Thirteen members of the Toledo Fire Department started classes last week at Bowling Green State University as part of the department's new program aimed at strengthening battalion chiefs' management skills.
Fire lieutenants and captains who want to be considered for a promotion to battalion chief also are required to enroll, Assistant Chief Luis Santiago said.
Previously, firefighters studied from books before applying for a promotion to battalion chief.
But Chief Santiago said the classes, which range from finance and labor relations to computer skills and report writing, will better prepare firefighters to be command-level officers.
"The ball is just starting to roll," Chief Santiago said. "Over time, [the program] will help develop a foundation for them to be battalion chiefs right from the get-go instead of having learning curves in place like the past process."
Some of the required classes also are offered at the University of Toledo, Owens Community College, and Lourdes College.
Fire Chief Mike Wolever said as firefighters move through the department's ranks, they need to be able to deal with a range of issues they aren't taught during their fire and medical training.
"I have very little to do with managing emergency scenes or fires anymore," Chief Wolever said in April when discussing plans for the program. "I do have to know how to write an ordinance or how to write a grant or how to deal with a lawsuit."
There are 16 battalion chiefs. Some work in operations and others in administration. The line battalion chiefs work 24-hour shifts, supervising firefighters, assisting in training, and running emergency situations.
Battalion chiefs in an administrative role deal with budgets and other business issues.
"The thought process behind this was, 'Let's do what we can to put battalion chief candidates in the best position possible to succeed in their job.' We can drive the specific training and courses to help them do that," Chief Santiago said.
Battalion Chief Tom Jaksetic, a 24-year veteran of the department who was promoted to the rank in December, said he has benefited from his English and management information system classes after just one week.
"I know I'm going to learn things that are going to directly affect my ability to do my job on a daily basis," he said.
His duties include overseeing training for new recruits, the special operations bureau, and the homeland security unit.
In dealing with homeland security issues, Battalion Chief Jaksetic said he meets with officials from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and U.S. Secret Service. He admitted writing is not one of his strong points, but said those skills are essential when working with such agencies.
At 50, Battalion Chief Jaksetic said he's excited even though many of his fellow classmates are younger than his children.
"I got some looks on the first day of class like 'What's this guy doing here?' " he said.
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