Fire departments transitioning to NFPA qualification standards

Fire departments transitioning to NFPA qualification standards
Brock Citizen

Brock Township Fire Chief Rick Harrison says all of his firefighters are properly trained before they are ever allowed on a fire truck.

They just don’t have a piece of paper to prove it.

But, the transition of training from the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) to National Fire Protection Act (NFPA) professional qualification standards next year means certification for firefighters across Ontario.

The Ministry of Corrections and Community Safety (which includes the OFMEM) website states the transition to NFPA professional standards is "not intended to cause any negative impact on members of the fire service."

In 2013/14, the OFMEM implemented grandfathering “in order to exempt anyone from having to start over in any program and in order to give recognition for training and education already completed and for experience already gained."

“Although the OFMEM intends to recognize the past training accomplishments and capabilities of all Ontario fire service personnel, it plans to do so without compromising the certification system or granting certification levels beyond a person’s training, experience, and qualifications.”

The Ministry is currently reviewing mandatory training and certification under the Act. Initially, the deadline for grandfathering was December, 2015, but grandfathering has been re-opened and the deadline for applications has now been extended to August of this year.

After January 2019, any new hires for fire departments must be NFPA certified as Level 1 or 2 firefighters.

“We have always followed NFPA Standards for all weekly training sessions, and since 2016 have utilized NFPA Standards for all recruit firefighter training classes,” Harrison explained. “But at this time the recruit firefighters are not certified in Firefighter (Levels) 1 & 2 as per the NFPA Standards.”

What that means is firefighters don’t have an actual certificate stating they have completed specific levels of training.

Firefighters who have five years’ experience or more may be grandfathered into NFPA standards.

Harrison said he does have “a few firefighters certified as per NFPA Standards in Firefighter 1 & 2, which was achieved through attendance at the Ontario Fire College or through community colleges prior to being hired by Brock.”

Fire chiefs must “sign off” on applications from firefighters wishing to be grandfathered, but they must demonstrate they have the education and training that fulfill Level 1 and 2 requirements. Under NFPA standards, those wishing to move ‘up the ladder’ to more senior positions must also complete the necessary training to be certified.

According to the OFMEM, the criteria for grandfathering applies to:

- firefighters who obtained their Certificate of Achievement prior to 2008;

- firefighters currently in the Ontario Firefighter Curriculum program;

- anyone who is a graduate of an Ontario Fire College (OFC) diploma or training program (e.g., Company Officer Diploma program, Fire Prevention Officer Diploma program, Training Officer Diploma program, or any diploma program offered prior to 1999);

- anyone who is currently enrolled in an OFC diploma or training program (e.g., Company Officer Diploma program, Fire Prevention Officer Diploma program, Training Officer Diploma program);

- anyone who received certification under an Ontario certification program (e.g., Company Officer, Fire Prevention Officer, Training Officer).

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs website also recapped the procedure, noting that when compliance with NFPA standards is based on experience, “the applicant must be able to prove he or she has the requisite knowledge and skills. The onus will be on the applicant’s fire chief to submit upon request the necessary signed knowledge and skills documents.”

Members of the fire service who wish to take advantage of the grandfathering policy and obtain a Letter of Compliance with NFPA Standards must submit an application through their fire department, approved and signed by their fire chief, the website notes.

Harrison said all Brock firefighters undergo about 140 hours of training before they are allowed on a fire truck, but noted while he “would love to have all my firefighters certified to NFPA standards” it is expensive. It would be “ideal”, he said to be able to train and certify firefighters in-house.

“I, personally, think all firefighters and officers should be certified as per NFPA Standards, but to achieve this goal it would take time and financial assistance. It is also important to remember that the requirement to be certified can make it difficult for fire departments to hire or maintain firefighters because of the time commitment to achieve certification.”

Brock Township has 73 volunteer firefighters, two full time officers (the chief and deputy chief Wayne Ward) and a part-time training officer.

<back to Headlines