Codes and standards
Deciphering the jargon
By Wes Graves
When I first started volunteering as a firefighter I remember hearing words such as “ten-oh-one,” “NFPA,” “IFSAC,” and “Pro Board” thrown around, but I had no idea what they meant or how they applied to me. As I spent more time in the fire service and progressed in my training, I slowly began to understand the jargon and which organizations do what, but it wasn’t until I got serious about obtaining my NFPA 1001 certification that I made a solid effort to figure out how all these organizations relate to each other. The details are very confusing and it took me a long time to unravel all the assorted connections.
By Wes Graves
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is at the heart of it all; it is a nonprofit organization with the mission to “reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.”
Basically, this means that the NFPA sets the standards for fire service. These standards are not laws unless they are adopted by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), such as the county, city, town, or province in which your fire service resides.
Regardless of the legal situation, the NFPA standards can and have been used in court as recognized measurements. In general, the NFPA does not certify or accredit firefighters, training institutes or AHJs. (There are exceptions, such as NFPA-certified 1031 fire inspectors, but that is another story.) To clarify, the NFPA defines the standards by which firefighters are assessed, but it does not certify firefighters directly.
OK, well, who certifies firefighters then?
This is where the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board) and International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) come into the picture. Pro Board and IFSAC are the bodies that accredit other organizations using the NFPA standards, such as AHJs and training institutes. For example, the Alberta Office of the Fire Commissioner is accredited to certain levels by both the Pro Board and IFSAC. In order to be accredited, the Office of the fire Commissioner (in each province and territory) has to prove that it followings NFPA standards to the satisfaction of the accrediting organization (Pro Board or IFSAC). Once accredited by these organizations, the fire commissioners’ offices can then, in turn, certify training institutions (such as the Lakeland College Emergency Training Centre in Alberta, the Ontario Fire College or the Nova Scotia Firefighter School), or directly certify specific in-house training programs.
Wait a second; why are there two organizations that accredit to NFPA standards?
Pro Board and IFSAC are competing organizations. I won’t go into the history of how this came about, but you can learn more about each organization by visiting its website. One is not necessarily better than the other and oftentimes a firefighter can be certified by both using the same test or program. Most employers recognize both entities and will not care which organization issued the certificate, as long as it is one of the two.
A Pro Board/IFSAC certificate should be the same no matter what AHJ issues it. This means that you do not necessarily need a certificate issued in the province in which you want to work. For instance, if you have a Pro Board 1001 Level 2 certificate from the Justice Institute of BC, it is equivalent to a Pro Board 1001 Level 2 certificate from Lakeland College Emergency Training Centre in Alberta, or the Manitoba Emergency Services College, and vice versa. This does not mean that the programs are equivalent to each other, only that the basic Pro Board requirements have been met by each program.
Who issues a firefighter’s certificate?
I think it is important to note that neither Pro Board nor IFSAC issues certificates directly to end users (the firefighters). Instead, certificates are issued through an accredited organization such as a training institution or AHJ. This could be a local fire school or provincial or territorial fire authority (such as fire commissioners’ offices). Some institutions are accredited directly by Pro Board or IFSAC and therefore issue their own certificates without going through the province or territory, however, the ins and outs of accreditation is beyond the scope of this article. Please read the bylaws for Pro Board or IFSAC if you wish to know more about the accreditation process.
Also of note, most Pro Board and IFSAC certificates do not expire. There are exceptions to this rule, such as the NFPA 1521 Incident Safety Officer certification from the Fire Department Safety Officer Association, which expires after five years.
Why do these standards matter?
Have you ever wondered why certain types of training are scheduled for certain training nights or weekends? How do firefighters know what they’re expected to train on, and how do they ensure that they’re training on every topic required for the job? This is the responsibility of the training officer in each hall, and many will use the NFPA standards as a guideline. Note that I said guideline; the NFPA standards cannot possibly cover every type of training that every single fire department needs because each one has different needs. However, the standards are a very good base from which to work. This is why every department strives to train all its firefighters to the NFPA 1001 standard –so that they have a common, base level of training. Once a firefighter achieves that base level, he or she is expected to maintain those skills through opportunities provided by the fire department, such as weekly drills or weekend courses, or through personal initiative.
Employers look for these certifications in prospective employees so that they know each one has met a basic level of training that is the same for everyone. The certifications give employers something to measure against, similar to a training officer in a fire department.
OK, so is that it?
Yes, in anutshell, that is it. There is a lot more to accreditation and certification if you wish to delve deeper, but, for most firefighters, this is really all you need to know. I hope this may clear up some of the confusion about how to get certified as a firefighter and which organizations grant the certification. Although at first the process may sound confusing, once you understand the role of each organization, it becomes fairly straightforward. I strongly encourage all firefighters to read more on NFPA, Pro Board and IFSAC to better understand what each organization does and how it relates to firefighters across Canada.
To provide and advocate consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education on fire and other hazards.
- Established as a non-profit organization in the United States in 1896
- First international members joined in 1903
- Membership totals more than 65,000 individuals from almost 100 countries
- Publishes more than 300 codes and standards
- Codes and standards are not law unless adopted by a level of government
- Codes and standards have been used in court as legal measurements
- The NFPA has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since 1922
- Jim Pauley is the NFPA president
- Sparky the Fire Dog is the official mascot of the NFPA
To provide a self-governing system of both fire service certification programs and higher education fire-related degree programs.
- Founded as a non-profit governing system in 1990
- Overseen by an elected council of governors
- Spit into two assemblies:
- The certificate assembly board of governors – accredits entities that certify individuals to NFPA qualifications and standards
- The degree assembly board of governors – accredits fire science or related academic programs at colleges and universities
- A peer-driven organization, members are system users
- Accreditation through a self study from applicants, followed by a site visit by a review panel made up of peer representatives
- Clayton Moorman is the chair of the council of governors
To accredit organizations that certify uniform members of public fire departments, both career and volunteer, using the NFPA’s professional qualification standards.
- Incorporated in 1990 as a non-profit corporation
- Accredits organizations such as fire colleges or programs and government offices
- The board of directors consists of members from:
- the International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc.
- the International Association of Fire Chiefs
- the National Association of State Fire Marshals
- the National Fire Protection Association
- the North American Fire Training Directors
- Accreditation through an application process, followed by a site visit to prepare a report for the accreditation committee
- Jim Estepp is the chairman of the board
Wes Graves is a captain and training officer for Lac Ste. Anne County Fire Services in Darwell, Alta. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org