How to get the most out of NFA education

Planning ahead and following these suggestions will make your trip to the National Fire Academy a success

So you're looking to advance your professional development in your fire and EMS career. Being a life-long learner is a desirable characteristic in a profession where the body of knowledge is continually growing. A good place to start is enrolling for courses offered at the U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Academy.

The NFA, located on the campus of the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., is the premiere educational institution for present and future fire and EMS leaders who are intent on pursuing their professional development. Any person with substantial involvement in fire prevention and control, emergency medical services, fire-related emergency management activities, or allied professions is eligible to apply for NFA courses.

The staff at NFA, together with their colleagues at the Emergency Management Institute, developed a wonderful document, Welcome Package: National Emergency Training Center. The Welcome Package provides all the necessary information regarding on-campus facilities and services, making your travel arrangements to NFA, check-in procedures, and other information.

In addition to the Welcome Package, visit the USFA/NFA website USFA for NFA Students & Instructors. There you will find information regarding course enrollment procedures, course prerequisite requirements, and other information to enroll for a course at NFA. All NFA resident students attending class on campus must complete ICS 100 level and ICS 200 level training before arriving at the NETC.

Tips from a veteran
During my 26-year career, I attended 14 two-week resident courses at NFA, including the four courses that comprised my Executive Fire Officer Program curriculum. Here are some "tips of the trade" that I think will make your educational journey to NFA both enjoyable and educational.

Your primary focus should be on having the best educational experience possible, and to do that you need to be actively present. You're going to have a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know other fire and EMS professionals — students and faculty and NFA staff alike — who share your passion and commitment for the job.

These points can help you immerse yourself in the NFA experience, both in and out of the classroom.

Bring business cards. Don't have any? Get down to the office supply store and get some made or order some on-line. Take at least 50 with you and make it your goal to have none left at the end of your stay.

Prepare an "elevator speech." At a minimum you'll need it for the opening of your class when everyone introduces themselves.

Prepare a short presentation about your department. Many instructors allot time for students to share their presentations. Keep it to no more than five PowerPoint slides that give snapshots about your organization such as the type and size of the community and population you serve; number of personnel and apparatus in your department; and a couple of recent key successes or innovative programs.

Be modest. By all means share and participate, but keep in mind that you are only one of 20 students in the class, so be respectful of time for your instructors and cohorts. And while you may think that your department does it best — and who doesn't think that — be mindful that each of your cohorts probably feels the same way about their department. 

Take care of your body as well as your mind. The NFA has some really good fitness facilities in H Building on campus including: an indoor basketball court; fitness room with weight training and aerobic training equipment; and an indoor pool. The Recreation Office adjacent to the Fitness Room has sports equipment that you can check out that include: bicycles, softball gear, basketballs, and golf clubs.

Watch what you eat. The dining hall does a really good job of serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for approximately 900 students, faculty, and staff that are on campus each day. It may not be Five-Star dining, but it tastes good and there's plenty of it, and that's where you need to be careful. It’s very easy to go home with an extra 10 to 15 pounds at the end of a two-week resident course. If you have special dietary requirements, use the information in the Welcome Package to contact the Dietician at the Dining Hall prior to your arrival and they will be more than happy to get you fixed up.

Off campus
Many students attending resident courses at NFA, especially those who travel to Emmitsburg by air, take advantage of the weekend during the course to become tourists. The NFA is conveniently located near:

  • Gettysburg National Military Park (12 miles north on U.S. Route 15)
  • Baltimore with its Inner Harbor, Camden Yards Ballpark (home of the Orioles), and the National Aquarium; and
  • Washington, D.C. Plenty of things to see and not enough time to do it all. I recommend taking one of the guided bus tours, which provide the opportunity to see a little bit of everything. I also recommend catching the Metro Red Line — the light rail service for the DC metro area — at either the Shady Grove or Rockville stations. 

The Metro, in my opinion, is the only way to get in and out of D.C. regardless of the day of the week. You haven't seen traffic gridlock until you’ve been stuck on the Capital Beltway.

The Metro Trip On-Line Planner is a great tool, and there's also Washington Area Metro Rail, a mobile app for wireless devices. I've lived and worked in the D.C. Metro area for three years and I swear by these tools.

Here's a sample trip that I plugged in to the on-line trip planner to arrive at the Capitol South Station — you come above ground from the station right at the U.S. Capitol — at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday:

  • Leave Shady Grove Metro Station at 9:03 a.m. on Red Line train headed towards New York Avenue.
  • Switch trains at Metro Center and get on the Blue Line train headed towards Largo Town Centre.
  • Arrive at Capitol South Metro Station at 9:54 a.m.
  • Total Fare (One-way): $3.50

So what are you waiting for? Go on-line and download that Welcome Package and get started on your own National Fire Academy journey.

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