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Western Dakota Tech & Battle Creek Fire District Lead Efforts to Increase National Firefighter Training & Certification in Western S.D.

An opportunity for volunteer and career, full-time firefighters to be the best they can be, and enhance their job opportunities, is available in western South Dakota.

Western Dakota Tech is accredited through the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board®). As such, the college can test applicants for Pro Board® Certification, which is becoming a national standard for firefighters. Pro Board® Certification is verification that an individual has successfully completed an evaluation of his or her knowledge, skills and abilities against the national standard. Certified individuals are listed on a national registry.

Currently, South Dakota only requires state certification for firefighters. Many surrounding states now require Pro Board® Certification, though, including neighboring states Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.  

Tom Smith, Western Dakota Tech Fire Science Program Director, and Paul Johnson, Rapid City Fire Department Lieutenant and Battle Creek Fire Department (Hermosa, Hayward and Keystone) Fire Chief, are working to increase knowledge of the availability of Pro Board® training and testing in western South Dakota. Western Dakota Tech became Pro Board® Accredited in 2012. Lake Area Technical Institute, in Watertown, is the only other accredited agency offering Pro Board® Certification testing in the state. Lake Area testing is only for their students; Western Dakota Tech testing is available for students, volunteer and career firefighters.

The Battle Creek Fire District is the first volunteer fire department to pursue Pro Board® certification in South Dakota, which is a tremendous achievement. All Western Dakota Tech Fire Science graduates are prepared to earn Pro Board® Certification.

“I wanted to do this because I like a challenge and I knew this would benefit our firefighters, the department and the communities we serve,” said Chief Johnson.

Smith and Chief Johnson want firefighters to know that earning national certification is challenging, but achievable.

“Pro Board® training and evaluation enhance and reinforce many of the skills and concepts taught at the state certification level,” Smith said.  “Pro Board® emphasizes more theory than typically required at the state level and the practical skills testing requirements are very specific.”

A total of 61 individuals – 20 students and a mix of 41 volunteer and career firefighters - have eared the national certification in the new, state-of-the-art Public Safety Training Center at Western Dakota Tech. This includes eight Battle Creek firefighters. The fire chief said more of his department’s firefighters will train and achieve the certification and he’d like to see others in the state do the same. 

“Achieving Pro Board® Certification is doable. It’s not the sky is falling process some people fear. You are taught the curriculum and evaluated on it before testing. Before taking the test, you have already successfully done the task,” Chief Johnson said. “Saying you are Pro Board® Certified means you are one level higher than what the state requires. It increases pride and ownership in a department. You can say, ‘We have achieved something – a standard higher amongst ourselves to be better than other departments.’”

With many years of firefighting experience, Smith knows the availability of the national testing in Rapid City will benefit many firefighting students, as well as current and future firefighters. Smith said Pro Board® Certification means Western Dakota Tech Fire Science graduates are more job-ready and employable throughout the U.S.

“Pro Board® Certification is beneficial for individual firefighters. Earning certification means a firefighter is trained to the highest level possible. Certification, and being listed in the national registry, increases job opportunities. It can also be a plus to a firefighter seeking job advancement,” Smith said.

Chief Johnson and Smith said Pro Board® Certification is beneficial for both career and volunteer firefighters.

“Career firefighters are already certified through the state and can better themselves by achieving this certification. This is not replacing the training they already have, but enhancing it,” Chief Johnson said. “Volunteers have the same desire to be considered professional and this gives them that opportunity.”

Smith added all firefighters, whether career or volunteer, face the same dangers and complexities on a variety of incidents and that having the same level of training and competence would benefit all.  

“When you enter a large incident, there are lots of departments that have to come in and function together. With standardized training, testing and certification, you can be confident everyone has the same level of expertise. It promotes better efficiency,” Smith said.  

Pro Board® Certification also provides the general public with the confidence that their firefighters have been trained to the highest level available.

“For departments with the certification, the public can call 911 and should have the confidence that responding firefighters have a very high level of training, awareness and expertise,” Smith said.

Chief Johnson said it is feasible for a fire department to set up Pro Board® Certification training once a month and set up for applicants to do the testing at Western Dakota Tech about every six months. He said the testing is affordable at $50 per person. Battle Creek Fire Department is conducting training on the first and third Wednesday of the month.

Fort Meade VA and Hot Springs VA fire departments are also becoming Pro Board® Certified.

Pro Board Certification® training at Western Dakota Tech takes place as part of the Fire Science program, from which an individual can earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree. Find out more about the program at, or call Tom Smith at the number below. Fall college courses begin Aug. 20.

The next Pro Board® Certification testing will take place at Western Dakota Tech May 1-8. An additional session for Rapid City Fire Academy graduates will take place at the end of June.

For more information about Pro Board® Certification, call Western Dakota Tech Fire Science Director Tom Smith at (605) 718- 3058, or email him at, or call Battle Creek Fire Chief Johnson at (605) 666-4428. To schedule Pro Board® Certification testing, call the Western Dakota Tech Corporate Education Center at (605) 718-2410.    

Photo Cutline:
The most recent group of Western Dakota Tech students and Battle Creek firefighters tested for Pro Board Certification, at Western Dakota Tech, in Rapid City. Tom Smith, Fire Science Program Director, third from left, assisted with the testing. Western Dakota Tech students are wearing blue T-shirts with red logos.

About Western Dakota Tech

Western Dakota Tech was established in 1968 and is the only technical college that serves the western South Dakota region.

Western Dakota Tech offers programs in a variety of fields, including Business and Computers, Construction and Manufacturing, Energy and Environmental Technologies, Health Sciences, Legal and Public Services, and Transportation Technologies.

More than 96 percent of Western Dakota Tech's most recent graduates are working, continuing their education, or are enlisted in the military.

Western Dakota Tech faculty, staff, and administration focus their efforts on helping students gain the skills and experiences they need to succeed. Through hands-on learning, internships, and industry partnerships, Western Dakota Tech students graduate ready to make a real and immediate contribution to their employers and to their communities.

For information about Western Dakota Tech, call (800) 544-8765 or (605) 718-2565 or send an email to Visit us on the web at

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