If you are considering a career in fire science, you may have realized that there isn’t a lot of readily available information on the subject. We’ve worked hard to provide a broad overview of fire science. This article covers what fire science is, the educational requirements for a career in fire science, its importance across different environments, the things you can do with a fire science degree, and the top fire science degree programs you can join to kickstart your career.
Fire is a complex topic, and there is a lot more to fire science than you might expect. This article will demystify the subject so that you can easily understand the basics, and make an informed decision about joining or furthering your career in fire science.
If you find wildland fire intriguing, and you would love to explore topics like fire hazards, fire service, fire behavior, fire prevention, fire protection, and effective firefighting, you can follow that interest with a fire science degree. You can obtain an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in fire science from a reputable fire academy, and thereafter join a local fire department as a firefighter before rising the ranks to senior positions.
Let’s fire up the engine!
What Fire Science Covers
Despite all the mystery surrounding it, fire science is an interesting subject that people with keen interest can have a fulfilling career in. Let’s first see what fire science is all about and what it takes to take a degree and establish a career in the field.
What is Fire Science the Study of?
Fire science is the study of fire and its behavior, including how fires start, chemical properties of fire, fire protection, fire prevention, fire fighting, and fire hazards. At a broader level, fire science touches on fire administration, fire investigation, criminal justice under the field of arson investigation, and firefighter service.
Fire science majors explore how fires start and spread. They learn how to ask and answer relevant questions to further public safety: Was the fire an accident? Was it started intentionally by arson? What caused the fire to spread easily beyond its starting point? Are these natural factors like wind, or did someone use fire accelerators?
What Fire Science Falls Under as Field of Employment and Why
Fire science as a field of employment falls under Emergency Services or Emergency Response Services. These are careers geared towards public service, environmental safety, and public safety. Fire falls under the emergency services category. Interested students who take up and graduate from a suitable fire science degree program from a reputable fire academy proceed to work for municipalities and federal governments across the country.
Municipal firefighters work for a given city, state, or county with a key focus on urban emergencies and fires. Federal fire workers work under government-controlled fire service positions and focus on wildland and structural fires.
Fire science education prepares students for careers in emergency service positions like smokejumper, firefighter, fire investigator, fire prevention specialist, building inspector, fire equipment operator, among others.
As emergency service professionals, fire workers respond to emergencies where they are involved in activities such as:
- Rescuing victims trapped in burning buildings
- Putting out structural or wildland fires
- Preparing reports on both emergency and non-emergency events
- Providing first aid to injured or sick individuals.
What it Takes to Pursue a Degree and Career in Fire Science
Other than the educational requirements, pursuing a career in fire science calls for a physically healthy person. For instance, to become a federal firefighter, you have to pass a physical medical exam and be able to walk a distance of three miles in about forty-five minutes while carrying a 45-pound backpack. You will also need basic first aid and outdoor survival skills on top of being physically fit.
The emphasis on physical health is so because you often have to lift debris or carry people and property to safety in fire and other emergencies. It’s also important to endure the long working hours. Federal Firefighters are often required to work up to 72 hours, or between 40 and 56 hours per week as a municipal firefighter.
Educational Requirements to Pursue a Fire Science Degree
Applicants interested in fire science can take a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. Most schools usually require interested students to have a high school diploma or GED. Some may also require applicants to present their SAT or ACT scores for tests taken within five years before the deadline.
A GPA of 2.75 or higher may be required.
Importance of Fire Science
Since fires have far-reaching devastating effects on the physical environment, fire science becomes an important field of study and career as people, companies, and the government work to prevent the occurrence of fires. Fire science calls for the mentoring of effective leaders in the industry to help in ensuring that there is enough mentorship of future fire service professionals to lead the fight against accidental and deliberate fires.
At a broad level, fire science is a useful discipline for saving both human and animal life, and preserving property from destruction by fire.
Fire science is especially important in the following three key areas that are highly prone to fire incidences and suffer massive losses when fires occur:
- Wildlife and Wilderness preservation
- Urban, Suburban, and Rural Environments.
Importance of Fire Science When Applied to Wildlife and Wilderness Protection
Fire science is key in the preservation of wilderness areas. Healthy forest ecosystems are home to varied wildlife and bountiful natural resources. That ecosystem has intrinsic value, but its loss by wildfire negatively affects humans. It drives down tourism, destroys parks, produces intense smoke pollution, increases erosion, and decreases water absorption – and all the additional soil and water pouring into water masses contributes to flooding in populated areas.
When applied to the protection of wildernesses and water masses, fire science helps preserve both plant and animal life. The occasional small wildland fire clears the forest understory and allows for renewed growth. Large, uncontrolled forest fires burn hotter, however, and they burn both plant and animal life to the ground. Soil microorganisms are also destroyed by such fires. To mitigate the risks of such destruction, environmentalists rely on fire prevention and fire safety practices to help keep wildlands free from large-scale fires, especially during the driest season, when fires of any size can spread rapidly.
Importance of Fire Science When Applied to a Workplace Environment
The government, companies, and organizations have to ensure their workplaces are safe for working in by keeping hazardous materials safely, investing in fire protection equipment and fire safety gear, and collaborating with the local fire department in meeting local fire code requirements.
Fire science practices in the workplace help preserve both human and animal life as well as ensure that properties such as buildings are safe from destruction by fire. The fire department requires that each company or organization should install fire safety equipment in places where they can be accessed easily in case of a fire emergency. Different safety workers should also be trained on the proper and effective use of the equipment in firefighting.
Fire science professionals also help companies identify and designate key areas as fire safety assembly points where people can gather in the event of fire outbreaks. These assembly points act as a meeting ground from which roll calls can be done to check on the possibility of any missing persons who might be trapped in burning or burnt buildings.
Through fire science, workplaces also learn of the best practices in fire protection, prevention, management, and investigation based on the guidelines obtained from the fire department or through fire service consultants like a private fire safety practitioner.
Importance of Fire Science When Applied to Urban, Suburban, and Rural Environments
Fire science creates employment in the fire service industry for people who would like to get into fire-related practices like firefighting and fire investigation. To get started in the industry, interested people can obtain a two-year fire science associate’s degree. You can start as a volunteer firefighter in a local fire department and then rise to higher ranks like captain, chief, fire inspector, and fire science educator as you acquire more experience and obtain higher fire science degree qualifications.
People interested in fire science can also find employment in private fire practice organizations like fire investigation companies and insurance companies as fire insurance professionals. Although private fire service companies are not a common phenomenon in all states, the few ones that are in existence are a good source of employment for fire service enthusiasts.
The modern-day urban and suburban spaces are highly congested and densely populated as they have to contain large numbers of people living and working in them. Through fire science, urban planners have to ensure the spaces are physically accessible to ease firefighting efforts when fires catch.
Rural areas also benefit from fire science in the preservation of property and the lives of people, subsistence or commercial crops, and livestock.
What You Can Do With a Degree in Fire Science
Given the intense competition for many fire-fighting jobs, most people think that they can’t find good jobs in the industry if they happen to pursue a fire science degree. The truth is that although work positions are limited and not as many in other industries, there are several fire service careers you can explore and different places you can work in as a fire professional. This section explores some of the jobs you can take up with a fire science degree and the places where you can find work.
Where You Can Apply to Work With a Degree in Fire Science
The following are the major places where you can work as a fire science degree holder:
- Fire Departments
Fire departments in various cities, counties, and states require the services of professional fire personnel in handling fire equipment, putting out fires, emergency rescue operations, public fire education, among others. You can get into these departments with just a high school diploma, although at least an associate degree in fire science is preferred.
With a fire science degree, you can find work as a fire professional with companies, organizations, or institutions to offer fire services like monitoring fire equipment, developing institution-specific fire safety guidelines, educating workers and other involved people on aspects like fire safety, prevention, and protection. These entities have to ensure they follow the fire codes developed by their city, state, or municipal fire department. As such, they often require the help of expert fire professionals.
- Private Investigations and Consultancy Firms
Although it’s not a common phenomenon, some private investigation companies require the services of a fire investigator when hired by individuals or companies to conduct private fire investigations.
- Insurance Companies
These hire fire professionals to advise them and gauge the extent of damages caused by fires as when they have to service insurance policies taken out against fire risks.
Unusual Jobs You Can Hold With a Fire Science Degree
Fire often results from disasters and unexpected events, so some of the jobs in the fire science industry are unusual.
One of the most unusual jobs in firefighting is being a smokejumper. These are fire professionals who parachute into fire zones with special fire gear and equipment to create fuel breaks that help stop the fire from spreading. Once the fire is contained, the jumpers stir the hot ash with mineral soil to cool down the prevailing heat. They then feel the soil to ensure there are no chances of fire rekindling.
Because it is a highly specialized job, there were only about 270 actively serving smoke jumpers in 2017.
Being a wildland firefighter is another unusual job position for fire science majors. Wild and water mass fires are now a rampant phenomenon due to climate change and encroaching development, and such jobs are on the rise.
Most In-demand Careers in Fire Science
Fire professionals who have obtained an associate, bachelor, or master’s degree in fire science can take up high-demand fire science careers such as:
A firefighter usually works at a fire department responds to fire emergency calls to help put out fires, rescue people from burning buildings, ensure fire safety at the site of a fire breakout. In some situations, firefighters may also rescue animals and important property from burning buildings.
- Fire Inspector
Fire inspectors work in fire departments and offer fire inspection services on properties, buildings, and businesses to help them analyze their fire safety plans and examine fire equipment for flaws and adherence to the city, state, or national fire codes. They may also advise such entities on the best or latest fire science technology trends to adopt in their fire prevention and safety measures.
You can also find work as a forest fire inspector if you opt to work outdoors in forestry or wildland service.
- Fire Chief
A fire chief position is one of the most-coveted in fire service. Fire chiefs supervise the workings of the entire fire department they work in.
- Emergency Medical Technician
EMT is usually an entry-level position, but an appropriate bachelor’s degree may be preferred since you will be tasked with offering basic first aid and medical care in emergencies.
Top Fire Science Degree Programs
You can start your fire science career by joining some of the top programs offering fire science and emergency service degrees across the country. Different colleges and universities offer different fire science degree programs ranging from associate degree, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree. The mode of teaching can be entirely online or a combination of both on-campus and online classes depending on the school’s preferences and your availability schedule.
The following schools offer top fire science degree programs.
1. The University of Florida in Gainesville
The university offers an entirely online bachelor’s degree in fire science for students starting their careers in fire service. This fire science degree program is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The program takes four years and has a 120-credits requirement range. Interested in-state students pay $129 for each credit while out-of-state students pay $553 per credit.
2. The University of Cincinnati in Ohio
This public university has a graduation rate of 68% and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. It offers a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science and Emergency Management degree that lasts four years. It is has a hybrid learning system that requires learners to attend both online and on-campus classes. The instruction style is synchronous and students earn credits from previous work experience, professional training, and certifications. It requires a total of 120 credits at $486 per credit.
3. Salem State University in Massachusetts
The school offers a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science at $37.92 per credit hour. Working fire service professionals enjoy a flexible learning schedule to ensure proper coordination between work and study.
4. Fayetteville State University in North Carolina
Charging $121 per credit hour, the school offers a highly celebrated BS in Fire and Emergency Services Administration.
5. Eastern Kentucky University
The school offers various degrees in fire science that are accredited by the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. The degrees are offered either online or in-person at the school’s Richmond campus. The degrees offered at $386 per credit hour include:
- Fire Protection and Safety Engineering
- Fire Protection Administration
- Fire, Arson, and Explosion Investigation
6. Colorado State University in Fort Collins
This public university offers an online bachelor’s degree in Fire and Emergency Services Administration at $476 per credit with a requirement of 120 total credits. Students learning full-time complete the degree in two years while part-timers take 3-4 years.
7. Eastern Oregon University in La Grande
The Bachelor of Science in Fire Services Administration at this public university lasts four years at $252 per credit for 120 credits. The school is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The course is offered online.
8. Lone Star College in Woodlands, Texas
Students can earn a two-year Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science Technology at $1692 worth of tuition fees per year. A Basic Structural Firefighter Certificate course is offered for those who would want to join the workforce more quickly upon graduation.
9. American Military University
At $7324 tuition fees per year, the AMU offers a 100% online Associate of Science in Fire Science program with a key focus on fire safety, search and rescue, first aid, among others.
10. Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner
For $5668 tuition fees per year, fire science students at this college take a two-year associate’s degree with a key focus on building construction, fire prevention, fire hydraulics, and water supply, among others.
On-the-ground Training to Expect From a Top Fire Science Degree Program
Since fire service usually requires specialized physical expertise in handling fires, emergencies, and fire instruction services, students are often required to complete various on-the-ground training to best prepare them for the industry. These pieces of training are important as they take into account certain crucial aspects of the student such as weight, height, mental health, and general physical fitness. Physical fitness weighs in heavily because you may often have to lift debris to evacuate people, animals, or important property trapped in burning buildings.
The following constitute some of the most common focus areas for top fire science degree programs:
- Fire Prevention
- Fire Protection Systems
- Fire Science Technology
- Principles of Emergency Services
- Disaster Planning and Response
- Fire Service Public Budgeting and Financial Management
- Personal or self-management
- Fire and Emergency Services Administration
- Fire Safety
- Building Construction and Building Fire Safety
Out of these and other key focus areas, students receive various on-the-ground training such as:
- Tactics and strategies for fire prevention, fire management, and extinguishing
- Handling fire service equipment, gear, and fire protection technology
- First aid tactics and basic medical care for fire victims
- Skydiving or parachuting in fire academies that train smokejumpers
- Gathering, processing, and interpreting evidence for fire investigations
- Leadership skills for those looking into fire services administration positions
- Handling accidents like spillages or leakages involving hazardous materials such as fuels, oils, gases, and industrial chemicals
- The dynamics of water in fire protection regarding how to use water to put out fires, hydraulic principles, and aspects like water supply and distribution systems.
Since most of these on-the-ground pieces of training are best taught in in-person settings, most fire science degree programs require that students should attend on-campus classes. Schools offering fire science degrees that are entirely online usually require students to have prior experience in the field, an associate’s degree in fire science, or credits transferred from another accredited fire science program. Hands-on experiences such as internships may also be required as part of the curriculum in some programs.
How to Determine Which Fire Science Degree Program is Best For You
Choosing the best fire science degree program can be a headache for most students or parents of students considering a career in fire service. The fire science industry is still held in awe and most people only speak about it in low tones because, well, fire in its destructive nature is not something to talk about every day. This results in the availability of very little information on the subject and what interested students should consider when seeking fire science education.
The following are some of the ways to determine which fire science degree program is best for you.
- Balance Between Physical, Mental, and Educational Requirements
Although most fire science careers emphasize a lot on the physical and mental health of the aspirants, you can still find a degree program that strikes a balance between physical, mental, and educational requirements. This is important because not everyone is a hands-on expert, and you may be more talented in leadership and can thus take up administrative duties which require more educational qualifications rather than physique.
- Cost, Duration of Study, and Accreditation
Since there is high competition for the limited positions in the fire service industry, you should ensure the degree program you join is accredited by an approved regional, national, or international body. The total cost of the program should be within your financial limits so you don’t end up with massive student loans. Consider taking a degree program that helps you graduate and consequently join the workforce in the shortest time possible. Accelerated or fast-tracked degree programs are a good option if you would love to join the labor market earlier than others.
We hope that this article fires up your desire to start or enhance your career in fire science. Be sure to find a suitable fire science program towards this end.
All the best!