Firefighter Degrees and Higher Education
More than 300,000 professional firefighters work throughout the United States. The Labor Department reports that more than 90 percent of all professional firefighters work for the local government. From forests to city skyscrapers, firefighters fight active fires or make emergency medical calls as a result of accidental injury or disasters. Firefighters work first and foremost to save lives before helping to save millions of dollars a year in protecting property damage.
Some firefighters begin their climb up the proverbial ladder by volunteering with local firehouses, often paired with a high school diploma or GED. Those who want to advance up the ranks faster can pursue a degree that will prepare them for a career at the state or federal level. Understanding different types of firefighting careers and the responsibilities each entails is the first step to choosing the path that’s right for you.
How to Become a Firefighter
All professional firefighters must undergo advanced training, either in a technical school, university, or firefighting academy. Each state and fire agency sets its own hiring qualifications, but one of the best places to learn about firefighter education requirements is by volunteering at the local firehouse.
Becoming a professional firefighter is highly competitive, but there are ways to stand out from the rest of the applicants. Some fire departments will offer openings for people to engage in a wide range of volunteer services. You may be asked to help out around the fire station or participate at a recruitment table at a local job fair. Volunteering can provide you with much needed hands-on experience, as well as a networking opportunity. Some agencies actually require candidates to volunteer or even enroll in accredited apprenticeship programs that combine work with firefighter training.
The firefighter exam is tough – really tough. Not only do prospects have to complete a written component, but have to demonstrate they can operate within the physical demands of the job, too. Many firefighters work for long hours under stressful and potentially hazardous conditions. As a standard, there is a requirement to be typically more physically fit than what is required in most other professions. Make sure you’re in shape before taking the qualification examinations.
There are many different requirements and prerequisites that need to be completed before becoming a firefighter. First, you have your written examination, interview, background check, and drug screening. Then there is a strenuous physical performance test, which involves a variety of difficult tasks, such as carrying heavy equipment while climbing long flights of stairs, operating heavy vehicles, and emergency preparedness training.
The written exam covers basics such as problem solving, communication, memory, and reasoning. There is also a psychological exam which covers personality traits specific to firefighter performance. The interview typically covers career goals, how you see yourself with a career in firefighting and why you’re choosing that specific agency or department.
Best Degrees for Firefighters
While a degree in fire science is the traditional route for a firefighter, there are plenty of variations in courses for firefighters. Here are some of the best degrees for firefighters pursuing higher education.
Emergency Medical Technician Certificate
In many areas, having an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification is a requirement for firefighters, who are often called out for emergency medical situations. EMT certification requirements vary by state. National University offers an Emergency Medical Technician Certificate that provides entry-level basic knowledge, essential skills, and an understanding of emergency medical assistance in outpatient and emergency settings.
Successful completion of the EMT Certificate program will allow you to apply for your state Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) card and perform entry-level EMT skills as a member of technical rescue teams or as part of an allied service such as a fire or police department.
Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Any situation that involves the attention of firefighters can typically be considered an emergency situation. At a high level, a degree in emergency management provides a solid foundation in the best practices to cope with a pending emergency, as well as managing operations during and after an emergency situation. National University offers an undergraduate program that can prepare you for a variety of emergency preparedness settings, including threat assessment, disaster management, and crisis response management. Pursuing higher education as a firefighter can help you ascend to higher ranks within the department, such as lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and fire chief.
This program offers ideal courses for firefighters, such as Crisis Management, Disaster Management, Emergency/Disaster Response, and Infrastructure Protection.
Master of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
For those who want to climb the ladder much higher, a master’s degree in emergency management could be the path for you. National University offers a master’s program that helps integrate tools, resources, and organizational systems for the successful implementation of emergency management issues. Naturally occurring events, such as the Southern California wildfires, are additional evidence of the ongoing need for more specialized knowledge in the area of emergency management. Someone with this master’s degree is able to help businesses, governments, and private industry prepare for, respond to, and recover from potentially debilitating natural and man-made catastrophes.
One potential career opportunity stemming from this program is an Emergency Management Specialist working for the Department of Agriculture. The salary range for this position is $74,596 to $115,313. In this role, you would manage emergencies such as wildland fire incidents, natural hazard incidents, and hazardous material incidents. You would also create and implement wildfire incidents plans and policies.
Fire Science Degree
While there is no specific ”firefighter degree”, many successful firefighters have found success pursuing a degree in fire science. Learning about the science behind the start and spread of fires can help you advance into alternative roles in the field, including fire inspectors, fire investigators, and fire marshalls. Somebody who is trained in fire science can also assist in forensic science, determining the source of fire-related crimes like arson.
Find the Perfect Courses for Firefighters with National University
Whether you’re just starting out as a volunteer firefighter or already on the front lines, you can earn a degree or certificate to advance your career. Sound the alarm, because National University’s College of Professional Studies offers a quality education with flexible options for firefighters. National University’s curriculum allows working professionals to enroll in four-week courses, offering a convenient, flexible schedule.
No matter which program you choose, the flexible, four-week class schedules let you earn your degree while working and/or volunteering at the firehouse. Contact an academic advisor to learn more about which program to pursue to help earn advanced certifications or college degrees that can boost your rank, earnings, and responsibilities as a firefighter.