The National Professional Development Matrix: Background, Explanation, and Applications

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In an effort to acquire an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or their next desired level of certification, fire service personnel typically accumulate college transcripts with unnecessary courses and dozens of training certificates. During this typical process of professional development, time and money is wasted often with little to show for it except delayed, if any, desired certifications or degrees.

At the annual Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) conferences, efforts have been made to address this problem of a stove-piped system of professional development by creating a national professional development model that integrates training, education, and certification. Since then, the National Fire Academy (NFA) has brought FESHE representatives together to create the National Professional Development Matrix (NPDM) that moves the model from concept to reality.

The NPDM is designed for training and certification agencies and academic fire programs to assist emergency services personnel they serve in their professional development planning. NFA has produced a template which has cross-walked Fire Officer I – IV competencies with "national" level courses that included NFA training courses, FESHE model associate’s and bachelor’s courses, and general education courses recommended by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) in its Officer Development Handbook (PDF, 1.1 Mb). States and fire departments will be urged to customize this template by adding their own standards and job performance requirements (JPR) and training, and college courses.

NFA urges states to convene Professional Development summits comprised of fire departments, academic fire programs, associations, and other key stakeholders to transpose the "national" officer development competencies to its own JPRs, customize the Matrix with training and college courses, and agree to standard documentation that each entity will accept for appropriate credit.

The Matrix is a national template that is:

The Matrix represents "interoperability" for fire service professional development. The imperative for interoperability of radios and hoses so that they connect and work together is matched only by the need for training, education, and certification to do the same.

NFA cannot and will not mandate the Matrix to anyone. It facilitated the process by which it was developed, but this has been driven from the bottom up involving major stakeholders in national forums. The Matrix is a template by which fire service and training education peers provided the "national" assessments for the end-users, but you are free and encouraged to change these, as necessary.


Target Audiences

Fire Officers: The Matrix is built on the IAFC’s competencies prescribed for fire officers. While reference to Fire Officer I – IV is made, the nomenclature used in the Handbook is coupled with it: FO I--Supervisory; FO II--Managing; FO III--Administrative; FO IV – Executive.

Fire Prevention Officers: A professional development committee of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) network of state and metropolitan department fire marshals called Prevention Advocacy Resources and Data Exchange (PARADE), evaluated the Matrix and determined that the competencies are as essential to officers in fire prevention as anywhere else; hence, the reference to both at the top of each level.

The PARADE committee, now known as the National Fire Prevention Curriculum Committee, also identified three fire prevention-related competencies specific to public education (PUB-01), investigation (INV-01), and administration (ADMIN) which are located on the last work sheet.

For those not yet officers but planning on becoming one, pursuing your degree and using the Matrix to track the competencies addressed will be helpful in your professional development. For example, taking as many recommended General Education and fire courses as possible enables a competency-based approach to one’s degree while preparing for the next level of certification.


National level courses, i.e., NFA and FESHE courses and IAFC-recommended General Education courses, were identified and lined up with the Fire Officer I - IV competencies prescribed in the IAFC’s Handbook.

With the help of practitioners, NFPA standards which have specific JPRs that correlate with a competency were identified and noted: NFPA 1021 for fire officers and NFPA 1031, 1033 and 1037 for fire investigators, inspectors and marshals, respectively, among others. Identification of these JPRs is left to the States.

Illustration: SFO-02, -03 and -12 address competencies on written and oral communications and human resource management and NFPA 1021 is one of the "Correlating NFPA Standards." Chapter 4 (Fire Officer 1) in 1021 under "4.2 Human Resource Management," there are several correlating JPRs to these three competencies.

Certification and standards testing are the states – responsibility and decisions about linking completed competency-linked courses to testing rests solely with their appropriate agencies.


There two columns under this category:

  1. NFA Courses - ACE (American Council on Education) Recommendations: In developing the national template, NFA correlated the ACE credit recommendations for its on- and off-campus courses to the IAFC’s prescribed Gen Ed courses that address the competencies. When ACE makes it determinations, it assigns the courses to ’subject Areas" and what level of academic "division (lower-, upper- or graduate)" for which schools can award credits.

      Illustration: SFO-1,-02 and -03 recommend under the "College Courses" column "English Composition," Public Speaking or Oral Communications" and "Business or Written Communications," respectively, at the "Associate’s (A)" level. Under the "NFA Courses" column, the course "Fire Service Communications" is identified as having an ACE equivalent in these subject areas. The NFA catalog describes the recommendation as follows:

      In the lower division baccalaureate/associate or upper division baccalaureate degree category, 3 semester hours in Communications, Business Communications, English, English Composition, Speech, Fire Science, Business Management or Public Administration.

      The only NFA courses included are the resident courses for which ACE recommended three or more credits and the "subject area" correlates with the "College Course" recommendation. NFA’s 2-day courses, for example, are eligible for one credit, but are not included on the Matrix. Moreover, if ACE recommended an NFA course at the Associate’s (A) and Bachelor’s (B), then it is listed at all locations where the "College Course" and the NFA course correlate. "Fire Service Communications," for example, lines up with several competencies and depending on what level the Gen Ed recommendation was made; it could have an (A) or (B) next to it since ACE granted it at the lower- or upper-levels.

      In conducting its analysis, NFA decided that an ACE-recommended "subject area" for one of its courses must match precisely the IAFC’s General Education (General Education) course title.

      This conservative assessment meant that although many of the competencies seemingly are covered in several NFA courses, particularly in the Executive Fire Officer Program, if the recommended ACE ’subject area – didn’t match up with Gen Ed course title, the course was not entered in the column. For states that have had their courses evaluated by ACE, they will have to decide whether to: 1) place their courses under "Training" or "Education"; and 2) apply NFA’s conservative interpretation or not. Ultimately, these decisions of acceptance of NFA courses for academic credit rest with the colleges and no one else.

  2. College Courses: Includes the IAFC’s recommended Gen Ed courses that address the competency and what level, i.e., Associate’s, Baccalaureate, etc. In the Handbook, the IAFC assigned these by their numerical equivalent, i.e., (100, 200, 300, 400 and Graduate). A separate analysis was done whereby the FESHE-developed model fire science courses were added by the National Fire Science Curriculum Committee and are referenced as "FESHE Associate’s Courses (FAC)." Moreover, some of the course titles recommended in the IAFC’s Handbook were re-named by the committee to reflect more commonly referred titles used in academia.


This column is left to the states and fire departments to customize with their own courses. What benchmark the agencies use to crosswalk their courses with the competencies is a decision to make. For example, evaluating the learning objectives or course outcomes is one approach, but the benchmark to establish is what percentage of a course or its objectives constitutes as having "addressed" the competency.

NPDM Applications

State Fire Service Training: Professional Development Summits

FESHE urges states to convene Professional Development summits comprising certification agencies, fire departments, academic fire programs, state associations, and other key stakeholders to crosswalk the competencies to its own standards, customize the Matrix with training and college courses, and agree to documentation standards that each entity will accept for appropriate credit.

Virginia Fire Programs, the state’s lead fire agency, was the first to bring stakeholders together for this purpose. The primary lesson learned was that before conducting a full summit, the colleges must first meet to resolve curriculum and other issues, including which model fire science courses should be offered around the state.

Suggested Group Work at the Summit:

Matrix Rollout

The Matrix, programmed in Microsoft’s Excel program, is designed to be a computer-based tool for fire science and training coordinators, certification advisors, and others around the state involved in the professional development of the fire and emergency services who advise students. The outcome of this process is that everyone statewide will have and provide the same information.

The information can be filtered and sorted within each worksheet. This is turned on and off under the "Data" menu and on the "Filter" command. For example, if you want to know which competencies address 1021 standards, you can use the pull down sorter in the "Correlating NFPA Standards" column and select "1021." It was designed so that all the columns will fit on a page when printed in "landscape" format.

When advising fire service personnel and students, they should know: