Do firefighters with skills but no degree have less worth? with Chad Costa

If you’ve been in the fire service long enough, you probably remember when firefighters with a trade skill were highly valued.

These were the guys who came into the job knowing things like engine repair, or electrical, or even plumbing.

But these days, it seems those skills are not valued much anymore.

Now, hiring and promotion are based largely on test scores and education.

How did we get here? And is this okay? Or are we missing something?

My guest to discuss this today is Chad Costa.  He’s a battalion chief with the City of Petaluma, California Fire Department.

He has two decades in the fire service, and he’s worked in some pretty diverse situations, from a rural department to a city as well as CAL FIRE.

Chad is the technology and communications battalion chief and a division group supervisor on California Interagency Team 5.

Chad’s article: Why did we stop hiring and promoting the ‘workers’ among us?

Article: Hiring for character

3 Comments


  1. Good podcast. One reason that I see why people with life skills are not looked at in an elevated manner would be due to liability. Twenty years ago the local fire service employees would change the oil or brakes on firefighter vehicles, fix the electrical at the station and many other things. What would happen if the engine seized, the brakes failed or the station burned down do to employee mistakes? It seems that what is looked at would be a person who is strong, smart and will show up when expected and has a degree. While these are great, the ability to think outside the box because of life experience is not needed as much these days. Liability causes every job from firefighter to Captain to be broken down by expectancy along with staying in a persons lane. Don’t think to the next level until you have permission to open that task book. I have seen many people that would make great leaders but a person who has a degree with no people skills get the job.


    1. Thankyou for your perspective. I agree with your analysis. We have to value goth but depending on the rank does change what we value. Ultimately your core values drive everything we do.


  2. Just finished listening to your podcast and had previously read your article Chad. Excellent job!
    I was a newspaper boy and cleaned-up around construction sites at 12 years old. I framed houses for many years starting at age 16. The work ethic and job skills that I learned early on in life helped me be a better firefighter. Later in life came my formal education, like you, I was in my mid-30’s for my BS and late 30’s for my MPA.
    THE REAL STRUGGLES we face in our newly hired recruits come from lack of “trade experience”. This is two fold- lack of the manipulative “hard job” work ethic and lack of the mechanical (how things work) understanding needed for our jobs.
    THE REAL STRUGGLE we face with chief officers is the lack of knowledge in management-administrative (business and governmental) practices. CFO’s need to have these skills to continue to progress the fire service and deal with the complex future problems facing us.
    In many areas of Europe, CFO’s start their career as CFO’s and are never firefighters. This seems crazy until you think about the US military. Very few officers came up “through the ranks”. These European CFO’s and officers learned their trade through education and not through OJT experience. (I’m NOT advocating that we ever use this model, I’m just making an observation).
    Solid work Chad! Keep it up.
    Dan Munsey

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