Superintendent Eriks Gabliks discusses the future of the National Fire Academy
Beyond updating the EFO program, Gabliks seeks to increase outreach and communication between the NFA and its partners communities
The first time Eriks Gabliks walked onto the National Fire Academy campus in Emmitsburg, Maryland, was as a 20-year-old volunteer fire officer from Adelphia, N.J.
Last November, he returned as the newest superintendent.
Between that first NFA class in 1983 and now, Gabliks has traveled a long road.
A deep commitment to training and education
Gabliks grew up in New Jersey, which is also where he earned his associate degree and began his career working for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.
In 1989, he moved with his wife to western Oregon, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He worked for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and the City of Dallas Fire and EMS Department before making a career move to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, an agency that sets professional training and licensing standards for more than 41,000 public and private safety professionals in the state. The agency also operates the Oregon Public Safety Academy, which provides training to more than 25,000 first responders on an annual basis.
Over the years, Gabliks’ commitment to professional development through the National Fire Academy continued and deepened, culminating in his completion of the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program. That milestone was even more meaningful as he was able to complete the EFO Program along with his brother Maris, who was the State Fire Warden leading the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
Education during the pandemic – and beyond
This is a challenging time to take over leadership at NFA. Residential programs have been suspended for a year now due to COVID-19.
“The previous year has been nothing anyone could have imagined,” Gabliks acknowledged, adding, “we never stopped delivering off-campus two- and six-day classes around the nation on a state-by-state basis, in partnership with state fire training academies, following health and safety guidelines of local agencies.”
It is hoped that on-campus classes may resume in April.
Even before the pandemic, the NFA was committed to expanding online or online-mediated access to many of its courses and has been working on security upgrades toward this goal. Gabliks noted, however, “While we embrace technology, it is important to note that not every NFA class is possible to deliver in a virtual format due to classroom activities and hands-on elements.”
One of the biggest changes currently being implemented at the NFA involves the EFO Program. While Gabliks was a member of the NFA Board of Visitors, he was active on work groups that were formed to review and provide feedback on the EFO Program. The Board of Visitors asked NFA staff to look at reducing the time it takes to complete the program while increasing the academic rigor.
The previous EFO Program included four two-week classes offered on campus over a four-year period followed by an applied research paper after each class. The updated EFO program can now be completed in two years, with both on-campus and online classes, and the academic rigor has been increased. EFO students will now complete a single graduate-level thesis that they will defend during the program.
One of Gabliks’ personal goals in his new role as superintendent is to increase outreach and communication between the NFA and its partnership communities. He is especially interested in increasing cooperation with groups that advocate for those who are historically underrepresented in the fire service. He also wants to strengthen ties with other emergency services communities, such as EMS, wildland fire and law enforcement.
Then there is the challenge of outreach among firefighters in general.
“While thousands attend NFA classes on an annual basis, there are thousands who have no idea the NFA exists, what it does, and how to enroll in the amazing training and educational opportunities we offer to fire and EMS personnel from career, combination and volunteer organizations on an annual basis, free of charge,” Gabliks said. “My role is to help share the great work of the NFA with our nation’s fire service and ensure that each class we offer is full and has a waiting list.”
Galbliks’ experience leading the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) and the Oregon Public Safety Academy will serve him well in this effort: “I would often tell folks DPSST and our 235-acre Oregon Public Safety Academy were one of Oregon’s best kept secrets. Other than those we worked with in the public safety field, very few people knew our agency existed and what it did. During my 10-year tenure as director, I believe I raised the profile of the agency both within Oregon and on a national level.”
In fact, Gabliks’ advocacy for the NFA was part of his job as an emergency services leader at the state level in Oregon: “As a state fire training director, I had two different roles which were equally important: First, to share and market the training and educational opportunities available from the NFA with career, combination and volunteer fire agencies in Oregon; and second, to work with our congressional delegation to ensure that the USFA was well funded and resourced for the work it was asked to do in support of our nation’s fire service and the communities they serve.”
Gabliks also served as a resource and mentor for many who enrolled in the Managing Officer (MO) and EFO Programs at NFA.
A cross-country family experience
Now that Gabliks and his wife, Kelly, have made the move back to the East Coast, they are excited by the possibilities that await them both professionally and personally.
Kelly Gabliks is a retired senior assistant attorney general for the Oregon Department of Justice. She was also a varsity track and field athlete at the University of Oregon. Gabliks observed, “We share a love of college sports, including football, hockey, volleyball and basketball” and described them both as “hard-core Oregon Ducks fans.”
While Autzen Stadium may not be as close now, the Gabliks are looking forward to exploring museums, restaurants, concerts and community events around their new home in addition to local sports, once it is again safe to do so.
Honoring fallen firefighters
Gabliks is passionate about the sense of mission he feels as the new leader of the NFA and his appreciation for the workforce there, some of whom have served for more than 30 years. He spoke of the NFA campus as being “on hallowed ground,” adding, “The sacrifices of the men and women who died in the line of duty can be found etched on the wall of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and on the bricks that honor those who gave all. We owe it to them, their families and coworkers to make sure they didn’t die in vain.”
The training and education opportunities offered by the NFA are an important part of fulfilling this mission. Learn more or enroll in the National Fire Academy.
Editor’s note: What questions do you have for Superintendent Gabliks? Share in the comments below.