When you think about fire safety, your first thought may go to “stop, drop, and roll!” You may remember when you were a kid and saw a firetruck up close for the first time, in all its glory. Even if we haven’t experienced a first-hand fire ourselves, we all understand the importance and urgency of fire safety. Most of us have had the basics taught to us by a friendly, neighborhood firefighter. Firefighters can ignite their careers by earning an online fire science degree. Graduates of this program don’t just fight fires; many also work in forensics detecting arson and related crimes. Some even go into fire-related disaster management. Firefighters make up a relatively small proportion of the service occupations at the state and local level, but solid opportunities await new graduates who are physically fit and have emergency medical training.
THE CAREER PATH
The science of preventing and fighting fires has advanced along with technology in the modern century, reducing the number of fires dramatically with improved building codes, smoke alarms, public awareness, sprinklers, and more effective response. Even still, there were more than 3,000 deaths and nearly 15,000 injuries from fires in 2016.
Fire science is the field that has developed out of the professionalization of firefighting and advancement of fire safety technology. Fire science is the study of all things related to fire, and it can open the door to many careers for professionals that are interested in preserving the safety of our communities. Fire science studies all of the various aspects of fire, from the physics of its behavior to its use in criminal activity. Careers in fire science are not for the weak of heart but can be accessible to any professional who is passionate about the field.
Many heroic individuals feel called to professional fire safety, and many start their career before they even consider a degree. Experienced professionals can look to a program on fire science in order to further hone their knowledge and skills and potentially advance their rank or seek new positions. Developing professionals will find that a degree in fire science helps them start their career in fire safety on a strong note, and that there are many options for getting a degree that suits every individual’s unique interests and goals.
The United States Department of Labor (DOL) gives an overview of some of the most popular careers in fire science:
- Firefighter – More than likely, this is the first thing that you imagined when you started to read about “fire science.” These professionals are practically symbols of American courage for the selfless sacrifices they make keeping families safe from harm. Firefighters may also work under special circumstances as smoke jumpers or wildland firefighters, which are extremely dangerous and in high demand. Although they are not required to have a degree, firefighters must receive specialized training and pass physical exams in addition to obtaining an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Firefighters make nearly $50,000 on average each year, although compensation largely depends on the size of the department and any special skills or responsibilities of the professional. If pay is a concern, look for management and specialty positions which will offer fatter paychecks. The median salary for a fire chief, for example, is about $79,000. In general, job growth for firefighters is expected to be on par with the national average.
- Fire Inspector – After some years of experience “on the ground” as a firefighter, professionals may be interested in pursuing careers that allow them to prevent fires by examining buildings for potential hazards and legal regulations. Like firefighters, fire inspectors are not necessarily required to have a degree — although it certainly helps professionals be competitive and competent. Professionals can validate their skills as Certified Fire Inspectors, by meeting the standards provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Most employers will also want applicants with significant experience in fire safety.
- Fire Investigator – Alternatively, experienced professionals may decide to use their skills to investigate fires and explosions in order to determine their cause. Investigations are most common when fires or explosions are related to some kind of criminal activity, like arson. In order to work as a fire investigator, professionals must become a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) through the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Fire inspectors and investigators make $10,000 more than firefighters on average and are expecting to see about the same amount of job growth (around 7% by 2026). Forest fire inspectors and firefighters are the highest in demand among these professionals.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Much like the military, careers in fire science are not for the week of mind or body. First and foremost, individuals must be able to meet the physical demands of the job; they must have the strength and stamina that is needed to break into burning buildings, carry adults or heavy debris, and to endure the heat, smoke, and stress.
Fire science professionals must also have the emotional strength, compassion, and courage to face their fears, step into danger, and provide emotional support to others during emergency situations. They must be able to stay calm under pressure and have the skills to coordinate team efforts and communicate the conditions of emergency scenes to other responders.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Most entry-level positions as firefighters don’t require any formal education after high school besides job-specific training and an EMT certification. Many employers will provide training on-duty and may offer incentives for or assistance with certifications. However, online fire science degree will spark your career in this competitive job sector. Online associate's or undergraduate certificates are widely available for fire science. These are great credentials for entry-level work as a firefighter. Do note that every state has its own requirements for employment, and standardized fire science training is usually completed on the job.
An online fire science bachelor's degree will set you on the path for work beyond just the technical, and help qualify you for administrative positions. If you want to reach captain or chief status, both of which require management and emergency planning skills, go for the undergraduate degree. It could also help you change paths mid-career, and could boost efforts to break into emergency management, homeland security and forensics. High quality programs will be recognized by the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) initiative or by the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC).
Fighting fire involves chemistry, physics and biology. Classes such as fire dynamics and fire behavior explore the physical and chemical properties of this phenomenon. You'll learn why materials combust, what makes certain organic and inorganic materials so flammable and how to suppress fire through natural means. Hydraulics explores why water fights fire so well. Prepare for a career in fire inspection and investigation with specialized courses. Study fire codes as it relates to building and construction. Explore fire protection to learn about suppression systems, sprinklers and fire-resistant methods. Other elective courses cover arson investigation, disaster training and fire regulations.
An online bachelor's degree in fire science costs $50,000, on average, not including additional expenses for equipment, boarding, certifications, and other costs. Most certifications require exams that can also add up in price, so make sure to consider program options that meet your needs by offering internships, work experience, and certification preparation. Click on a program below for more information on tuition and accreditation.