Best College Degrees for Current and Aspiring Firefighters


best college degree for firefighters

I strongly believe that you should never underestimate the importance of education and training in the fire service, which is why I have compiled a list of the best college degrees for firefighters. 

We can all learn on the job and take specialty courses as we progress with our careers. But, firefighting college degrees offer a great platform and can pay off in the long run. 

So, why are college degrees for firefighters such a good idea, and what courses should you take?

While a college education isn’t a requirement, there are a few key subject areas you can study  that will help you during your career. 

They include…

  • Fire Science
  • Fire Administration
  • Fire Technology
  • Emergency And Disaster Management
  • Wildfire Management
  • EMT/Paramedic Degrees
  • Management Courses
  • Trades

Each degree has its own focus that can help you develop a career path. you can choose the best option based on your goals.  Some are broader and more accessible while others offer more specialized learning.

Why is college education important for firefighters?

A college education might not be a requirement to join the fire service. But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t helpful. 

You can use a college degree to learn more skills and improve your job prospects, with a variety of options out there. Here are some additional considerations when choosing a path in fire education.

  • You don’t need a degree to join the service, but it is helpful for career progression
  • Fire science college courses offer a great overview of the subject
  • Fire technology college courses take you on a slightly different route
  • Emergency management is a great idea for those that want to move up the ranks
  • EMS Management is a great way in for those with medical skills
  • Paramedic courses are an alternative option in the medical field
  • Online studies might make more sense for your current situation
  • Masters courses could help you expand your knowledge and prospects
  • A lot of niche training happens once you become a firefighter
  • You need to be prepared to study and learn on the job

In this guide, I want to highlight some of the different options available for firefighter college education and some considerations about studying on the job and financing your education. Before that, let’s look at some of the best college degree options if you want to become a firefighter. There are seven key subject areas here. 

The first three are common options for a career in the service, two are a little more specialized, and the final two focus more on the medical side.

Fire Science Degree

Fire Science is the best place to start because it is the most common and direct route for a lot of eager firefighters. 

This is where you get to learn everything you need to handle fires and incidents on the job, all while earning credits for either an associate or a bachelor’s degree. It is a great way to get a comprehensive education to get you started in your career. 

At the same time, you can take other courses to complement the program and enhance your education.

What are some of the requirements for a Fire Science degree?

Students need a scientific understanding of how fires start and spread, as well as how to control them. 

This means modules on Fire Behavior and Combustion, Fire Prevention, and Fire Protection. You will also learn about protective and safety measures such as Building Construction for Fire Protection and Principles of Fire and Emergency Services Safety and Survival.

Other program electives include Fire Protection Hydraulics and Water Supply, Fire Prevention Organization and Management, Community Risk Reduction for the Fire and Emergency Services and Fire Ground Tactics. 

By the end, you should be able to demonstrate your understanding of fire protection and prevention in a way that will make you an asset to your local force.

Fire Administration Degree

If you have aspirations of becoming an officer or chief someday, an alternative to fire science is to opt for a fire administration degree. There are lots of choices available across the country, with options in both two-year and four-year degrees. 

This means that you can choose where you want to study (in person or online) and the sort of college experience you get. 

There may also be other benefits in choosing administration courses for those that want to move into management and higher ranks quite rapidly. 

If you’re interested in learning more about fire department ranks and structure click the link to read our guide.

How do fire administration courses differ from fire science courses?

There are a lot of classes here that are the same. You need a lot of that basic understanding of equipment, fire safety, and the chemistry and physics of fire. 

However, fire administration courses differ because they also offer modules on the administration and leadership. This usually means learning about the legal side of fire service, personnel management and what it takes to run a department. 

One important difference here is the focus on personnel management and basic administration needs so that you can get a promotion and oversee the department. Classes typically cover topics such as, Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement and Management of Fire Incident Command Systems.

Another interesting class is that of Human Behavior in Fire. This can give a psychological insight that may help with firefighting strategies.

 Classes like Political and Legal Foundations of Fire Protection and Community Risk Reduction for the Fire and Emergency Services provide a better understanding of the service in a wider context. There may also be classes on terrorism and emergency procedures.

Fire Technology Degree

Believe it or not there are also degrees in fire technology. The Fire Science courses can provide a more comprehensive education with some great 4 year options out there. 

Fire Administration is a great choice for those with a career path in mind. 

Fire Technology, on the other hand, could be better for those that may not be interested in a full 4 year degree. 

You can get certificates and associate degrees that cover all the basic needs for a job as a firefighter. Depending on the college, you may be able to transfer credits at a later date if you want to continue on to a bachelor’s in a fire subject.

What will you learn in a Fire Technology course?

A lot of the courses in these fire technology programs will cover the important theory and practical training needed to handle a fire. 

There are similarities to Fire Science courses with the available classes. For example, you may take Fire Tactics and Strategy, Fundamentals of Personal Fire Safety, Fire Behavior and Combustion, and Fire Protection Equipment. 

It’s goal is to prepare new firefighters to handle the calls as well as life in the service, which is why other modules like Fire Company Organization and Procedure may be helpful. Depending on your area, you may also be required to take courses on wildland fire management too.

Emergency and Disaster Management

Emergency and Disaster Management is an interesting degree option for those that want to specialize or possibly have aspirations to work at a federal level. It is great training for those that see themselves working with larger teams responding to major incidents. 

Those that qualify and earn their degree are better prepared to take on management roles in major cities when this sort of experience will help. 

You could work on disaster response plans for all kinds of incidents with other emergency service teams. 

The key courses necessary for a degree in Emergency Management tend to revolve around the different risk factors and methods of managing situations. 

In the case of the risk factors, there are lots of modules that focus on chemical hazards, explosives, biological weapons, and even weapons of mass destruction. 

There are also courses on the theory of dealing with these sorts of issues and the management side of things. This includes lessons on risk communications, specific assessment, and security protocols. 

For example, you may learn more about security at ports and borders and about the homeland security system. 

There are also modules related to terrorism, such as how to respond to an incident and how to think like a terrorist. 

This may all sound intense, and this isn’t for the faint-hearted, but this is essential knowledge.

Wildfire & Ecology Management

Another alternative and more niche option that you could choose for your firefighter degree course is a form of degree in wildland fire technology. 

These courses are a great option for those that already know that they want to take a career path in this field. An example of this may be if you want to work for a particular state’s Department of Natural Resources.

There are several colleges across the country that offer courses of some kind including certificates, associates degrees and even masters degrees. 

What will you learn in a Wildland Fire Management course?

While every school and program will be unique most degree plans follow similar guidelines. Students need to understand the behavior and causes of a wildfire so that they have a better chance of handling the scenarios they face. 

This means learning about everything from the elements that fuel the fires, weather hazards, issues with topography, and other man-made issues.

From there, students need to be able to formulate a plan of action and work as a team to handle the fire in an efficient manner with minimal risk to life. 

So, organizational skills are a big part of the training. This means learning to work with team members, coordinators, and others on-scene. The specialized training here should give students a head start for working in this sort of environment and rising through the ranks. 

Those with a degree in the subject could earn more and get faster promotions while specializing in this area.

EMT/Paramedic 

Because most firefighters will need to train to become an EMT at some point, it might make sense to focus on healthcare degrees. 

This could be a good option for you if you are interested in the care-giving side of being a firefighter and the chance to save lives in medical scenarios. 

EMS courses are a great way to get that EMT/Paramedic certificate while also enjoying life in college. Courses and options will vary depending on the college and state regulations. But, there should be many of the same courses and information taught.

There are some important basic courses necessary to get students started on the road to become a qualified EMT. 

Basic Emergency Medical Technician training gives an introduction and overview of some of the necessary skills. 

There could be classes on first aid, CPR, and other basic skills needed to become a first responder. 

Students can then work through more advanced and specialist options, such as critical care studies, pediatric prehospital care, wilderness medicine and more. Other classes may look more at the legal and administrative side of the health service. 

Studies can take place online or in classrooms, but you will be required to get hands-on experience through clinical time both in the hospital and on the ambulance. 

By the end of the course, students should be able to qualify as an EMT, and will also be able to go on to take paramedic courses.

Trade School

In my opinion, getting your EMT certification as well as going to trade school would be my recommendation to anyone looking to get into the fire service.  

While it’s definitely not mandatory to learn a trade the benefits to you as a firefighter will be huge!

Building construction is paramount when it comes to firefighting operations.  Knowing how to size up a structure and be able to know where the weak points of construction are is very valuable.  

Also, knowing a trade gives you great skills that will be used during your time on a fire department.  It would certainly be looked at favorably by an officer during a firefighter interview. (Click the link for our comprehensive guide on how to answer any question during the interview.)

How many years of education do you need to be a firefighter?

The degree options above can vary in length depending on the subject and the courses provided in your area. 

Typically, you will have a choice between a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

Remember that you can start in the fire service with a high school diploma, so it isn’t essential to go for a four-year bachelor’s degree. But, you will learn more than you can apply to your work in the fire service. 

A bachelor’s degree may also help you rise in the fire department ranks a little easier if you have proven knowledge in specialist areas.

Also, the length of time you spend studying will depend on how long you want to stay in college. Are you eager to get out into the world and have practical experience in the fire service? Or, do you want to make the most of the college experience first? 

The latter is understandable. 

You can enjoy your time in college with other students when you are young, perhaps in another state, and gain valuable life experience.

Can I get a fire science degree online?

Yes! Online studies might make more sense for your current situation. Firefighters that want to train as they earn don’t have the luxury of attending college like any other college student. You can’t take your classes on campus and still be on call to handle an emergency. 

That is why so many leading colleges now offer online courses. You can log in to your student portal and work on your assignments in your own time. 

This could be from home during a day off or from your laptop at the fire station while you have some downtime. 

These courses aren’t substandard or any less educational than those provided in a classroom. 

Do firefighters with degrees get paid more?

Yes. The better your education, the better your earning prospects. There isn’t always a massive difference. But, you can see an increase as you go from those with high school diplomas to those with associate degrees, bachelor degrees, and then master’s degrees. 

Someone with a bachelor’s degree could get $1000 more a year than those with a high school diploma.

Also, many departments offer pay incentives for firefighters to get their paramedic certifications.

Can I get help financing my firefighting degree?

Help is available for those that want to be a firefighter but struggle with the fees. Some colleges can offer scholarships to first responders. 

There are also options that give discounts to those that served in the military. You can also look into ways to cut the costs of textbooks and equipment. 

What are some of the general education credits in fire service degrees?

It is important to remember that if you do opt for a degree in fire science, you will have to take other general education modules in order to fill the criteria and earn enough credits. 

It is a good idea to take some basic courses in math, science, and English to improve your skills. Chemistry and physics classes could help with some of the scientific requirements on the course. 

English comprehension skills will help when writing reports and dealing with other paperwork. 

Humanities studies like art and history might not be so closely linked to the job, but they can offer a more well-rounded education.

Should I learn a second language to become a firefighter?

It may not be a bad idea, but certainly is not as important as getting your EMT/Paramedic certification. (Click the link to find a school near you that offers EMT or Paramedic classes)

Another aspect to consider here is a credit in a second language. Communication skills are essential when you work as a firefighter because you need to be able to instruct residents and victims in an emergency. 

Depending on your local area, there is a good chance that those residents are bilingual or have another language as their mother tongue. 

Firefighters that learn Spanish, for example, are better equipped to work with these families. This also helps when handling public service roles in these communities. 

In fact, some departments can offer pay incentives for those that are bilingual. So, even if you don’t learn the language as part of your college degree, it helps work on your skills in your spare time.

In short, there is a lot to consider when choosing the best college degrees for firefighters. You could decide to find a Fire Science or Fire Administration degree for a more well-rounded education. 

But, you also have to think about the additional credits, the length of the degree, and where you want to study. 

Alternatively, you could focus on the healthcare side with a Paramedic degree or something more specialist with Emergency management or Wildfire management. 

Think about your goals in your career as a firefighter, but also about the experience you want right now. 

Make the most of your college education and see how it can help you advance in the fire service.

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