Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on November 4, 2014.

NFPA STAFF IS ROUTINELY ASKED if the organization has a role in firefighter certification. The short answer is that it does. But while firefighters are certified to NFPA standards, the role of NFPA is actually a hose length away from that process.

The longer answer starts back in 1972, when firefighters did not yet have a national standard for training. Firefighting practices were localized to a specific city or region, which made it difficult for departments to assist one another and raised questions as to the professionalism of the fire service.

Enter the Joint Council of Fire Service Organizations, with membership from the 10 major fire service organizations of the day, including NFPA. In a move to increase the professionalism of the fire service by establishing standardized training criteria and firefighting skill levels, the Joint Council founded the National Professional Qualifications System, also known as the Pro Board, and directed it to establish a system to accredit training agencies and develop a registry of individuals trained to recognize standards by those agencies. The Pro Board requested that NFPA develop clear standards to be used in this accreditation process, as well as for determining the criteria for students to be entered into a national registry as certified firefighters.

These goals were addressed by the publication of NFPA 1000, Fire Service Professional Qualifications Accreditation and Certification Systems, which detailed the means to validate the curriculum and testing practices of training agencies to ensure compliance with recognized standards. What was needed were fire service–specific standards that promoted common training and skill objectives for use by curriculum developers, training academies, and fire departments to guide them along the path toward increased professionalism and fire ground efficiencies. These common skill and training objectives were provided through the publication of NFPA 1001, Firefighter Professional Qualifications.

Becoming an NFPA certified firefighter means being trained and tested by a fire service training facility that is accredited by one of the two organizations compliant with NFPA 1000: The National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (the name for the reconstituted National Professional Qualifications System after its dissolution in 1990, still referred to as the Pro Board), and the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC). These are the only two agencies that can confirm that a curriculum complies with the relevant NFPA standard and authorize the certification of firefighters to that standard. From a single standard focused on firefighter professional qualifications, NFPA now supports a library of 19 standards addressing the professional qualifications for a variety of fire service positions, including fire officer, fire investigator, fire service instructor, and emergency vehicle operator.

Today, there are more than 1.5 million entries in the combined registries of the Pro Board and IFSAC, each representing an individual’s successful completion of an NFPA-compliant training course. Among other things, NFPA’s professional qualification standards and national certification system allows those individuals to assist fellow firefighters at critical times, even if their training took place at opposite ends of the country. This scenario occurs countless times each day across the U.S., as automatic aid and mutual aid companies respond to major incidents and operate as integrated teams—one more example of how NFPA standards are with you every day and on every call.

Ken Willette is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA.