The Emerging Fire Officer

 For a Today’s Fire Officer to be truly effective, accountable and responsible to their duties, function and assignments; they must have the requisite training and skill sets that correspond with their job performance and functions. Regardless of your affiliation or membership, career or volunteer, rank or title; if you are performing as an officer in the fire service you need to have the right combination of training to support and augment the experience you obtain while working in field operations or other administrative or staff positions.  The question is do you know what is expected of you? Does your organization provide you with the road map? Is it defined, is it part of the recognized national standards process? 

It’s no longer acceptable to be functioning and performing in a rank and position of responsibility without the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) in order to execute those duties in an effective, efficient and compliant manner aligned with your department’s policies, procedures and standards. The aspect of Officer Credentialing and Qualifications isn’t anything new. 

The NFPA Professional Fire Officer Qualifications standard has been around since 1976, as have a variety of Pro Board, IFSAC and State approved training programs that lead to certification, credentialing and have a sequential qualifications track. 

Origin and Development of NFPA 1021 In 1971, the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations (JCNFSO) created the National Professional Qualifications Board (NPQB) for the fire service to facilitate the development of nationally applicable performance standards for uniformed fire service personnel. On December 14, 1972, the Board established four technical committees to develop those standards using the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards-making system. The initial committees addressed the following career areas:

  • Fire Fighter,
  • Fire Officer,
  • Fire Service Instructor, and
  • Fire Inspector and Investigator

 The first edition of NFPA 1021 was published in July 1976. The original concept of the professional qualification standards was to develop an interrelated set of performance standards specifically for the fire service. The various levels of achievement in the standards were to build on each other within a strictly defined career ladder. In the late 1980s, revisions of the standards recognized that the documents should stand on their own merit in terms of job performance requirements for a given field. Accordingly, the strict career ladder concept was abandoned, except for the progression from fire fighter to fire officer. The later revisions, therefore, facilitated the use of the documents by other than the uniformed fire services.The 1992 edition of NFPA 1021 reduced the number of levels of progression in the standard to four. In the 1997 edition, NFPA 1021 was converted to the job performance requirement (JPR) format to be consistent with the other standards in the Professional Qualifications Project. 

The intent was to develop clear and concise job performance requirements that can be used to determine that an individual, when measured to the standard, possesses the skills and knowledge to perform as a fire officer. These job performance requirements can be used in any fire department in any city, town, or private organization throughout North America. (Excerpt from the NFPA 1021 Standard preamble, Copyright © 2008 National Fire Protection Association®. All Rights Reserved.) 

To order a complete version of the NFPA 1021 standard go HERE.  


The scope and purpose of the NFPA 1021 standard is to identify the minimum job performance requirements necessary to perform the duties of a Fire Officer and specifically identifies four levels of progression— Fire Officer I, Fire Officer II, Fire Officer III, and Fire Officer IV. 

  • The intent of the standard is to define progressive levels of performance required at the various levels of officer responsibility.
  • The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has the option to combine or group the levels to meet its local needs and to use them in the development of job descriptions and specifying promotional standards.
  • The NFPA 1021 standard does not restrict any jurisdiction from exceeding the minimum requirements defined by the standard.

In most progressive organizations there is a formal and defined process whereby a firefighter transitions and becomes a fire officer. The general practice consists of time in grade, examination, oral and sometimes practical examinations, followed by a list ranking and then appointment. Some organizations utilize an appointment process based upon wide latitude of criteria and still others utilize a popular voting process. There are stringent civil service requirements and protocols that define the qualification, ranking, selection and appointment process in career organizations. There are numerous variations on these themes that take into account a variety of local or regional commonalities, and elements that define the process and procedure in becoming a fire officer. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of volunteer organizations utilize some form of membership voting process or an appointment process often with little to minimal prerequisites. This form of promotion has varied measures of liability and risk for those individuals who attain leadership roles and responsibilities as company or command officers with nothing more than a few “basic” training courses, a few years of experience and a following.

The lack of creditable and measurable knowledge, skills and abilities that align with nationally recognized processes and standards in this day and age is questionable at best, and may border on the edge of negligence. A candidate or appointee who assumes the role of a company or command officer or raises through the ranks without any balance of credentials and qualifications in so doing, has the potential to practice with a degree of assumed risk.  

The volunteer fire service has traditionally been recognized as being seriously challenged when it comes to officer credentialing and qualifications for a variety of reasons. The inability to follow or complete the rigors, burdens and demands associated with traditional and conventional credentials and qualifications programs leaves many officer candidates or appointees with little in the way of quantifiable and documented training and education. 

An innovative process was developed and implemented in 2009 in Onondaga County (NY) that was designed to bridge the gap between conventional State and/or national certification, credentialing and qualifications processes and officer requirements that prevailed at the local department level; providing a structured and recognized methodology and basis that would allow knowledge, skills and abilities to be attained and documented within the officer ranks. 

Based upon selective NFPA 1021 standard criteria that formed that basis and provided a recognized structure and methodology, a Voluntary Fire Officer Qualification Based Credentialing program was established to meet the needs of the volunteer fire service sector. 

The Onondaga County Executive’s Fire Advisory Board recognized the need to address today’s challenges for fire officer development. The goal of the Voluntary Fire Officer Qualification Based Credentialing Program is to assist individuals and organizations in improving safety, health and operational efficiencies. This program provides a “map” to guide individuals and organizations towards leadership training and an opportunity for advancement in the fire service. 

The County Fire Advisory Board recognized New York State legislative “home rule” that essentially allows each organization to determine the acceptable criteria for training, skills and competencies for fire officers within its organization. The Voluntary Fire Officer Qualification Based Credentialing Program offers one method to achieve fire officer development based on generally accepted standards and practices. 

Program Overview Inconsistencies in training levels, skills and operational proficiencies existed in the county’s emergency services organizations related to fire officer qualifications. The Onondaga County Fire Advisory Board recommended the implementation of a voluntary fire officer qualification based credentialing program that may increase the opportunities for safe and successful emergency operations. The purpose of the voluntary credentialing program is to provide a sequential template of training, education and knowledge steps for supervisory and management levels within the organization structure of an agency. Enhanced personnel safety and operational effectiveness may be achieved, contributing towards operational excellence and risk reduction measures. Furthermore to enhance individual responsibility, empower leadership, provide technical skill uniformity and operational integrity. 


1. Provide Onondaga County Emergency Service personnel with a disciplined and uniform approach to learning, skill and knowledge, aligned with New York State and national standards and recommendations.2. Provide a career path to achieve proficiency and skill development to meet the demands of officer positions and ranks commensurate with roles and responsibilities. 

3. Provide a systematic approach towards officer development and growth that is based upon recognized curriculum and subject areas. 

4. Promote voluntary compliance to achieve regional uniformity, consistency and standardization of fire officer training. 

Voluntary Fire Officer Qualification Based Credentialing Program  

The recommendations promulgated by the Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications based Credentialing Matrix are based upon the following subject and topical areas; 

The Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications program allows for maximum flexibility, allows for awarding of equivalencies in nearly all subject area categories and promotes the implementation of grandfathering exiting agency personnel based upon documentation of past training, education and structured training drill opportunities.The purpose of this program is to provide a means to document training, skills and proficiencies aligned with standard rank and position responsibilities. This would allow an agency to determine the method for phased implementation of the elements of this program. The intent of the Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications Credentialing Matrix is to provide a sequential model for training, education and skill set development that provides uniformity to achieve increasing proficiencies that align with advancements in rank and responsibilities. ( It is not the intent to replace traditional certification paths and processes) 

Credentialing Subject Areas  

There are seventeen (17) subject areas that comprise the Credentialing Matrix (based upon NFPA 1021); 

1. Command Management 

2. Supervision & Management 

3. Reporting & Planning 

4. ICS Tabletops and Simulations 

5. Strategy and Tactics 

6. Building Construction 

7. Multiple Company Operations 

8. Hazardous Materials 

9. Fire Behavior & Arson Awareness 

10.Suppression Systems 

11. FAST & RIT 

12.Incident Safety 

13.Live Fire Training 

14.Fire Instruction & Training Methodologies 

15.Special Operations 

16.WMD and Homeland Security 

17.Disaster Operations 

Furthermore, The Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications Credentialing Matrix identifies suggested prerequisites for entry level into the first line supervisory rank.  

Training hours assigned to each subject area for each rank and position. 

Training hours in each area can be achieved through any combination of methods that include but are not limited to; 

  • Department Training Drills
  • Local, regional and state courses and program
  • Documented Life experiences applicable to the subject areas
  • Training Seminars
  • On-line training programs such at the NFA, EMI and ODP program
  • NYS OFPC programs and course offering
  • National Fire Academy/ EMI On-line programs
  • Community College or other Public Safety Institute programs
  • Conference and Training Program offerings
  • Web based seminar and POD Casts
  • Trade and professional training offerings
  • Documented lecture programs
  • Open Fire Academy (OFA) On-Line
  • Computer Based Training (CBT) & educational offerings

 For a complete program overview and a view of The Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications Credentialing Matrix go to the county web site HERE to download the program. Program

Questions or to request a copy of the program by email to  or

Whatever path you select; traditional certification, degree program or hybrid, ensure you choose one and work towards achieving credentialing and qualifications commensurate with your rank, roles and responsibilities. You own it to yourself, the firefighters you supervise and the community and citizens you protect.

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