Pro Board® Fire Service Professional Qualifications System

International Accreditation for Fire Service  Organizations

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On October 25, 1972, the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations (Joint Council) founded the National Professional Qualifications System (NPQS) in an effort to help guide the fire service toward professionalism.  Certification arose over a concern that training was becoming very uneven between jurisdictions and sometimes even inadequate.  As a result of these concerns, a nine member National Professional Qualifications Board (Pro Board®) was established by the Joint Council to direct the new accreditation and registry system.

In order to develop a system of nationalized training for fire fighters, the Pro Board® requested that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) establish consensus technical committees to develop unambiguous standards to be used in the certification process.  It is important to remember that the standards were developed by persons performing the jobs (e.g. fire fighters worked on the fire fighter standards, fire investigators on the fire investigator standard, etc.).  The initial standards for professional competency were developed for Fire Fighter, Fire Inspector/Fire Investigator, Fire Service Instructor, and Fire Service Officer.  And, in 1982, the Pro Board® began the process of accrediting entities that were certifying members of the fire service to these standards.  In addition, the Pro Board® issued National Certificates to individuals certified by an accredited agency and maintained a Registry of individuals receiving National Certificates.

After the dissolution of the Joint Council, the National Professional Qualifications System was incorporated in July 1990 as the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (NBFSPQ) and continues to be referred to as the Pro Board®.  The National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications operates under the direction of a Board of Directors consisting of one member from each of the following organizations; the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), North American Fire Training Directors (NAFTD), Chair of the Pro Board® Advisory Committee, Chair of Committee on Accreditation, Accreditation Manager and one member At-Large. Today, accreditation is issued for certification to over 120 levels of nineteen standards in fire service related competencies.  Individuals may become certified in as many disciplines as they desire.  And, because examinations are based on the widely available NFPA standards, the Pro Board® avoids problems inherent to local or regional certification systems.

In its most simple form, certification means that an individual has been tested by an accredited examining agency on a body of clearly delineated material and found to meet or exceed the minimum standard.  In this instance, certification provides the individual with the opportunity to test skills and knowledge against peers from all types of fire departments and fire service agencies.  Well into its fourth decade, the Pro Board® system is the premiere program in the United States , Canada , and Overseas for certification oversight of fire service professionals, career or volunteer.

Under the Pro Board® process, agencies or organizations within States, Provinces, and Oversea Countries apply for accreditation in order to certify individuals to the NFPA standards.  These agencies then act as certifying agents operating under the aegis of the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board®).

After success on the examination within a particular discipline, the candidate is then eligible to be entered into the Web based accessible Certification Registry of Fire Services Professionals.  It is important to remember that under the National Professional Qualifications System, certifications belong to the individual–a tremendous advantage over local systems.  For instance, a certified firefighter in the Certification Registry may, in many cases, transfer between departments in states and provinces which are accredited by the Pro Board®.

A certification credential in the Certification Registry works to serve both the individual who is certified and the department that he or she serves.  Also, certified individuals have a credibility that has already proven invaluable to many arson investigators, fire inspectors and others who regularly interface with the legal system.  In a profession, which is highly decentralized, certification provides the individual with a sense of accomplishment and draws the fire service as a whole into a much closer alliance.  Volunteer or combination departments with internationally certified members know that their competence is well established.  As an incentive to professional growth and advancement, certification proves that the member is highly motivated and serious about measuring up to national standards.  Certification also addresses the needs of fire service professionals whose career achievements are not as easily rewarded or in evidence as sworn employees.  Civilians, many of whom function as inspectors, public safety telecommunicators, life safety educators, and training academy instructors, have long needed a way to present credentials within these disciplines.  Being certified to national standards goes far in addressing this concern.

There are also many reasons why having internationally certified members improves the departments for which they work.  First, the respect, reputation, and prestige of such professional organizations will expand in proportion to their number of certified members.  These departments will have officers and civilian professionals whose credibility is unquestionable.  Second, a fire department’s training center will improve as higher goals are secured through the acceptance of the standards.  As a result, such training centers will be able to measure themselves as part of a nationally recognized fire training system.  Overall, departments and services that teach to the standards and expect members to become certified will become stronger entities.

Fire departments with a commitment to the certification process have an advantage during annual budget reviews.  They can argue that having a high proportion of certified members indicates a commitment to the community. Credentialing through certification indicates a higher level of professional motivation that should be justly rewarded.  It is incumbent upon individual departments to encourage their members to become certified by adopting the accreditation and certification scheme as an expectation for all members who fall within the examined disciplines.

Professional standards are particularly important in high-risk industries such as the fire service.  We must share the same values if we are to evolve further as a profession.  The widespread adoption of the accreditation and certification movement offered by the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board®) will go far in ensuring that this trend continues to the benefit of each one of us.


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