish a major fire in the city's Willard Hotel, which brought them quickly to attention of President Lincoln. 

Later that year, over 200 of the Zouaves were killed, wounded or captured during the first battle of Bull Run.

During that war, many other firefighter regiments were formed in both the North and the South and a popular motto of the times was, "In peace, firemen; in war, soldiers!"

Modern times
The fire service has long recognized that returning military veterans with their understanding of discipline, teamwork and esprit de corps held the same fundamental values shared by firefighters. Those men and women with military firefighter certifications returning from duty during the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are no exception.

Recently, the Department of Defense consolidated all military fire training at Goodfellow Air Force Base outside San Angelo, Texas. Every firefighter designee in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard passes through Goodfellow for their basic Firefighter I and II, crash fire rescue, rescue tech, hazmat and even fire inspector training. 

These DoD training courses meet the IFSAC testing criteria that assures the courses meet or exceed the NFPA professional standard for that specific certification.

Recognition of this training by the 38 states is beneficial to both the states and the military. Shortly after 9/11, when I was fire marshal for Ohio, Ohio's adjutant general was faced with the costly expense of sending CFR-trained members of the Ohio Air National Guard out of state for new or refresher certification. 

Since the Ohio Fire Academy, one of the nine Bureaus of the Fire Marshal's Office, was already IFSAC accredited, the Academy added CFR courses to its training schedule, thus keeping Guard personnel in state in the event of a deployment and with a cost savings that could be used for other homeland security expenses.

The red tape
In most states, veterans with military firefighter certifications need to make an application to the state's fire training academy or fire training certification board requesting that their training be considered for equivalency to the state's firefighting requirements. 

Normally, this requires copies of the military certifications and an affidavit regarding the number of hours for each course attended during the DoD's training at Goodfellow AFB. Some states may request a skills evaluation by a state-certified instructor, especially when the training also includes some level of EMS certification.

With this equivalency, returning veterans with current military firefighter certification could almost immediately begin to protect their communities without the added expense to the department of redundant fire training.

Some departments augment military certification with bridge classes of their own that may last several weeks to orient probationary firefighter into the standard operating procedures of that department and to access the specific skills of each new firefighter. 

Several larger departments, despite the added expense, prefer to place the military veterans into a standard fire recruit class. Their reasoning is to build an esprit de corps within the class and use the ex-military firefighters as positive role models for their fellow probationary firefighters.

Whatever happens with the request in Illinois, I hope the fire service will continue to universally embrace our returning veterans. History, from revolutionary times through the World Wars and most recently from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, has shown that veterans generally make outstanding firefighters. 

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Dave Adams Dave Adams Wednesday, July 30, 2014 7:56:10 PM I served 20 years in the Navy. Fought MANY fires. Went to the Academy, just to make sure I qualified for a volunteer fire company. Returning vets should do the same.
Pat Jackson Pat Jackson Monday, August 18, 2014 2:43:55 PM When shipboard firefighting at treasure island. A recruit academy class was doing the evolution with us. This was there live training burns. Most veterans are basically ready to learn and perform better.
John Vanatta Jr. John Vanatta Jr. Monday, August 18, 2014 3:12:11 PM Dave Adams. This is about military firefighters who are already trained to the Firefighter 1/2 standard and worked in a military fire dept. They have already been through a basic fire academy.
Joe Zydel Joe Zydel Monday, August 18, 2014 3:34:45 PM There's no reason IFSAC and NREMT shouldn't be recognized nationally. It all comes down to each state waning money for each certification.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 5:00:15 AM I agree with accepting DoD certs, but I still think they should have to go through the recruit school or academy of the particular department they are applying to. I've worked side by side with some of these guys for over 5 years now, and can honestly say, like in the civilian world, there are some I would not go in a building with. A lot of these guys have miles of certs, but very little in the way of real world experience to build on them, and some haven't seen a working fire since Tech School.........I actually had one guy tell me, as we were responding to a working structure fire, that in 6 years in the military, the only real-world fire he saw outside of Tech School was a drone crash. Again, accept the certs, but still run them through the academy. If nothing else, it will be a refresher, and they will likely learn something new.
John Vanatta Jr. John Vanatta Jr. Thursday, August 21, 2014 6:41:25 AM Bull, outside of large metro departments, applicants are required to be certified before taking the test. The municipality saves a ton of money by hiring people who are already trained. And how is a new recruit out of any academy better qualified than someone who already went through an academy and has some experience?
Fred Corcoran Fred Corcoran Thursday, August 21, 2014 12:19:51 PM Goodfellow is a good school but it all boils to money in my opinion. The first time I tried to challenge the state test they denied it because the state required 6 hours of extinguisher training and Goodfellow only listed 3 hours. Even though Goodfellow had almost 150 hours of training than the state required. Makes no sense. Bull, All we(vets) are asking for is to accept our basic fire training. Put us through the same recruit school that all new hires go through. Also there are plenty of civilian firefighters who haven't seen fire in a long time.
John R Blalock John R Blalock Thursday, August 21, 2014 4:13:24 PM The Author left out the fact that US Marines also attend Goodfellow Fire Academy.
Kyle Brownlow Kyle Brownlow Thursday, August 21, 2014 9:33:00 PM Guess I lucked out, I was in the second class after tech school relocated to Texas. Did 5 years active duty in the AF, returned to Missouri and applied for reciprocity through the state. Had 80% of my certs transfer over and was hired at the first place I applied.
Cary Wayne Brugh Cary Wayne Brugh Friday, August 22, 2014 4:20:21 AM I would be in FL right now if they would accept my 5 years of military experience and training with the USAF! Like Joe is saying it's all a money game and they could careless about the vets.
Christopher Young Christopher Young Friday, August 22, 2014 5:44:08 AM Bull I disagree with your train of thought to some degree. Sending someone back through an academy is not acceptable based on your reasoning. I agree some fireman you do not want to be in a fire with, but sending them back through the academy AGAIN, is not going to change that. Real world experience can only be gained by being in the trenchs. Some city departments do not see much action either but that does not mean they are any less a fireman. Go to a rural FD, many of those are still practically in the horse drawn response mode. The academy for the second time is not going to show ANYBODY real world on scene firefighting. However, a course specifically for the hiring department on SOP/G's and practical evaluations might be acceptable considering each department operates differently.
Adam Graham Adam Graham Monday, September 08, 2014 8:57:18 PM Dave, was being a firefighter your primary duty in the Navy?

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