The NFA suspended its on-campus and field courses in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By June 2020, the NFA and our partners from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched the first online instructor-led live 2-day course, “Fire Investigation: First Responders,” using the Zoom video conferencing app. Additional courses not requiring a student's physical presence at the NFA’s Emmitsburg, Maryland, campus soon followed.
These 2-day online instructor-led live courses are proving to be an effective and popular way to deliver important training to first responders across the country.
Currently, the courses being offered live online are:
- “Executive Skills Series: Exercising Leadership to Facilitate Adaptive Change” (S0521).
- “Executive Skills Series: Exercising Leadership Within Communities” (S0520).
- “Fire Investigation: First Responders” (S0770).
- “Fire Service Safety Culture: Who Protects Firefighters From Firefighters?” (S0349).
- “Health and Safety Program Manager” (S1722).
- “Incident Safety Officer” (S0729).
- “Shaping the Future” (S0602).
The response from participants and instructors has been more than positive. Courses are filling quickly and we're recruiting new instructors. Because this new platform is more convenient for first responders, we'll be able to get more people trained than we could previously.
Details on these courses, including dates and times offered and continuing education units awarded, are available through the links above. To maximize accessibility, courses are offered on different days and different times (to accommodate different time zones). The goal, according to Mr. Morgan, is to offer most 2-day courses as online instructor-led live courses.
How do these courses work for students?
The course material is identical to the courses that were taught in person, and there is no charge to students. All that is needed is:
- Confirmation that their application has been accepted. Details on the application process, including getting the required Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Student Identification Number, are available at How to Apply for National Fire Academy Courses.
- The course materials (available for download once the application has been accepted).
- Wi-Fi and a device that can download course materials and run Zoom.
These courses include a lot of interaction. Attendees should be prepared to take part in breakout rooms, end-of-the-day review questions and answers, and other activities.
To get credit for any of these courses, participants must pass a test within 24 hours of course completion. Testing is done separately through the NFA Online platform.
I have used web-based meeting platforms a lot over the last year; however, I have never used one that included breakout rooms like this, and I LOVED it.
How do these courses work for instructors?
Unlike on-site instructors, online instructors will have a moderator (FEMA-licensed) to assist with course management. Also, before teaching a course for the first time, online instructors are required to monitor a course taught by an experienced online instructor.
Those interested in becoming an instructor can find general requirements and application details at How to Become an NFA Contract Instructor.
How do these courses work for states?
State training offices are permitted to deliver 2-day NFA courses using NFA materials and instructors. In the past, these courses were offered in facilities provided by the state. States can now open their offerings for delivery via Zoom and eliminate the need for a location for the course to be taught.
Not only is this easier logistically, but the course can be open to students from all over the state, allowing sharing of information and experiences that wouldn't have occurred with a group of firefighters from a specific county attending a 2-day classroom delivery.
How do these courses work for the first responder community?
As a replacement for 2-day, in-person training, online instructor-led live training has brought some benefits to course participants, instructors and states:
- Lower costs: Students avoid transportation and housing costs, and states can avoid classroom expenses (FEMA pays for the instructor and the course material development).
- Time savings: Students and instructors can eliminate travel time.
- Flexibility: Students and instructors can choose their location or change locations during the 2-day course.
- Adaptability: Instructors can be easily substituted for (e.g., in the event of illness) because the geographic location of the instructor is not an issue.
- Relevancy: The platform is simple to update, making it easier to respond to current events.
- Reach: More first responders can be trained by delivering these programs online.
Online is great for the shorter duration classes because you get more exposure to people from diverse areas. For a 2-day class like this, I would probably not travel across the country, but because it was in an online format, I was in class with people from all over the country and it was helpful to hear and learn from their experiences and departments.
The bottom line
There are many courses that include field work and simulations that require the unique facilities at the NFA’s campus, but for the 2-day classroom courses, online instructor-led live courses provide advantages for all involved, from students to instructors.
More courses, more dates and more time slots will continue to be scheduled to accommodate first responders and facilitate critical instruction.
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