Fire studies prepare graduates for careers as firefighters, fire inspectors or fire safety professionals. Advanced studies are generally meant for those interested in seeking administrative positions in the field and tend to offer more flexible scheduling and learning formats. In addition to completing an educational program, graduates might need to meet specific training requirements and obtain and maintain certification for certain careers.
Students can choose from a Fire Science Technology Certificate, Associate Degree in Fire Science, or a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science. All three programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent. Earning CPR certification is also a common requirement prior to or during the certificate training program. Applicants to the associate's program might also need to complete a firefighting training course or prerequisite coursework through the school before enrolling. Applicants to the bachelor's program might need to earn emergency response certification before or shortly after admittance to the program.
Certification takes 3-18 months, whereas an associate's degree takes 2 years and a bachelor's degree takes 4 years. Online courses and programs are available.
Fire Science Technology Certificate
Many schools offer fire science, fire officer and fire inspector certificate programs for those interested in working in a fire-related profession or those already employed in the field. Some certificate programs can be blended into a bachelor's curriculum to meet degree requirements.
A certificate program in fire science generally includes emergency medical technician training and studies in basic fire suppression and prevention techniques. Students complete a combination of didactic coursework and hands-on training based on the focus of the program. For example, training could consist of fire code inspection and hazardous materials handling or fire prevention and suppression systems. Topics of study might include:
- Fire rescue procedures
- Incident management
- Emergency response
- Fire operations
- Firefighting strategy
- Chemistry and combustion
Associate Degree in Fire Science
Many schools offer associate degree programs that combine general education with fire sciences coursework. Students may choose to specialize in a specific area, such as firefighting, inspection or investigation services, or pursue a managerial role in the firefighting industry. Graduates might be able to transfer credit to a bachelor's degree completion program at a participating 4-year university.
As with certificate programs, required coursework depends on the program and concentration chosen. Fire causes, prevention strategies and chemical topics are common, though coursework aimed at a particular profession could include:
- Building construction and fire codes
- Fire protection systems
- Rescue procedures
- Origin investigations
- Management strategies
Bachelor of Science in Fire Science
Those seeking an administrative or managerial role in the field of firefighting could choose to pursue a baccalaureate degree in fire studies. Many programs are offered in flexible formats, including evening and weekend options, for currently practicing fire professionals. Students with an associate's degree in fire science or a related field could complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree in two years.
The curriculum in a bachelor's degree program varies based on the amount of previous education or training a student has received. Full 4-year programs include practical training, though completion programs for current fire officers emphasize didactic training in management, firefighting procedures and policies. Specific topics may include:
- Fire prevention
- Fire administration
- Hazardous materials
- Fire analysis and investigation
- Terrorism incident management
- Fire behavior
Popular Career Options
After graduating from a certificate program, aspiring firefighters usually require additional procedural and physical training. Some states also require certification testing to work in fire services. Some career options include:
- Fire inspector
- Insurance representative
Graduates of associate's degree programs can qualify for entry-level and some supervisory roles within a firefighting organization. State-mandated testing might be required for some positions, such as firefighter or inspector. Specific titles may include:
- Assistant fire chief
- Fire captain
- Fire lieutenant
- Fire inspector
- Fire investigator
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Earning a bachelor's degree in fire sciences could help professionals advance a career in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that demand for firefighters will increase 5% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, firefighters made a median annual wage of $46,870 in May 2015. In the same year, the lowest-paid workers made less than $23,010 and the highest-paid firefighters earned $79,490 or more.
Firefighters generally must maintain certification as an emergency medical technician at the basic or paramedic level. Such certification requires regular continuing education courses and completing any additional training mandated by the state. The U.S. National Fire Academy sponsors training sessions on fire science topics, including arson, professional development, disaster preparation and hazardous materials handling.
Fire science can be studied at the certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree levels for those wishing to become firefighters. Graduates of these programs must pursue additional certifications and trainings mandated by their particular state.