Brick and Mortar: Certified or Qualified?

The photo above is a small oven made from brick and mortar. If the oven were only made from stacked bricks, the structure would quickly fail from the weight of the material, strong winds, or something bumping into it. The strength of the oven comes from the mortar that holds the bricks together.

But I have certifications…

Depending on your position, certifications are not only necessary, but most likely they are required by your state and/or department.

I obtained my earliest certifications through the fire academy when I graduated as a Firefighter I and II, and Hazardous Materials Operations Level. As my career progressed, I obtained other levels of certification including Fire Officer I/II/III, Fire Instructor I/II/III, and Hazardous Materials Technician and Specialist.

When I earned Firefighter I, did that automatically make me qualified as a firefighter? Yes, but only at a basic level.  I went through a probationary period punctuated by more training and experience. When the appropriate time came, I earned higher level certifications built upon the previous ones.

But are you qualified?

Pursuing, earning, and obtaining higher level certifications is great. But does that make you qualified to perform at the next level i.e., driver/operator, fire officer, or chief officer? Not necessarily. Displaying initiative to obtain more certifications does not make anyone automatically qualified to operate at a higher rank.

The certifications are the bricks and now you must fill that in with the mortar to build a strong structure.

What is the mortar that makes you qualified?

What is the mortar that holds the bricks of certification together? To begin with, evaluated experience, wisdom, and judgment are part of the mortar. If you do not evaluate your experiences and learn from them, then wisdom and judgment will not follow. Even if your organization does not conduct a formal after-action review following an incident, you should evaluate your performance. Otherwise, you just accumulate more war stories.

What else constitutes the mortar? On going personal development beyond what is offered by your organization. Sadly, far too many fire departments in America are not providing personal and leadership development opportunities. Sure, you may attend a Fire Officer certification class, but that is a one time and done occurrence. That does not make you a good company or chief level officer.

Do not wait!

Do not wait for your organization to send you to a class that is dependent on a selection process or budgetary constraints. If you are waiting for your department to send you to a class, then your growth is stunted.

As a former battalion chief with 37-years of experience on the job, I know how to help you grow and develop personally and professionally. Visit my website at or send an email to [email protected].

Fire Officer Leadership Academy