What Is a Fire Science Degree?

| TBS Staff


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A degree in fire science sets you on a rewarding career path working in fire safety and community leadership.

A fire science degree prepares graduates for careers in many in-demand areas. While many students earn fire science degrees to become firefighters, graduates can also pursue careers in forest management, insurance, and construction. Arson investigators, fire inspectors, and emergency management specialists can also use fire science training to advance their careers.

This article introduces different types of fire science degrees, industries that hire fire science graduates, and the earning potential for fire science careers.

What Kinds of Fire Science Degrees Are There?

Prospective firefighters can earn fire science degrees at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. Each level prepares graduates for different roles in the field. For example, while a certificate or associate degree meets the entry-level educational requirement for many fire departments, a bachelor's degree gives candidate a competitive boost. Fire chiefs and emergency services directors often hold master's degrees.

In addition to earning fire science degrees, many firefighters also complete on-the-job training through fire academies. Fire academies introduce new firefighters to the equipment and procedures used in their fire departments. Wildland firefighters may also complete specialized training.

Certificate Program in Fire Science

A certificate program in fire science offers focused training for firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs. During a certificate program, students complete courses in fire science methods, firefighting techniques, fire safety, and basic emergency medical intervention. They also learn about wildland fires and fire suppression and prevention techniques.

Completing a fire science certificate can take as little as a few months or up to one year. The certificate typically includes demonstrations of firefighting equipment and emergency medical procedures. In addition to a fire science or firefighting certificate, students can also pursue specialized certificates for fire instructors, paramedics, and fire investigators.

Associate Degree in Fire Science

An associate degree in fire science provides foundational training for students interested in firefighting and emergency services careers. The degree also meets educational requirements for many arson investigation positions.

During an associate program, students take courses in fire behavior, wildfire suppression, and emergency response. They also learn about firefighting in different environments, including urban and wildland firefighting. It's also common for these programs to include a practical component or project.

Completing an associate degree generally takes two years. Students with an accredited associate degree can transfer into a four-year college and earn a bachelor's degree in only two additional years.

Bachelor's Degree in Fire Science

A bachelor's degree in fire science trains students in fire command, fire prevention, and arson investigation. With a bachelor's degree, graduates can pursue careers like firefighter, fire supervisor, or fire inspector. In many fire departments, firefighters with bachelor's degrees earn higher salaries than those with only associate degrees or certificates.

Earning a bachelor's degree generally takes four years for full-time students. During that time, undergrads take fire science classes, meet general education requirements, and take electives. Some programs offer concentrations in areas like fire service administration and fire safety. Concentrations prepare students for specialized careers after graduation.

Master's Degree in Fire Science

A master's degree in fire science prepares graduates for leadership and supervisory roles. Most fire science programs offer master's degrees in fire or emergency services administration. During the program, graduate students take courses in leadership, fire service management, and administration. They often complete practical training through internships or practicums.

After earning a master's degree, graduates can pursue careers as fire chiefs, fire administrators, and emergency services directors. In these roles, professionals direct firefighters and emergency services personnel in responding to emergencies. They also coordinate with other organizations to protect public safety. Earning a master's degree generally takes two years, in addition to the time spent earning the prerequisite bachelor's degree.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Fire Science?

It is most common for fire science graduates to work as firefighters or administrators in fire departments and wildland fire careers. Other industries, including forest management and insurance, also hire candidates with fire science degrees. Students can also pursue careers in fire safety education, emergency management, research, or construction, where they work as building inspectors.

Common Industries for Individuals with Fire Science Degrees

Firefighting

Firefighters operate emergency equipment to put out fires, which often requires specialized training in fire science. They may specialize in a particular type of fire, such as urban, suburban, or wildfires. Firefighters also conduct rescue operations and provide first responder emergency care. When they aren't responding to emergencies, firefighters conduct drills, maintain their equipment, and educate the public on fire safety.

While many fire departments hire candidates with certificates for entry-level roles, applicants with bachelor's or master's degrees often earn higher salaries and qualify for supervisory roles. Firefighters can also attend National Fire Academy training.

Forest Management

Forest management oranizations hire fire science professionals to help promote the health of forests and decrease the risks from forest fires. Foresters oversee forest fire suppression programs and determine how to limit environmental damage. After a wildfire does occur, forest fire inspectors conduct investigations for signs of arson or human intervention in starting the fire.

Foresters typically need bachelor's degrees. Experience as a wildland firefighter or having a fire science degree can help applicants pursue opportunities in forest management.

Insurance

The insurance industry relies on fire science graduates to conduct inspections and investigate suspected arson. Investigators examine cases where insurance companies suspect fraud, using their fire science training to investigate signs of arson or a staged fire. Insurance inspectors also investigate whether buildings follow fire codes and safety procedures to determine if the property poses too high a risk for insurance companies.

In the insurance field, a bachelor's degree is the entry-level educational requirement for most inspection roles, and a degree in fire science qualifies candidates for fire-specific roles.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Fire Science Degree?

A degree in fire science prepares graduates for many lucrative, in-demand careers. Many fire science careers offer above-average salaries and have strong job growth projections. For example, forest fire inspectors and fire alarm systems installers report faster-than-average job growth, while fire supervisors earn a mean salary of over $82,000 per year as of 2019.

Below, you'll find median salaries and job growth projections for fire science careers.

Fire Science Career Outlooks
Career Mean Annual Wage (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers $82,010 Faster than average
Fire Inspectors and Investigators $64,730 Faster than average
Firefighters $54,650 Faster than average
Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists $53,350 Much faster than average
Security and Fire Alarm Systems Installers $50,210 Much faster than average
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

U.S. Fire Administration
This division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency supports fire and emergency medical services departments that prevent and respond to fire hazards. The federal agency also provides information on fire service ethics, smoke alarms, and fire service training.
National Fire Protection Association
Founded in 1896, NFPA aims to eliminate the harm caused by fire and electrical hazards. The association provides training and education programs and offers certification in key areas, including certified fire alarm specialist, certified fire protection specialist, certified fire inspector, certified fire plan examiner, and certified wildfire mitigation specialist.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration - Fire Safety
OSHA's Fire Safety division provides information and resources for preventing fire-related injuries in the workplace. This administration establishes fire safety standards, identifies hazards, and regulates wildfire preparation, fire protection systems, and evacuation plans. Site visitors can also learn about portable fire extinguisher safety and fire service building features.
National Institute of Standards and Technology - Fire Research Division
The Fire Research Division of NIST researches fire safety and the tools needed to reduce the harm caused by fires. The division has several sub-groups, including sections devoted to firefighting technology, flammability reduction, and wildlife-urban interface fire threats.
International Association of Fire Fighters
IAFF advocates for over 320,000 firefighters and paramedics through its 3,500 affiliate organizations. Over 85% of the population in the U.S. and Canada lives in an IAFF district. The association also runs a political action committee and lobbies on behalf of fire and emergency services professionals. IAFF also offers professional and support resources.
National Volunteer Fire Council
NVFC represents volunteer firefighters and related professionals like paramedics, EMTs, and rescue service specialists, offering resources, programs, and educational tools for first responders. NVFC also offers training in fire service and helps departments create support programs for first responders.
International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters
IABPFF represents Black firefighters, advocating for hiring and promoting Black men and women working in fire service. The professional association offers networking opportunities, collects data on the profession, and provides career resources.

Accreditation for Fire Science Programs

Prospective fire science students should research accreditation before submitting any school applications because only accredited schools and programs meet high standards for educating students. Choosing an accredited program can help graduates ensure that the certifications and degrees they earn are high-value and will help them in their careers.

Accredited fire science programs follow best practices for training future firefighters, fire inspectors, and fire service administrators. The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress grants accreditation for fire science programs. The U.S. Fire Administration also has a Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education recognition program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Degree in Fire Science Worth It?

A fire science degree prepares graduates for careers as firefighters, fire inspectors, fire services administrators, and insurance investigators. Many of these careers pay above-average salaries and have strong job growth projections.

Do Firefighters With Degrees Get Paid More?

In many fire departments, firefighters with degrees earn higher salaries. Earning degrees can also help firefighters advance into administrative positions.

What Is the Highest-Paying Firefighter Job?

The median salary for firefighters in the United States is $50,850 per year, according to the BLS. First-line supervisors of firefighters earn a median wage of over $77,000 per year, as of 2019.

Who Makes More: Firefighters or Paramedics?

Firefighters make more than paramedics. Firefighters earn a median annual salary of $50,850 as of 2019, while EMTs and paramedics earn a median annual salary of $35,400.

What Do Firefighters Do All Day?

When not responding to emergencies, firefighters remain on call at fire stations. While at the station, they may inspect their equipment, conduct drills to improve their dispatch time, or train members of the community about fire safety.

Header Image Credit: kali9 | Getty Images

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