National Certification: Part 1—Accreditation and Certification
The concept of National Firefighter Certification is very simple at its core but considerably more complex to accomplish. The ultimate goal is to achieve a professional certification that is recognized throughout North America. In this edition of ClearText, we clarify the processes and requirements of both accreditation of the system and certification of individual firefighters. Once understood, students, fire chiefs and instructors will know how to make the process work for them.
Accreditation vs. Certification
The Institute maintains accreditation from the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (www.ifsac.org) and the National Professional Qualifications System (www.theproboard.org). The Institute must meet extensive requirements in order to achieve accreditation. In short, most of the elements, process and actions taken in the National Certification program are designed to meet a specific accreditation requirement.
The criterion for accreditation is designed to ensure that the certification process (and testing) is fair and consistent. All who qualify for certification have equal access to and information about the requirements and certification process through our website. General policies are published in our Criteria and Procedures Guide. Information specific to each certification level is available in the study guide published for each level. These documents can be downloaded from our certification website www.ContinuingEd.ku.edu/fire/certification.php.
Organizations such as the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute are accredited (authorized) to issue national certifications. Individual certifications are not accredited. The Institute is accredited; individuals are certified. The common practice of calling a national certification an "IFSAC certification" is actually inaccurate. While the intent is to identify the IFSAC accreditation, IFSAC and/or the NPQS do not issue national certifications. Both IFSAC and NPQS offer certificates, but if you receive one from them, it will say: "… National Certification Awarded by Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute …" (or list the organization issuing the original certification).
Another misleading practice is for a training organization to use the terms certification or accredited in their marketing materials. Our advice: Buyer beware! Ask specific questions like, "Who accredited you?" and "Please define the certification that you award. Under whose authority are you issuing the certification?" Anyone can certify you for anything, but if you seek National Fire Service Certification, the only way to obtain that certification is through an entity accredited by IFSAC or the NPQS.
Training programs are not accredited by IFSAC or the NPQS. Only national certification processes are "accredited." Anyone claiming to have an "IFSAC-accredited training program" is not being honest with you … and they know it!
Why Accreditation and Certification Matter
Why seek accreditation and certification?—Credibility and third-party verification of knowledge and skills. The Institute seeks accreditation for the same reason firefighters seek national certification. Our accreditation gives Kansas firefighters the assurance that our certification program has undergone appropriate scrutiny and conforms to a recognized set of standards. It enables the Institute to award national certifications that are recognized throughout the U.S., Canada, and other countries throughout the world. It gives credibility to our program and to the certifications we issue.
The Role of National Standards
National certifications are only issued for approved levels identified in the National Fire Protection Association’s Professional Qualification Standards. These standards are numbered between 1001 and 1099. Only a few standards outside of that series have been approved for national certification (including the 472 Hazardous Materials standard).
Accredited entities (KF&RTI) are authorized to issue certifications by specific standards and levels (Fire Fighter 1 & 2 Inspector 1, Driver/Operator–Pumper, etc.). The Institute must meet all accreditation criteria for each standard and each level in order to issue corresponding national certifications. The Institute is currently accredited to issue certifications for 17 levels in 8 disciplines (firefighter, instructor, etc.). For detailed information on the KF&RTI National Certification Program, visit our website: www.ContinuingEd.ku.edu/fire/certification.php. The website does not list the last two levels for which we were recently accredited: rope rescue and confined-space rescue. More detailed information will be posted as we finalize implementation of those levels.
The contents of any certification exam are driven solely by the requirements of the corresponding national standard. The practical application means: If it’s in the standard, we have to test it! If it’s not in the standard, we can’t test it. Regardless of whether a fire department requires its members to have the stated skills or even if the department doesn’t have the equipment, it MUST be included as a possibility for the exam. The classic example is: "We don’t have hydrants in our town. Why do we have to test on it?" … Because it is in the national standard, we do not have the authority to omit any part of the standard from the national certification testing process. The theory is that this assures that a Fire Fighter I in Kansas and a Fire Fighter I in Delaware (or any other state) have received an equivalent level of training and testing.
In the next issue of ClearText, we will continue our explanation of the certification process with an explanation of how exams are designed and constructed.
The certification process is a chain of events. If followed—Success!…if broken, Trouble!
National Certification: Part 2—Test Design and Structure
National Certification: Part 3—Preparing for Certification Exams
Have a topic you want to see addressed? Send your idea to KUFIRE@ku.edu!