Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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The journey of lifelong learning

Being a successful firefighter means plenty of professional development

July 8, 2021
By Adam McFadden

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Adam McFadden turned his passion for career development into authoring a book, “So You Want to be a Firefighter, Eh?”, which is a career coaching and study manual that specializes in career preparation and professional development for firefighters. Photo:Adam McFaddeN

So, what does it take to succeed? How do we not only attain the career of a firefighter, but work to get better in this trade each and every day, over a career that may last 30 years? 

Does it take motivation? Does it take the ability to read, participate, and become a lifelong learner? Does it take the right attitude? Yes, it takes all of these traits. 

Once hired in a fire service in Canada, do we rely on our own fire department to provide us everything we need to succeed and become the best we can be? Will we be provided with everything we need as we rise through the ranks and look for future promotional positions and opportunities?

Some firefighters seem to feel that once they are a part of a fire department, either big or small, they should be handed everything on a silver platter. We feel that we should be given every tool we need to succeed either on the fireground, in the fire station, or as we look for promotional opportunities. For many firefighters across the country, this is not the case. And this misconception is no different than many other employers out there, including those in the healthcare, automotive, or customer service industries. 

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If you want to be the best firefighter you can be, and especially if you want to move up in the ranks, you need to see professional development as something you never stop pursuing throughout your career.

So what is the definition of professional development?
Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Professional development is learning undertaken to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees, but may also involve everything from formal courses to attending conferences, taking virtual training programs, and pursuing informal learning opportunities. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative or assessment stage.

A fire service mentor of mine once explained to me that the difference between a firefighter and a professional firefighter is that the pros are the ones who have a passion for the career and will dedicate extra time to continuously learn, participating in off-the-clock endeavours to improve at the job. This makes for a better, more well-rounded firefighter, enhancing knowledge and decision-making skills both on the fireground and in the fire station. 

Professional development also allows us to gain a  better breadth and depth of job-related knowledge and experience, whether it be the type of equipment or new ways of training being used by other fire services, or revised policies, procedures, and industry best practices and trends within the fire service. Almost always, this knowledge will come from participating in conferences, association meetings, training courses, and educational classes with members of other services. When you participate in additional training opportunities not provided by your fire department, you also get the advantage of the relationship-building and networking that take place during many of these events. Having the ability to learn, socialize, and break bread with firefighters, instructors, and fire service leaders from across the country, is sure to yield valuable insights and understanding as well as new friends and contacts. 

The importance of continuous learning
What if you could do something today that your future self would thank you for? Well, you can.

Fire service leaders, fire chiefs, and human resource professionals all advocate for aspiring firefighters and new candidates to showcase continuous learning and professional development and education on their initial applications. This is no different as those firefighters rise through the ranks into positions as company officers, training captains and fire chiefs. The concept still rings true: The ones who have pursued professional development opportunities in addition to the in-house training their particular fire service has given them, will be the ones who not only attain these promotional opportunities, but typically excel at them. Whether it is a post-secondary emergency management degree program, technical rescue disciplines, enhanced hazmat training, incident command courses, or training classes in the areas of leadership and supervisory development, any opportunity to learn more about the job and get more education is a win-win situation. You’ll become a better firefighter and leader, and you’ll enhance your professional reputation with the people who will help determine your career trajectory.

Although the fire service in Canada, and our provincial Fire Marshal’s office in particular, have not necessarily adopted a standardized continuing education program or requirements that would follow the completion of your professional firefighter designation certificate, many fire service leaders have been promoting such a program in recent years to coordinate better opportunities for consistent training and skills maintenance for Canadian firefighters. The need for such an approach has been a topic of discussion in the past among local training associations, the Office of the Fire Marshal, and fire chiefs associations. 

Fire department tuition reimbursement programs
If the idea of continuous professional development sounds appealing but expensive, it is important to remember that many fire departments and municipalities have grants or educational funding and tuition assistance available for employees to participate in professional development opportunities. Such funds may cover a portion, if not all, of the training or attendance costs. Contact your fire service management or municipality regarding the possible education and tuition reimbursement programs that may be available not just for firefighters, but also for many city staff. You may find there is support available for you to take part in weekend training courses with third-party training companies, night school opportunities through a local community college, or even multi-year university degree programs. 

Remember that if you put everything into this career, it will give everything back to you and more, and provide more pride and fulfillment than anything else. Happy training!   


Adam McFadden is a professional firefighter and hazmat technician for TFS. He is the owner of Firehouse Training and published author of the book “So You Want to be a Firefighter, Eh?”, a career coaching and study manual. He can be reached at info@firehousetraining.ca.