For most firefighters, training begins once they have been hired by a local fire department and enter the department's fire academy. Lasting anywhere from 12-18 weeks, training programs provide instruction in fire prevention, fire suppression techniques, hazardous materials control, CPR, and chain-of-command protocols. Through simulation exercises and other hands-on training, candidates become familiar with how to use and operate fire engines, fire extinguishers, ladders, hoses, axes, and other firefighting equipment. Training also covers such topics as fire investigation, wildland fires, breathing apparatuses, personal protective equipment, and salvage operations. Upon completion of a fire academy training program, candidates are expecting to pass written, oral, and physical exams prior to being assigned to duty.
Prerequisites for beginning a fire fighter training program, 2 or 4-year degree include a high school diploma or GED.
Associate Degree in Fire Science
Fire science associate degree programs emphasize modern methods for firefighting as well as management of fire services. Topics typically include fire prevention and suppression, safety concerns, hazardous materials, and arson. This type of degree program is designed for both entry-level candidates and experienced firefighters currently working for a fire department. Requiring two years to complete, an associate degree can prepare individuals for entry-level careers, progression to a 4-year college degree program or professional advancement opportunities.
Bachelor's Degree in Fire Science
A bachelor's degree in the field of fire science provides the theoretical foundations for administration in fire service organizations. In addition to comprehensive coursework in fire prevention and protection, the curriculum introduces students to such topics as policy integration, human resources, legal issues, and management skills. Students also learn to operate specialized fire service equipment and apparatus. Graduates are technical specialists who are prepared to assume leadership roles within the fire service profession.
Popular Career Options
Local fire departments often hire firefighter candidates that have little-to-no firefighting experience since they provide their own extensive fire training academy. Other fire service agencies, such as wild fire protection services, require more training and experience and often prefer candidates with several years of experience. Administrative positions and other leadership roles require a higher level of training, including 5-10 years of experience.
Annual fire science conferences are held nationwide in such locations as Boston, Massachusetts, or Las Vegas, Nevada. These conferences span several days and are divided by themed seminars addressing such topics as new field technology, health, safety, and fire engineering. They may be offered through such affiliations as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The most well-known conference is the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). This conference is paired with pre-conference workshops and a large international exhibition featuring vendors and affiliates from across the United States.
The National Fire Academy (NFA) offers courses and programs that help fire service professionals deal more effectively with emergencies. The NFA offers courses and training at its facility in Maryland as well as various locations throughout the country in cooperation with state and local fire training organizations. Lessons are also available online. Firefighters can improve their knowledge and chances for career advancement by pursuing more advanced medical training and certification up through the EMT-Paramedic designation.
Training for fire fighters can begin as close as their local fire department. There, the basics are covered and can take nearly 4 months to complete. For more in-depth training opportunities, some two-year and four-year schools offer an associate's and bachelor's degree in fire science.