(Re) imagining the boundary: A case of contemporary fire and emergency services education and training
The Australian Fire and Emergency Services (FES) industry environment is becoming increasingly complex, with recent research suggesting this trend is expected to continue. At the heart of this complexity is an increase in the incidence and intricacy of operational activity, advances in technology and practice plus increasing scrutiny by all levels of government and the public FES serves. The changing industry environment has been attributed to a range of factors and importantly here, manifesting in the changing of many of ‘the ways’, that is, the ways of being, knowing and doing of FES, as they have historically been known. The contemporary industry narrative is calling for collective responses to the business of FES, and as such, calling for FES to work closely with its multiple intersecting jurisdictions and constituents. This qualitative investigation aimed to better understand one such intersection, that of FES and Higher Education (HE). FES has a long and proud history with Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. While this continues today, the industry is increasingly looking toward HE and its potential for preparing FES workers for the increasing complexity. The FES industry and VET have a well-established working relationship, and systems and processes in place to support this relationship. However, arrangements of this kind do not currently exist in regard to HE. As such, current FES HE efforts vary considerably and lack the mechanisms needed to support one another to come together and work in a fulsome way. The FES education and training environment and its enactments, such as training products, present as highly particular, and these particularities come to the fore when education and training is conceptualised as encompassing VET and HE, and as a continuum of these. Against this backdrop, there is a pressing need for an approach which sees FES, VET and HE working in unison. Located within the constructivist perspective, and conducted using an instrumental case study design, this research explores the current FES education and training environment in order to better understand the challenges faced by FES and HE, and thereby, their working together. This research is conducted within the Queensland FES context and in relation to one particular HE provider, CQUniversity Australia. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, documents, observations of the QFES education and training environment, and a participatory workshop. As a result of the data analysis process, five themes emerged, that of 1) culture, history and tradition, 2) identity and identification, 3) boundaries, 4) accountability, and 5) imaginings. Emerging from the interpretation of these five themes is the need for a specific type of working relationship, postulated here as a collaboration. In support of the collaboration, the FES-HE Model of Collaboration was constructed. This model and its guiding principles speak to FES and HE, and the structure and function of the collaboration argued here as occurring at and within the boundary point between FES and HE, as it is currently known. Through considerations of the FES-HE boundary, and the conceiving of a FES-HE connected future, new understandings of the nature of boundary points emerged. In addition, a mechanism emerged by which boundary points can be navigated and negotiated, here called imaginings. The notion of imaginings, the boundary insights, theorised model and FES contextual understandings represent the contribution to knowledge of this thesis.
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