By Michael Petroff, Retired Battalion Chief and Former FDSOA Chair
As the former chairman of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), I often heard individuals say that they are certified through the National Fire Academy as a safety officer. They aren’t–the NFA has never certified anyone. It is a training institution. Exams are given throughout the delivery of a course and at its conclusion, to measure if the learning objectives have been met.
What is certification? In the simplest form, certification is a test that states on a given day you passed an exam that met a national consensus standard. Certification is about passing an exam based on National Professional Qualification Standards from a Pro Board or IFSAC-accredited certifying agency. It is not about taking an exam at the end of a 40-hour course.
To be accredited by the Pro Board or IFSAC, certifying agencies go through an extensive evaluation process to guarantee that their question-banks meet the current national standard, that everyone receives a fair and impartial exam, and there is a security system in place for their question and test banks. The certifying agency has to be re-accredited every five years.
Why is it important to be certified? Certification provides verification that an individual has demonstrated proficiency and an ability to do his or her job in accordance with nationally recognized peer-developed standards. It also provides for a level playing field and a common form of knowledge measurement for all fire service personnel, regardless of their status as career, paid on call or volunteer or the size of their department. Certification also validates training programs and indicates that the training program meets a national consensus standard.
Certifications issued by an accrediting agency such as the Pro Board will have the name of the agency and the wording “It is hereby confirmed that … having been examined by an accredited agency in the National Qualification System is certified as…” The certification certificate also will name the professional qualification standard, the standard number and edition, and the level to which the individual is certified. In addition, the certificate will have a certificate number, date and, depending on the certifying agency, an expiration date.
Several certifying agencies, such as the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, issue their own certificates along with a national certificate from their accrediting agency. Others may issue only their certificate and affix a Pro Board or IFSAC seal to the certificate. The common bond is that a certificate of certification will have a certificate number on it plus the name, level and edition of the National Professional Qualification Standard. Remember, a certificate of certification should have on it the name of the certifying agency, the name of the accreditation agency, the name of the National Professional Qualification Standard and edition, the level to which you are certified, the date and certificate number. Recertification is at the discretion of the certifying agency.
The Fire Department Safety Officers Association was accredited by the Pro Board in 1999 and was reaccredited in 2014. FDSOA has been accredited to certify to all levels of NFPA 1521, Fire Department Safety Officer (2015). Since 1999 FDSOA has certified or recertified over 4,000 safety officers in 548 fire departments in 41 states, the District of Columbia, four Canadian provinces and in Saudi Arabia.