Some communities have struggled to find enough firefighters to contain the spread of conflagrations, and the demand pushed up the wages of those able to respond. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fire departments continue to add jobs at a healthy rate, about as many as the average profession, and this is projected to continue through 2026.
Many people assume graduates of fire science programs all become firefighters; however, the degree provides a pathway to a variety of different careers, including emergency management, first response dispatchers, and fire service detectives.
Like so many other occupations, firefighting grew increasingly professional in recent decades. For years, firefighters simply had to graduate from their local fire academy to take positions in departments. Today, many communities give priority to new hires with fire science degrees, and aspiring firefighters often earn an associate degree before enrolling in the academy. A fire science associate degree gives you a great entry into this exciting profession.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Fire Science?
Fire science associate degree programs have increased in the past decade, both online and on campus. The next generation of firefighters can pick from a wide variety of programs. Associate programs give students a thorough understanding of fire service, including the behavior of fire, the apparatus used to combat blazes, how conflagrations start, what arson looks like, and how fire affects the community.
Degree candidates learn about more than fire in fire science associate degree programs. Many schools emphasize leadership skills, including problem solving and written and verbal communication. These programs provide great networking opportunities. You’ll also meet instructors who spent years fighting fires who offer valuable insight into the profession.
Fire science degree programs also often offer great placement services as you near graduation. They can set you up with internships, which allow you to stick your boot in the door of a firehouse or emergency management office and gain valuable experience. Maintaining relationships with fire academies can open doors for you there or provide recommendations for bachelor’s programs should you want to continue your education.
An associate in fire science makes an ideal first step, whether you want to go straight into the academy, get hired by a local firehouse, or go on to earn a higher degree and perhaps land an administrative position.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Fire Science?
Many people assume graduates of fire science programs all become firefighters; however, the degree provides a pathway to a variety of different careers, including emergency management, first response dispatchers, and fire service detectives. Below, are detailed descriptions of positions available to students with an associate in fire science.
Firefighters protect communities from out of control blazes. They educate the public about fire safety, maintain firefighting equipment, and often respond to other types of emergencies, like car accidents and rescues. These days, many cities and counties require associate degrees in fire science to get hired or advance in the fire service.
Median Annual Salary: $49,080
- Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatcher
Dispatchers answer 911 calls, often at the county level. They assess the situation, help callers, and arrange the emergency response team. They must keep their cool under pressure and assist people in moments of trauma.
Median Annual Salary: $39,640
- Fire Inspector
The fire service equivalent of a police detective, fire inspectors visit fire scenes to look for clues as to how a fire started. They often investigate arson and compile evidence to make cases.
Median Annual Salary: $56,670
- Emergency Management Director
Large communities and government agencies hire emergency management directors to plan for and coordinate the response to disasters, both natural and man made. Associate degrees represent the bare minimum of education for these administrative positions and provide a great start towards an emergency management career. This position often requires a bachelor’s degree and years of experience.
Median Annual Salary: $72,760
How to Choose an Associate Program in Fire Science
Selecting from among the many fire science associate degree programs means considering a number of different factors. Cost represents perhaps the most important decision for many students.
Online education may decrease college expenses, eliminating the costs associated with gas, travel, room and board, and parking. With many online fire science associate degree programs, you can even continue to work while you attend school part time. Attending college full time requires a shorter time commitment, but it also demands complete attention to the degree program. Some aspiring firefighters prefer to enroll in an on campus program because of the hands-on nature of fire science.
Other important things to contemplate include curriculum and specialization. Most programs follow similar tracks for the core curriculum, but concentrations in fire investigation or emergency management may also be offered. Make sure the schools that interest you provide the focus area best suited for your career goals. Internship placement programs or connections to fire academies should also be considered.
You will also want to make certain that the school you attend carries accreditation by a reputable agency. Six regional agencies accredit most of the nation’s best colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Education makes it easy to check with a database of accredited schools. The U.S. Fire Administration also recognizes some colleges as official Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education institutions.
Associate in Fire Science Program Admissions
Students must apply in person or online to gain acceptance into their prospective school.
While online schools have gained popularity and respect in the past decade, they present a slightly more complex application process than their campus-based counterparts. Most colleges will walk you through the steps needed to apply on their website, including the admission materials needed. Below are a few of the common admission materials.
- Application: Most students can apply to their colleges online, but they also have the option to turn in an application in person.
- Transcripts: An official transcript from your high school and any colleges you attended is required. You can usually get a copy from your alma mater; some charge for this service, while others provide it for free.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary by college, and most land in the $45-$90 range.
Educational Paths for Fire Science Associate Programs
Because everyone in the fire service tends to need comparable levels of training, the difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s is not quite as stark as in other occupations. But a bachelor’s presents a surefire way to distinguish yourself from other firefighters and move up the fire service career ladder. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning a bachelor’s can bring a pay raise of almost 30% over an associate degree.
- Fire Science
An associate in fire science provides the ideal introduction toward earning a bachelor’s in the same field. Students with their associate degree build on the introductory coursework they completed, taking more advanced classes in fire mitigation, planning, incident command, human resource management, and community relations.
- Homeland Security
Fire science and homeland security have a symbiotic relationship, and many fire graduates move on to pursue degrees in homeland security. The combination prepares students for careers as fire experts with the Department of Homeland Security or FEMA.
- Emergency Management
Many students with an associate in fire science enter the field of emergency management, readying themselves for careers in governmental emergency services, like FEMA or wildland firefighting. A bachelor’s program expands on firefighting expertise with coursework in incident command, public administration, government, and disaster awareness and relief.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Fire Science?
Fire science associate degree programs differ from school to school. Some focus on academics while others take a more hands-on approach. Make sure you do your research to find the one best suited to your needs.
Courses in an Associate Program in Fire Science
Just as programs vary from college to college, so do the required courses in each program. Some might require more general education classes than others, for example. While fire science coursework might differ depending on the school, most programs will feature a similar set of classes like those below.
- Principles of Fire and Emergency Services
This introductory course essentially serves as Firefighting 101. Students explore the history of the fire service, the elements of fire, fire loss analysis, legal aspects of firefighting, firefighting methods, and firefighting vernacular.
- Fire Behavior and Combustion
What ingredients form the basis for fire? That’s the subject of this course. Future firefighters gain an understanding of fire chemistry, elements of fire, how fire behaves at various stages of its development, and the implications of that behavior on firefighting and the safety of firefighters.
- Fire Investigation and Analysis
This course examines the causes of fires. Ideal for future fire investigators, the class looks at fire analysis organizations, the various properties of fuels, fire scene clues, explosives and combustion, lab services, and the role of fire investigators.
- Firefighting Tactics and Strategy
The methods of firefighting form the core of this class. Students learn the weapons firefighters use, which includes hoses and hand tools. They study the different types of blazes firefighters respond to and the best ways to knock down fires.
- Building Construction and Firefighting
Fires respond differently in various types of structures, and firefighters must respond differently to each type. Students examine blueprints, learn building codes, and consider commercial and residential construction as it relates to firefighting and firefighter safety.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Fire Science?
Most fire science associate degree programs take two years to complete. This major follows a similar trajectory to most others, in that it generally requires 60 credits. Several factors can change the amount of time spent in classrooms. These include where you enroll, how many classes you take per session, whether you continue to work, and whether you study full time or part time.
Online fire science degrees can offer time saving advantages. Some allow you to proceed at your own pace and take more classes than you could in on-campus programs. Many schools design their online curriculum for working professionals and make it easier to earn credits while you work. If you can commit to full-time study, you can move faster than you could studying part time. You should also look into whether programs include a practicum or internship, which can extend the length of the program.
How Much Is an Associate in Fire Science?
College rates vary widely these days. An associate degree in fire science might cost you $30,000 a year at a private school or just $15,000 at a local technical college. According to the College Board’s 2017 study of trends in college pricing, most public two-year schools cost somewhere between $3,500-$6,000 per year. Prices change dramatically between the states, with California being the cheapest at $1,430 per year and Vermont the most expensive at $7,980, but most annual tuition falls in between $3,000 and $6,000.
Prices also vary depending upon whether you choose to study online or on campus. Significant savings often come from enrolling through the internet. Web-based schools frequently allow nonresidents to pay resident rates and offer cost savings from travel, room and board, gas, and parking expenses. Most design their online programming for working adults, which means you can continue to earn while you learn, making it even more affordable.
Professional Organizations in Fire Science
Professional organizations offer benefits to new professionals in the fire science field. First and foremost, these associations provide many networking opportunities. Most hold meetings and conferences and host continuing education programs, and many even provide mentoring, linking new graduates with veterans. These relationships can prove invaluable in finding new work or simply keeping up to speed with all the goings on in the profession.
A global organization based in Montana, IAWF promotes communication and leadership in world firefighting. IAWF hosts a mentoring program, provides scholarships and awards, publishes journals, and sponsors conferences and webinars.
The members-only association works toward the advancement of fire science and the use of fire in land management. AFE sponsors research, conferences, education, and wildland fire professional certification.
Founded in 1896, NFPA promotes fire safety through information and education. The membership organization hosts a training series, professional educational opportunities, expos, and webinars.