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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Firefighters graduate from certificate program

By Ana Breton

SANDY — It used to be that when firefighters were called to an emergency, the team responded by resorting to a dictatorship. Those in the department with higher rank would give out specific orders to the other officers — similar the leadership style in the military.

But management today isn’t nearly as “black and white” as it was 20 years ago, said Reed Scharman, battalion chief at the West Jordan Fire Department.

Now, before a department is called to an emergency, the team collaborates and decides how to respond to the crisis, bouncing ideas off officers to come up with plans specific to each situation.

“Now we get opinions from everyone so everyone has a chance to say what they would do,” said Scharman, a U alumnus. “It’s more cooperative this way.”

Scharman learned more about the benefits of this reconstructed style of leadership through classes at the Fire Service Leadership Academy at the U, which is a partnership between the U’s division of Continuing Education and the Salt Lake Fire Alliance.

Scharman and 29 other firefighters graduated from the academy in the Level II certificate program, which is the last set of classes fire professionals need in order to complete the leadership program.

The officers received certificates during a short graduation ceremony at the U campus in Sandy on Friday.

Each level contains two intensive, two-day classes each year that teach service and leadership in the fire industry, a subject that is constantly changing, said Gil Rodriguez, fire chief at the Murray Fire Department.

For example, firefighters don’t respond to small fires as often as they have in the past, a trend Rodriguez said is seen nationwide. Instead, each department is placing more focus on fire prevention and awareness in each community.

Fire departments have also placed an increased focus on how to deal with terrorism, a subject that wasn’t taught 25 years ago, Scharman said.

“We had to be prepared to respond to natural disaster in the past. As managers, we’re taught to deal with tornadoes, earthquakes and floods,” Sharman said. “What we’ve realized is that acts of terrorism could happen more frequently because they are man-made.”

During the classes, officers also learned how to better communicate with both their own department and district boards. They also learned how to give better presentations to city councils and budget in their own station, said Michael Jenson, department chief of the Unified Fire Authority.

“Hopefully I’ve gained the perspective and tools that I need in my tool box to become more proficient, and a better manager,” Jenson said. “Hopefully this can also show the officers that you can always learn more. That’s the message I want to take back to the station.”

Education has also changed from the time the officers graduated when they first became firefighters. Scharman said that when he originally came into the department, only three officers there had bachelor’s degrees.

Now, every firefighter needs a degree to attain an officer position, said Scharman, who graduated from the U in 1980 with a political science degree.

“To me, it’s important so that (officers) know that they have to go to college and keep learning,” he said. “Taking these certificate classes also teaches them that they have to continue learning if the want to progress.”

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