Fire Science Degree vs. Paramedic

Paramedic or Fire Science Degree?  

It’s not uncommon for me to get emails from aspiring firefighters asking me whether it’s better to pursue a fire science degree or become a paramedic.  The road to becoming a career firefighter can be confusing so I hope this helps.

A question I receive regularly is, “Should I get my Fire Science Degree or go to EMT/Paramedic school?”

I decided I would write this article with a pros vs cons approach.

Fire Science Degree:

Fire Science Degrees are fantastic, and truthfully I wish I had one. I am a firm advocate for education at all levels, and if you are going to be working in the fire service it’s important to understand as much as you possibly can about fire behavior.

There is no doubt in my mind that attaining your Fire Science Degree will make you a well rounded and educated firefighter, but the question the aspiring firefighter wants answered is ‘will it get me hired?’

Yes and no. Yes, it may contribute to your success of becoming a firefighter by giving you bonus points on your civil service or entry exam.

In just about every field in today’s workforce they are requiring more and more higher education. However, I do not know of a single department where having your Fire Science Degree is a requirement for employment.

The problem with obtaining this degree is that it takes time, and usually a lot of it. For the average person obtaining an Associate’s degree can take around 2 years and a Bachelor’s at least 4. This is time that could be spent working on other things such as getting valuable job experience.

EMT Programs:

I highly recommend to anyone thinking of getting into the fire service to enroll in an EMT-Basic program. I understand that EMS is not always a fireman’s favorite thing to do, but what the aspiring firefighter needs to understand is that this is the way the modern fire service is moving. The more integrated fire and EMS services become the more crucial it is for you to be able to integrate your skills as well.

With the exception of most major cities, I don’t know of many departments that have exclusive fire services that are separate from their EMS services. And the departments that do have separate services usually require their firefighters to at least obtain an EMT-Basic certification.

The other positive to obtaining some kind of EMS certification is it gives the aspiring firefighter the opportunity to work in a field that is closely related. This gives them valuable real life experience in working on an emergency scene.

An experienced resume stands out far more than one with several degrees and certifications.

In regards to timing (obviously dependent on each school, the state you live in and their requirements), obtaining your EMT-Basic should take around 6 months, and your paramedic should take no more than about a year to year and a half. This comes to about 2 years total of schooling where you can walk away and have actual job related skills that give you the valuable experience you need to stand out to the interview panel.

It’s also important to mention that while some departments require the candidate to be a paramedic in order to be employed, a lot of departments will give bonus points or other incentives such as higher pay to candidates that possess an EMT-Paramedic card.

My advice to every candidate would be to ask yourself what’s your goal?

If your goal is to become a more educated firefighter than maybe a Fire Science Degree would be the best fit for you. Conversely, if your goal is to get hired as a career firefighter I think the best place to start is to get an EMS certification at some level.

There is always time to further your education once you are hired and established at a department. In fact, there are a lot of benefits for both you and your department to do so.

But for the aspiring firefighter just starting out it is important to think practically and focus on the goal. Do what is necessary to fulfill the job requirements and get hired as soon as possible. Do the work, get the experience you need and get hired.

Other resources you may find useful:

ALS vs BLS: What’s the difference?

Find EMT Training Near You

5 Great Watches for EMT’s and Firefighters