I posted this comment to the "Fire and Rescue Magazine" interest group at Linkedin.com.
Comment title - "Proposed: A national public service program to augment firefighters"
Fire departments need more firefighters to comply with NFPA 1710 and 1720. As the military reduces forces, a popular opportunity to perform a public service in return for a college education is growing smaller. My proposal is a "GI Bill" for non-GI's. The program members would work 2-4 years as firefighter/EMT's on local fire departments while attending area colleges. Uncle Sam would pick up the tab for tuitions and living expenses.
I call the proposed organization the National Public Safety Corps (NPSC). A federal agency to administer the program already exists, the Corporation for National and Community Service. Funding would come from re-allocating FEMA's SAFER grants to hire temporary firefighters, and re-allocated funds from the Defense Department, and possibly the Department of Education.
The concept is a variation of what I have written about earlier, the idea of employing college students as full-time:temporary firefighters. The difference is that the NPSC program would relieve fire departments of the associated personnel costs. The key role of fire departments would be to recruit, prepare, train and mentor high school students in order to make them college-eligible and capable of performing the job.
I have worked out many of the details surrounding the concept, but at this point my goal is to start a dialogue about it. One issue that will arise is concern that the program would reduce the number of union firefighters. It won't. The NPSC firefighters would be union members during their years of service. The only difference to the union will be that some of their members are permanent employees and some are temporary. Beyond that, there will be no difference.
Another issue will be the ratio of NPSC firefighters on companies. It will vary, depending upon each communitie's fire risk profile. For example, communities with a "Low" risk profile, such as bedroom communities may have two career and two NSPC firefighters on engine companies. Communities with higher risk profiles due to unsprinklered high-rises, hazmat risks, etc., might staff their engines with one NPSC firefighter and three career firefighters. Companies dedicated to hazmat and technical response would likely have all career firefighters.
I have addressed many more potential concerns and will add my thoughts as the dialogue proceeds. Please join the dialogue with your opinions, suggestions, etc. I look forward to hearing from you.