Athol Fire Chief Guarnera named to international panel

  • Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera discusses his recent appointment to the professional development committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/1/2020 2:26:54 PM
Modified: 7/1/2020 2:26:47 PM

ATHOL — Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera was recently tapped to serve on the Professional Development Committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. In his position, Guarnera will promote education and training for firefighters around the planet.

“Education in general is something that I’m a great warrior for,” he said. “Whether it’s in the fire service, police service, EMS — it doesn’t matter — you never know enough. You can always learn more.”

Guarnera pointed out he is also on the Professional Development Committee of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, and is an original member and one of the Chairs of the National Professional Development Committee of the National Fire Administration at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.

“I’m part of the group that writes fire curriculum for the country,” he explained. “So, if you go to a college to learn about fire science, I and my group wrote some of that curriculum.”

In his new assignment, Guarnera said, “We’re looking at what the best practices are for fire chiefs, because firefighting isn’t what it used to be. The cliché was ‘put the wet stuff on the red stuff,’ but it’s not that way anymore.

“There are a lot of things that firefighters encounter that can kill them, without them even knowing it. As a chief, to do the best you can with your firefighters, you need to know what to train for.”

The chief said, “Unfortunately, in the fire service, we learn a lot from our mistakes. In the fire service, we’ve always been more reactive rather than proactive.

“Now, we’re really trying to change that paradigm, where we’re proactive. And training is the big thing. Training takes money. Training takes time. Both of which, including ours, have limits on — especially the money.”

He said another important task is building smart, effective future chiefs.

“We want to make the most professional, successful path for a firefighter to go from being a firefighter to the pinnacle of being a fire chief,” he said. “That’s the peak where you want to be, but there are a lot of things that come in between being a firefighter and being a chief. And a lot of it is education.”

Guarnera noted that over the last several decades, colleges and universities have started offering classes and majors in fire science.

“So, we try to design a strategy to go from part one to part two, all the way to being a chief, or a manager or emergency manager,” he said. “And we provide support for the National Fire Academy.

“I have two of my firefighters here — two of my captains — who have been accepted to classes there. One has completed a class and is going to take another class; another captain is going to another class in September. It’s very difficult to get in, and they’re both making me very proud.”

Guarnera also said professional development includes training in working with the public.

“A large part of this professional development is fire prevention,” he said. “Fire chiefs learn, or send their firefighters to school, through these programs to learn about fire prevention. Now they, in turn, go out and educate the public.

“In the fire service, what we’re trying to do — and this happens in police and EMS, also — is you want to have a very educated person getting out there and talking to people. And if you get a question, you can give an educated answer.”

Guarnera said while his appointment is an honor, he said some benefits do accrue to the community he serves.

“The good part about that is you know you have an educated chief,” he said. “You know you have a chief that’s nationally recognized. You know you have a chief that’s bringing the best that he can to his firefighters. And, in the end, you have better quality public servants.”

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