"We injure a lot more firefighters going to and from calls than we do on the fireground," Wilde says. "There are a lot of vehicle accidents. More and more of them are preventable if we can train operators better. Maintenance has become a huge issue in our industry, and EVTCC has been able to continually challenge the technicians to learn more and be better prepared for the jobs we have to do."
A network of state and regional fire and emergency vehicle technician associations, technical colleges, and vehicle and component providers host training classes for emergency vehicle technicians across the country, ensuring that technicians can find the training they need, no matter where they live and work.
And we're not just talking about an afternoon class here or there. This is serious training: for example, the City of Redmond, Washington's Fire Department holds an annual week-long training school for EVTs from around the state. The Washington State Fire Apparatus Maintenance Conference is held every September, and regularly attracts 150 or more emergency vehicle technicians who are preparing to take their EVT Certification exams.
Frank Moffat, maintenance program supervisor for the City of Redmond Fire Department, has seen the state conference grow from a small Detroit Diesel and Allison Transmission training meeting, first held in 1980, to the week-long extravaganza it has become. This year's event was budgeted for 125 attendees, says Moffat, but 160 attended.
"Being a person who started with EVTCC back in the '80's, I believe in following their certification guidelines, so we can make sure our people are up to date with what's going on in our industry," explains Moffat.
"We need the training, and it's the biggest training we do all year, and it's concentrated on what we really deal with," he continues. Consequently, the most popular classes at this years' event covered Allison Transmissions, and turbo training for the 7.3 and 6.0 International Power Stroke engines. The next most popular were the managerial track class and the NFPA update class, followed by aerial replacement and repair class, a foam class from Pierce, and an MSA breathing air class.
After attending classes like these, technicians should be ready to apply their knowledge to their work and their EVT Certification exams. But the Commission doesn't make it easy.
"We continually update our program, and write new questions," Wilde says. "We have a once a year validation conference, where we invite all the Masters Technicians to come, as well as industry experts, educational people, and manufacturers. We do statistical analysis of the questions that are being asked, and review the tests and make sure that the learning objectives match the questions, and then write new technology questions, so we are constantly updating our question banks, and constantly keeping up with technology and changes in the industry."
According to Wilde, there is no requirement that technicians must be EVT Certified, but the NFPA's maintenance standards are now so high that technicians must be "qualified," and the best way to be qualified is to be certified. "NFPA standards would never say that you have to be EVT Certified to meet the qualifications, because they're into performance qualifications," he says. "For instance, if you had to repair a charging system, what NFPA would like to see is that you do a performance test to prove that you can repair this charging system. Which is kind of a nifty way to do things, but, very honestly, with technicians, you're talking about thousands of skills and tasks to do what seems like a simple thing… so it would be very hard to do skills testing."
EVTCC has stayed away from skills testing for that reason. In Wilde's words, "Skill testing would be great, but it doesn't prove basic competency. The next best thing is knowledge testing. With technicians, knowledge is skill. The manual dexterity to operate a wrench or a screwdriver or a power tool does not change much between an apprentice and a Master. What changes is the knowledge that he applies. So, the application of your knowledge is what increases your skills as a technician."