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There is no such thing as a firefighting degree. There are only firefighting certificates and fire science degrees. Those who wish to pursue a career as a firefighter are required to have a firefighter certificate; fire science degrees are more suited for fire investigators and inspectors.
Firefighting certificates are available at two levels: firefighter certificate I and firefighter certificate II. A certificate in the first level qualifies graduates for entry-level firefighting positions. Certificate programs are usually available through local fire academies.
Students in these programs learn basic firefighting, rescue, and safety skills. They also learn about the nature and behavior of fire, as well as how to operate various firefighting equipment, perform rescues in different types of environments, and work as a team. In many programs, students must gain emergency medical technician (EMT) certification to graduate. These programs also often require students to gain experience as a volunteer firefighter in order to graduate (usually about a year's worth of experience)
As vocational programs, firefighter certificate programs usually do not have any prerequisites beyond a high school diploma or GED; however, most programs note that the strongest applicants will be physically fit and have aptitudes in science, mathematics, teamwork, leadership and courage.
Coursework often uses hands-on training to teach students the various skills they need in order to be successful. Students often work in groups and in sites simulating fire or rescue. Students sometimes work with live fire as well. Here are some classes typical of a firefighter certificate program:
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) predicts that employment for firefighters will grow 5% between 2014 and 2024, which is a slower rate than the national average. The BLS notes that competition for jobs will continue to be strong, and there are likely to be more applicants than there will be job openings. The 2014 BLS report stated that firefighters made median annual earnings of $46,870.
While a firefighter certificate qualifies its holder for a career in firefighting, a post-secondary degree may increase the odds of promotion or the amount of pay raises. Firefighters sometimes opt to pursue associate's, bachelor's, or master's degrees in fire science. These degrees offer an advanced study of the science of fire as well as organizational and managerial methods. Associate's degrees tend to focus more on fire science, while master's degrees focus more on managerial and business skills because graduates from these programs often end up taking leadership positions.