Fire chief with recent doctorate degree foresees future role as educator

By Eric KowalJune 27, 2023

Christopher Foster, U.S. Army Garrison Picatinny Arsenal, Fire Chief
Christopher Foster, U.S. Army Garrison Picatinny Arsenal, Fire Chief (Photo Credit: Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Christopher Foster, fire chief of the U.S. Army Garrison at Picatinny Arsenal, achieved a notable educational goal by earning a doctorate degree in November 2022.

Foster, who is responsible for the overall management of the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) completed a doctorate in Emergency Management from Capella University online and was officially presented with his credentials during a ceremony in March 2023.

In order to fulfill curriculum requirements, Foster had to attend three residency phases. First, he was required to develop a topic for the dissertation. During the second residency, he had to secure approval from the dissertation chair and collect literature that would help develop the basis for his research. The final residency was the culmination of all dissertation development into a research plan so that Foster could finalize his plan and obtain internal review board approval once he entered the dissertation phase of the program.

It took five years for the fire chief to obtain his degree as several challenges were thrown his way, but none that he could not overcome.

“Several things played into my extended time,” Foster said. “One was COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, our ability to conduct research face-to-face was taken away out of precaution to the students.”

The second challenge came when Foster accepted the job of fire chief at Picatinny, moving his family from USAG Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as the assistant fire chief. Already enrolled in the academic courses required to earn the doctorate degree, Foster had to rearrange his academic requirements around the challenges that included shifting to a new state and career path.

“The first two years of the program were much like other online programs,” Foster said. “We were given different assignments pertaining to emergency management with a major focus on critical analysis, research, and theory. We completed discussion posts and spent hours having discussions with fellow classmates and professors on different topics relating to emergency management. Once I completed all classroom work, I was able to move on to the comprehensive exam.”

After successfully completing the comp exam, Foster became a doctoral candidate and was able to advance to the dissertation phase, which was designed to develop independent research on the approved study by the doctoral candidate. The fire chief’s research was about “The Role of Emergency Managers with Active Shooter Events: A Qualitative Analysis.”

“I never really dreamed of achieving the level of academic success as I have, but once I got close to achieving my PhD, I began to think about using the degree to teach at a university,” Foster said of his achievements. “I believe I would enjoy sculpting young minds and helping them achieve their dreams.”

Foster began his career in the United States Air Force, serving in various fire departments. He has more than 25 years of experience with increasing responsibilities working in fire and emergency services at multiple installations.

“I hope that the lessons I have learned in my 28-year career and can be beneficial to the next generation,” Foster said. “The world will always need these men and women who will risk it all to save a stranger, and while my time of doing the job will soon close, I will find other ways to contribute to society. I believe I can best help my fellow responders through research and educating. They will always need a voice to help them achieve success, and I plan to be a strong advocate and voice for those that are still doing the work that we all so desperately need.”

As Picatinny Arsenal fire chief, Foster is tasked with mentoring, coaching, and supervising other officers and firefighters within the department. He is also responsible for recruiting, training, and equipping the firefighters to ensure the community receives the best customer service possible.

“I am extremely impressed by the Chief’s desire in continuing to seek self-improvement, dedication, and consideration for the future as he looks to mold the next generation of Emergency Managers/Responders," said Fortunato Rubio, Picatinny Arsenal’s Director of Operations. “His hard work and sacrifice of lifelong learning will continue to benefit the Picatinny Community.”

Earlier this year, the PAFD was recognized as “Small Fire Department of the Year” by U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Directorate-Sustainment (ID-Sustainment). Along with the departmental award, two of Foster’s crewmembers were individually recognized. Firefighter James Brees was selected as Civilian Firefighter of the Year, and Capt. Nolan Rampulla was selected for Civilian Fire Officer of the Year within ID-Sustainment.

“Earning a PhD in emergency management shows the character and leadership Chief Foster brings to our Fire Department and the Picatinny Arsenal mission,” said Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander. “His leadership was already demonstrated as our Fire Department won Small Fire Department of the Year by IMCOM Directorate Sustainment for fiscal year 2022. This accomplishment just continues to build on the high standards at which our fire department operates.”

Foster also holds a bachelor of science in Fire & Emergency Management from Kaplan University (now Purdue Global), and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California.