Many schools offer online certificate and degree programs in fire technology, often called fire science or fire science management. Students can access many courses in these programs online, but most programs require hands-on, in-person training and practicums in fire prevention and firefighting skills. Some programs with fully online coursework are available.
Certificate programs in fire science teach students the basics of firefighting, but there are also certificates in fire protection technology and officer training aimed at experienced firefighters. Certificate programs are generally brief, consisting of just a few courses.
Associate and bachelor's degree programs require general education courses such as English, social studies and math, in addition to fire science courses. These degree programs are designed for firefighters who wish to advance in their careers.
Students should make sure any program they are considering meets their state's requirements for firefighter training. In most jurisdictions, a high school diploma or GED certificate is the only educational requirement to get hired as a firefighter. New recruits receive training at departmental or state fire academies. Some programs may require the student to have proper insurance.
Fire Science Certificates
Fire science certificates prepare students for entry-level positions as firefighters. Students can sometimes choose between fire protection technology or fire officer training as their concentration. Certificates in fire protection technology are generally available at one training level, and certificates for fire officers, fire inspectors and fire investigators are often available at both basic and advanced levels.
Program Information and Requirements
These certificates usually require completion of 12-24 credit hours, depending on the specialization. Students complete online courses and may be required to attend on-site skills training sessions to gain firsthand experience in fire protection, inspection or fighting techniques. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional firefighters are usually also certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and schools may request that enrolled students gain this certification as they earn their certificate.
Online programs often employ electronic discussion board programs, like Blackboard, and email for student and instructor communication. Schools usually suggest that students use a computer with a high-speed internet connection for ease in transmitting information. Other common requirements include an up-to-date web browser.
Firefighter certificate programs may be split into different course modules or may include a series of separate certificates. Coursework may include techniques and theory of fire and arson investigation, incident management and the role of a public information officer in an emergency situation.
Fire and Arson Investigation
Students learn to identify how and where fires start, determine motives of individuals who start fires and learn the techniques used in fire investigation. Students learn to present and discuss their findings in judicial settings. Some courses emphasize skills like documenting evidence and interviewing techniques.
Basic Incident Management
Incident management is a large part of a typical fire officer's job. This course introduces the incident command system (ICS), from system organization to available resources. Students learn the purpose of the components and teams involved in incident management, from a command post to the staging areas for personnel.
Public Information Officer Training
The focus of this course is on applying the principles of public relations for fire service agencies. Students analyze case studies to learn the role of a public information officer in emergency response situations. This class teaches the skills needed to function as the media spokesperson for a fire service agency.
Associate Degrees in Fire Science
Online associate degrees in fire science are typically designed to train aspiring firefighters and help working firefighters to improve their skills. Students earning an associate degree in fire science can usually concentrate their studies in a specific area like fire inspection, fire science or fire administration. In some cases, associate degree students must also complete an attached certificate for fire officers or fire science.
Program Information and Requirements
The average online associate degree in fire science requires that students complete about 70 credit hours. Depending on the school, associate degree students may be able to take either all or the bulk of their coursework online. In most cases, firefighting and emergency medical service practicums and other hands-on coursework are a required part of the curriculum, and cannot be completed online. Sometimes, these practicums require that students have health and accident insurance. Some schools can assist uninsured students in fulfilling this requirement.
Associate degrees in fire science include general education and courses specific to the fire protection industry. Students complete courses in topics like hazardous material identification, safety codes and inspections and the federal safety requirements for firefighting personnel.
Individuals learn to identify hazards and determine how to control those hazards based on environmental and situational factors. Students in this course diagnose and evaluate a variety of hazards, from asbestos to electrical and chemical hazards. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, planning for hazardous material problems and issues related to transportation, storage and use are also covered.
In this course, students learn the types of building construction. Students complete a building safety analysis and learn to read a variety of plans and diagrams, create scale drawings, determine the common causes of a building collapse and learn decision-making skills at construction sites. Determining the fire resistance of materials used in the construction process is also covered.
Occupational Safety and Health
This course provides an introduction to the occupational safety requirements for fire departments. Students learn to techniques to keep fire personnel safe in several scenarios, including firefighting and rescue missions.
Fire Science Bachelor's Degrees
Students in online bachelor's degree programs in fire science can expect to engage in advanced study of the laws, social issues, science and techniques involved with firefighting and fire science. Some programs culminate with a senior project or special senior seminar open only to students who have attained senior standing within their programs. Senior students in these programs demonstrate their understanding of fire science by applying skills and knowledge learned during their previous three years of study. Online fire science bachelor's degrees are often available in concentrations like fire administration or fire prevention and technology.
Program Information and Requirements
Though these programs usually take four years to complete, some students can finish in two years if they transfer credits from another degree program, like a fire science associate degree program. Some schools give enrolled students up to ten years to complete their degree. Internships or practicums may be part of an online bachelor's program in fire science, and these hands-on learning experiences cannot be completed online. Technical requirements include a high-speed Internet connection and a current web browser.
Students in these programs usually take classes in fire prevention, hazardous materials, principles of emergency services and other classes, like fire behavior, that help students understand how to respond to fires. In programs with a fire administration concentration, students will likely take courses in community planning for fire emergencies, fire protection systems, hydraulics and water supply.
Fire Protection, Structure and Systems
Code requirements related to design, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection systems are emphasized in this course. Students might be required to create building construction plans that take into account fire codes, structural integrity and building construction types.
Community Fire Defense Planning
Students learn to identify and minimize risks of fire damage in communities. Individuals learn the differences between various disasters and appropriate response techniques for these different disasters. They also learn about the National Incident Management System-Incident Command System (NIMS-ICS), from its history to how the system works in an emergency situation. At the end of the course, students evaluate community defense plans created as assignments during their studies.
Fire Protection Hydraulics and Water Supply
Students in this course learn the theorems of Bernoulli and Pascal in addition to the physics water in movement and at rest. Students learn the appropriate pressures for water pumps and nozzles used in fire suppression and techniques to prevent loss of friction as hoses are used.
Individuals with training in fire science can find employment as a firefighter at the local level, or in state agencies. After completion of an education program, new firefighters are generally placed on a probationary status and are required to complete training through their place of employment.
Firefighters with a certificate in fire protection technology or fire officer training may be able to find jobs in administrative or leadership positions within state and local fire departments. In 2018, there were approximately 321,570 professional firefighters who earned a median salary of $49,620, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Online program in fire science are available at the certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree levels. These programs cover topics like basic incident management, arson investigation, hazard identification and fire protection hydraulics, and many involve in-person practical training in addition to the online coursework.