Complete Guide to an Online Fire Science Degree
The field of fire science encompasses many aspects of fire management and emergency services. In conjunction with the completion of a degree program, graduates typically need on-the-job training and emergency medical certification before they are qualified to work as a firefighter. While many firefighters are able to find employment with just a high school diploma and work experience, those with an associate, bachelor’s, or master's degree in fire science may have greater opportunities for advancement. Firefighters with significant professional experience may eventually have careers as fire inspectors, fire investigators, or fire chiefs, among others. Choosing the most appropriate fire science degree will depend on your current level of fire and emergency training and your career aspirations. Prospective students are encouraged to consider an accredited degree program approved by the FESHE, which stands for the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program. These programs are guaranteed to meet a high level of standards for career preparation and safety for a fire science degree online.
The online associate degree in fire science can help students secure positions as firefighters and fire investigators. Courses in building codes, regulations, and fire protections systems discuss the ways in which the risk of fire in the built environment can be mitigated, while classes in fire behavior and fire science discuss the spread of fire and combustion during various fire situations.
The online bachelor’s degree program in fire science may be used to enter the career track and advance more quickly into fire chief or administrator positions. The bachelor’s degree covers the same foundational topics as the associate program in areas like fire science, fire prevention, and emergency response, but bachelor's students also learn about managing public service organizations, hiring fire response personnel, and the legal issues involved in emergency services.
The online master's degree in fire science covers management issues involved in emergency administration. Graduates may become administrators in fire departments or other emergency response settings, or they may be able to work in research positions. Additional education may also allow professionals to be promoted more quickly within a fire station, from entry-level firefighter to lieutenant or even fire chief.
Students should contact the firefighting agencies in the state where they hope to work in order to learn about the type of academic programs their state prefers. The National Fire Academy offers standardized national training and also offers information about two- and four-year fire science and emergency response programs across the United States.
Comprehensive List of Online Colleges & Universities for a Fire Science Degree
While generally not required to work as a firefighter or fire investigator, an associate degree in fire science can help increase one’s job prospects and chances for professional advancement. Graduates may be more qualified to apply for higher positions in a particular fire department, such as captain or battalion chief. These two-year programs cover things like combustion science, fire codes, and fire department administration. These degrees also require students to complete a number of liberal arts courses in areas like math, natural science, social studies, and humanities, so that students have a solid intellectual foundation. Applicants to the associate degree program must have a high school diploma or the equivalent, as well as the physical fitness to complete the service-training portion of the degree.
Online associate degrees in fire science are commonly offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and traditional universities. Along with the option of completing a degree program, prospective firefighters could also consider completing a formal apprenticeship with a fire department. Apprenticeships last approximately four years and use fieldwork and classroom learning to teach students the techniques of the job.
The curriculum in the fire science associate degree covers the methods for fighting fires, investigating fires, and inspecting buildings for safety. Students learn how to read blueprints in order to better understand how fires spread. Core classes require students to learn firefighting tactics and become familiar with pre-fire preparation, extinguishing agents, and special fire situations. Other classes look at fire behavior and combustion, fire prevention, fire protection systems, and water distribution fundamentals. Students are expected to participate in on-site training with fire equipment.
The bachelor’s degree in fire science provides students with a thorough understanding of fire response tactics and sharpens critical thinking and fire service administration skills. These degrees may be traditional four-year programs requiring 120 credit hours, or they may be bachelor’s completion programs, designed for current associate-level fire personnel. Applicants need a high school diploma or associate degree, depending on the program type. Applicants must also be physically fit in order to complete practical training.
Core courses in the fire science bachelor’s cover the role of fire services and how to respond properly to fires in different types of structures. Students learn how to read a fire and apply an understanding of combustion and how fires spread in order to anticipate how a particular structure will burn. In on-site training sessions, students work with water supplies and different extinguishing strategies. A key function of the bachelor’s program in fire science is also to provide leadership and administration skills. Fire and emergency staffing, budgeting, public policy administration, and organizational behavior are some commonly required courses. Other classes look at special functions of fire services, like their role in mitigating natural disasters.
The fire science bachelor’s degree can open up entry-level and advanced fire safety positions. Current firefighters can complete a bachelor’s in order to qualify for administrative positions such as assistant chief, deputy chief, or chief.
Current fire service professionals or those in careers outside emergency services can use the fire science master’s degree to learn advanced technical and administrative skills. These programs typically require 10 to 15 courses and may include a thesis or research project. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree; most programs also require basic knowledge of emergency or fire services. Fire science master’s programs are offered in a few different structures. Some are specialized fire science degrees with concentrations in areas like arson, fire administration, and public safety management. Other programs include a core of classes in more general safety and emergency management areas, with a specialization in fire science topics. Students can choose the best program type for their needs, based on their previous experience in fire science and their career goals.
Along with the core classes, the fire science master’s degree also typically requires an internship, research project, or thesis. For example, a student specializing in arson might spend a semester shadowing a fire investigator in their local community. On the other hand, a student in a thesis-based emergency administration program might spend a semester developing a disaster response plan for a fire department.
The fire science master’s degree can lead to positions in public service and private industry. Current fire service professionals could use the degree to move into fire chief or administrative roles in their workplace. Others can use the degree to enter local government roles, assisting with community planning and municipal services. Employment also exists in the private sector in businesses that require specialists in safe industrial processes and the analysis of fire hazards.
The certificate in fire science can be used to study basic firefighting skills and strategies, fire administration, or a particular technical area of fire science. These programs typically take a year to complete and require 10 to 15 courses. Depending on the program, applicants may be required to have already completed basic fire training. Most programs require a high school diploma or GED, as well as sufficient physical fitness for completing the physical training portion of the certificate.
The required coursework in the fire science certificate varies depending on the certificate level. Introductory certificates are aimed at those with no fire experience. These programs cover firefighting tactics and strategy, fire protection systems, and emergency response. Other certificates are aimed at current firefighters interested in administrative positions. These programs cover topics like fire code enforcement, building construction, and emergency services administration.
Graduates of the basic fire science certificate can apply for entry-level positions in fire departments. Because the job market for firefighters is expected to be tough in the coming years; those with some postsecondary training in fire science will have an advantage over other applicants who only have a high school diploma. Experienced firefighters can use the certificate to prepare for fire administrator, investigator, or inspector positions.
Courses included in a fire science program provide students with a thorough understanding of how fire science operates and how it applies to real-world situations. For most degrees, the specialized fire science courses must be taken alongside general studies prerequisites like core English, math, humanities, and other science courses in order to complete the program. Students can also look for training and vocational programs that sometimes include fire science courses, and some associate degrees will accept these transfer credits.
In general, online degrees do not require on-site training. Most online programs are structured around analytical classes and tests that give students a thorough academic understanding of fire science. Some programs do require students to come to campus or a local facility in order to complete hands-on firefighting simulations and internship experiences. Current firefighters may be able to waive these experiences or use them as credit toward the degree. Many fire science programs also have apprenticeship programs that last about four years. In these apprenticeships, students can study under the guidance of other firefighters and gain on-the-job experience. These apprenticeships are highly attractive to employers and may give students a competitive edge in the job market.
The fire science degree covers a variety of different subjects all related to the field of fire prevention and suppression. Some of the classes and specific focuses that students will take in fire science degree programs include the following:
- Building Construction: This course examines the ways in which building codes and construction can affect fire prevention and procedures.
- Fire Behavior and Combustion: This is a standard course that covers the three states of matter and how they transform via chemical properties.
- Fire Defense Planning: This class provides a basic overview of how to prepare for a fire. Topics range from best practices to avoid sudden fire, to best building plans to allow for fire evacuation.
- Fire Hydraulic Systems and Water Supplies: This course may be required for firefighters who need to be familiarized with water defense systems, such as hoses and hydraulic ladder and lift systems.
- Fire Prevention Practices: Students are trained in the necessary procedures to prevent a fire, as well as methods for defending against further fires.
- Fire Suppression Techniques: This course examines the best techniques for putting out large fires and preventing them from spreading to adjacent buildings.
- Incendiary Fire Management: Not all fires burn the same way or can be suppressed in the same way. This course focuses on incendiary fires and how to manage them and prevent them from spreading.
- Strategy and Tactics for Fire Personnel: This course provides a general education for all forms of personnel in order to create a standardized, efficient group of employees who know how to effectively work with fire procedures.
Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE)
The US Fire Administration's National Fire Academy (NFA) created the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) program in order to establish a national model for fire and emergency services training and education programs. FESHE ensures that the colleges and universities in its network meet the highest standards of excellence with regard to professional development, research, and the principles of fire safety. The associate degree curriculum implemented by FESHE-approved programs includes a set of core courses, electives, and two concentrations: fire prevention and fire protection engineering. The bachelor's degree curriculum offers 15 courses in advanced fire safety topics and 7 courses in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) management.
The NFA's Degrees at a Distance Program (DDP) enables students to earn an FESHE-approved bachelor's degree online with a concentration in fire administration or fire prevention technology. Seven accredited four-year colleges and universities across the United States participate in the DDP and offer the standardized 13-course curriculum; they include Cogswell College, SUNY Empire State College, University of Cincinnati, University of Maryland University College, University of Memphis, Western Illinois University, and Western Oregon University. Students should consult the FESHE website to determine which school serves the state they live in. A coordinated effort with the schools that offer FESHE associate degrees ensures that graduates of those associate programs will be adequately prepared to continue on to a DDP bachelor's program if they so choose. As with all degree programs, especially if you intend to continue on or transfer credits to a different school, it is important to verify the institutional accreditation status of your school in order to ensure that it meets quality education standards.
Certification requirements vary depending on the job, but some degree programs include a certificate automatically. Generally, job applicants for municipal firefighting positions are required to take a written or oral exam. There will be a physical standards test to evaluate strength, stamina, coordination, and agility. You will also need to submit to a background check and a medical exam, which includes drug screening. Verify your prospective employer's requirements for the position, and check with your local and state governments' fire counsels for information about certification requirements in your area.
Many firefighting departments require that firefighters be certified as emergency medical technicians in addition to being qualified in fire science. This paramedic training can be completed in fire academy training in some states, while others require that firefighters pursue outside qualification. Depending on the state, other certifications and training may be required before a firefighter can be employed.
Besides the training offered by individual fire departments or precincts, firefighters can also participate in advanced training offered by the US National Fire Academy. This academy offers fire officer certification training to individuals who have at least an associate degree from an accredited degree program.
A fire science degree can lead to several different career paths. The highest levels within a fire department, such as chief, deputy chief, and assistant chief, typically require a bachelor's degree in fire science, as well as proven leadership and administrative skills. Here are some examples of career specializations for fire science graduates:
- Firefighter: Firefighters are first responders in many emergency situations; they might be called upon to not only fight a blaze but to administer CPR at a traffic accident or other medical emergency. The process of fighting a fire requires coordinated teamwork, specialized equipment, and rigorous training. Firefighters also enter burning buildings to rescue survivors. They must be physically fit and undergo frequent examinations for drug use. The schedule of a firefighter is irregular, involving long shifts (anywhere from 10 to 24 hours) with several days off between work periods.
- Fire Inspectors: Inspectors ensure that new and current buildings meet state codes for fire safety. They may consult with building contractors and other developers to ensure that their buildings are compliant with the law.
- Fire Investigators: After a fire has occurred, investigators determine the cause of the fire. Like police detectives, fire investigators must carefully collect evidence at the fire scene and interview witnesses about what occurred.
- Fire Protection Engineer: A fire protection engineer develops fire safety guidelines and advises construction companies on building structures that are fire resistant. They also help to improve smoke alarms and revise building codes to increase safety. They understand the complex relationship between engineering decisions and fire safety and are able to explain it to the general public.
- Fire Scientist: Fire scientists commission, analyze, and interpret tests that study the behavior of fire in different contexts. They also apply sophisticated models and equations to understand the workings of fire, as well as the various retardant materials and tactics that work against it. They also study how to restore natural ecosystems that have been affected by fire.
- Forest Fire Inspectors: State and national parks are the realm of these specialists. They may be in charge of orchestrating controlled burns to prevent disastrous wildfires, or patrolling and observing forests for signs of fire.
- Higher Education. US Fire Administration. Accessed May 14, 2014. http://www.usfa.fema.gov/nfa/higher_ed.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed May 14, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm#tab-4.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed May 14, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/fire-inspectors-and-investigators.htm#tab-4.
- Discovering FESHE. Accessed May 18, 2014. http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/nfa/higher_ed/feshe_brochure.pdf.
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