The National Fire Academy: A trip every EMS leader should make

Free EMS courses provide education, experience and relationships that will enhance your career


EMS leaders can make plans to attend a National Fire Academy (NFA) EMS course to learn leadership skills from seasoned veterans, while tapping into the academy's resources. I wish I would have taken advantage of the NFA's free training experiences much earlier in my career.

The NFA offers seven EMS specific courses. Many of their other leadership offerings are excellent for any public safety provider and the NFA is making a concerted effort to include EMS issues, scenarios and considerations in programs throughout their course catalog. A handful of EMS leaders have even taken the challenge of completing the 4-year-long Executive Fire Officer Program and NFA leadership is eager to see more EMS participation in the program.

NFA courses are FREE and many EMS and fire providers are eligible for free lodging and reimbursement for their travel expenses. The only thing you or your service has to pay for is your meals.

EMS Quality Management; top-notch training

My first trip to the National Fire Academy was in March 2010 for a pilot offering of a new course titled EMS Quality Management. The six-day course ran from Sunday through Friday. We jumped right in at 8 a.m. Sunday and got to work listening, learning and doing.

That’s right, doing. The classes are far from endless dull lectures. The instructors are well versed in educational methodologies and the course curricula make sure that students are engaged by using small group activities, mini-presentations, scenarios and group discussions. We put the knowledge to use as we learned it.

By design, the time we spent working as small groups and interacting with each other quickly led to networking and sharing ideas and solutions from our own experiences. The instructors also skillfully incorporated questions and problems we brought from our home services into the activities of the class, providing us with real-life examples and solutions.

Two days into the class we were sharing ideas, critiques, compliments and humor as if we had been co-workers for years. And now that we have been through this course together, we have a network of peers and resources to call on when we get home and begin to use what we have learned to improve our services and communities.

Hot topics research for EMS

More recently I traveled to the NFA campus for the Hot Topics Research for EMS class aimed at developing EMS leaders’ skills in assessing problems faced by services and then using evidence and research to develop solutions.

I had the opportunity to learn about the tremendous resources available to me (and you) through the USFA Library. A wealth of information exists in over 200,000 books, articles, reports and audiovisual materials about fire service, emergency management and EMS that are available while on campus or free through interlibrary loan.

For this class we also visited the USFA Publication Center where hundreds of manuals, reports, pamphlets, and public outreach materials are available for, you guessed it, free. Several of the documents are EMS specific, including titles about recruiting and retention, safety, medical direction and MCI operations.

I use these tools to assess problems and find solutions to the common and less-common challenges my service faces as EMS continues to grow and work its way through the new health care environment. I know more about how to find data and how to use that data to make better decisions.

About the National Fire Academy

The NFA, in the hills of Emmitsburg, Md. is a quaint, unassuming campus that one could easily mistake for a small private university. In 1979, the federal government purchased Saint Joseph’s College to develop the National Emergency Training Center, now home to the United States Fire Administration’s (USFA) National Fire Academy (NFA), the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the USFA Publications Center and a number of USFA and FEMA offices.

Don’t look for ambulances and fire engines, stethoscopes and bunker gear or moulage kits and manikins; the NFA focuses more on providing “education” than “training.” Though EMS and fire providers have many opportunities for training on skills, techniques and practices through many fine resources there are few educational institutions that provide EMS-specific leadership and professional development. The NFA fills that void with a wide range of online, on-campus and off-campus offerings. On-campus and off-campus courses are set up as one-week (six day) or two-week (10 day) sessions, as well as some weekend classes.

The NFA began with a focus on the fire service and issues related to fire department leadership, fire investigation and fire prevention. As the fire service has changed to serve the medical needs of its citizens, so has the NFA.

When visiting the NFA add a few days to your itinerary to visit these important memorials and historical sites.

  • National Fallen Firefighters Memorial
  • “To Lift a Nation” 9/11 National Memorial
  • National Civil Defense/ Emergency Management Monument
  • The National Shrine and Basilica of Saint Seton
  • The National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes (Mount St. Mary’s University)
  • Ott House Pun & Restaurant (Home of thousands of EMS/Fire patches)
  • Gettysburg Battlefield & Visitor Center
  • Dobbin House Tavern (Civil War-era underground railroad hideout)

Visit the NFA webpage for available on-campus, off-campus and online courses. The price can’t be beat and the education, experience and relationships you develop will enhance your career in ways you can’t imagine.

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