Ohio emergency personnel use online training to meet increased requirements
State fire marshal set up online courses at Ohio Fire Academy that anyone can take for $20 per year
By Jackie Borchardt
The Dayton Daily News
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some Ohio fire departments — including five in the Dayton region — are using a new Internet training service to help firefighters meet new state requirements.
Ohio firefighters and emergency personnel previously did not need to receive additional training or renew their certificates, but a change in state law required firefighters to earn 54 hours of continuing education courses every three years to keep their certification starting in 2010.
Hearing concerns about the availability and cost of training, the state fire marshal and Ohio Fire Academy turned to the Internet.
The academy began offering online courses to firefighters and emergency medical personnel in late 2011. Since then, more than 2,700 participants from 73 departments signed up and completed more than 8,400 courses, according to the state fire marshal's office.
Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said the online courses don't replace hands-on training, but provide a convenient and inexpensive way for emergency personnel to earn the required credits.
The five Dayton-area departments enrolled in the online program are Riverside, Xenia Twp., Pleasant Twp. in Clark County, Bethel Twp. and Troy.
The program is offered at no cost to the state with minimal costs to departments and personnel, said Frank Conway, academy superintendent.
Conway said the annual fee paid by individuals or departments goes to the company that runs the online program. The agreement with the company allows the fire academy and departments to add their own courses to the online catalog.
"This gives us a foot in the door to develop and test some things without much investment," Conway said.
The 54-hour requirement also applies to volunteer firefighters, which make up 75 percent of the state's force.
The convenience of online classes has been a big help to the largely volunteer force at Pleasant Twp. Fire Department in Clark County since it signed on to the program in January.
Chief Mike Willis said finding time to complete 18 hours of training a year is difficult for volunteers juggling firefighting with a full-time job and raising a family.
"Even though you're a volunteer, it's no different than full-timers," Willis said. "It's still all the same job - you still have to know all the exact same stuff."
Emergency personnel can access 44 courses in firefighting or 85 courses in emergency medical services for only $20 a year - $35 for both. Courses range from writing reports to how to respond to violent situations.
Conway said the program is a steal compared to traditional classroom courses. The least expensive class at the Ohio Fire Academy costs $25 per person plus travel costs and possible overtime pay and awards six hours of continuing education credit.
Willis might spend $150 for an instructor to teach a class using PowerPoint and videos that only a few firefighters and inspectors attend.
Willis said classroom material can be learned just in the online program and students can leave in the middle of class to report to a fire or put dinner on the table.
Course lessons can include videos and usually end with a quiz. Some courses have an offline component, where the officer completes the book-learning portion and completes a hands-on simulation and test.
Flowers said the state plans to expand so-called "blended" courses.
"A handful of very small, very rural departments initially struggled with it but they're the ones contacting me saying the online program is great," Flowers said. "Best of all, this keeps them in their community."
Riverside Fire Department Chief Bob Turner said he doesn't know why more departments haven't taken advantage of the service. He said the program adds another path to more education, especially for staff development courses covering topics such as ethics and time management.
Turner said the online courses were particularly convenient in the middle of winter.
"It's hard to pull a hose line in January," Turner said. "They can do it, but no one wants to be outside then."