Trailblazing and Extending Emergency Service Education: A Journey of Engaged Research and Partnership Building

Helen Keen-Dyer, Wendy Madsen and Andrew Short

Abstract: Emergency service agencies and their workers are an important part of the Australian community. Like many other disciplines the emergency service sector is experiencing increasing complexity. This chapter critically reflects on a response to that complexity in the form of a university-industry partnership and as component part of that partnership a new Bachelor of Emergency Service. By focusing on key events and applying an engaged research lens, this chapter explores the path taken to forge links that will ensure the bachelor program continues to be responsive to the needs of the industry and the broader community in which they serve, including the pressing need to enhance community resilience.

Madsen, Wendy, Lynette Costigan, and Sarah McNicol, eds. Community Resilience, Universities and Engaged Research for Today’s World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137481054.0011.


The fire and emergency service community is a discipline-based one with members situated within local geographical places but connected into national and international networks. Like many discipline-based communities, its members are experiencing increasing complexity in their work in response to broader political, social, economic and environmental challenges. This chapter outlines one of the responses to this complexity; that of extending the traditional educational base of fire and emergency service staff into the tertiary sector. The narrative that follows uses a Collaborative Autoethnography (CA) process to facilitate critical reflection on events over the course of a year associated with building the partnerships necessary to develop a new Bachelor of Emergency Service (BEmergServ), a degree that is unique in Australia and internationally. Applying an engaged-research lens to the processes of teaching and learning has allowed us to clarify the lessons learnt and to better appreciate the contextual issues associated with delivering fire and emergency service education within the tertiary sector. It has also allowed us to understand how these processes have the potential to increase resilience both within the discipline but also the local communities in which these personnel work.

CA encourages critical reflection on the everyday by providing a mechanism for participants to become co-researchers in their own practices. It encourages practitioners to examine the influence of context on practices and to engage in critical dialogue with each other in order to collectively problem solve, learn from each other and to build adaptive capacity (Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2013). Co-researchers utilise the data they gather as part of their everyday practices, such as minutes of meetings, field notes and documents generated as part of those practices, as well as documented reflections undertaken periodically. These reflections may be in the form of journal entries, reflective essays or as electronic log entries within other records. In the case outlined in this chapter, a range of documentary sources have been drawn on to map out the journey taken and to reflect on the way.

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