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10 Best Degrees for Fire­fight­ers What to study for a career in fire­fight­ing

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Being a firefighter is a rewarding career. Although it can be dangerous, there are many innovations today that help keep firefighters safer. There are some degree programs that teach students about these innovations, including fire safety technology, fire safety for buildings and other courses. By choosing a focused degree path, students can learn these and other important subjects. They can also learn business and strategic aspects of fire services to prepare them for administrative roles.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighters earned an average annual salary of $50,850 in 2019. Some administrative and supervisory roles come with higher salaries. There were more than 333,000 firefighter jobs in the United States in 2019. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS projects that the field will experience a growth rate of about 9%, which is quicker than the average industry. This makes firefighting a lucrative career for people of all ages.

There are some physical requirements to become a firefighter. To pass health exams, students should not smoke, should maintain a healthy weight and should be able to work out intensely with good endurance. It is important to have a high school diploma or GED. Every state has its own requirements for firefighter certification. Students who pass the tests and meet the other requirements can become certified. However, there are educational requirements beyond high school. A college degree is important. Although an associate’s degree is beneficial, it is better to pursue a bachelor’s degree for an administrative or a supervisory role. These are the top 10 degree choices for aspiring firefighters.

1. Fire Science

The most useful degree for a firefighter comes from a fire science program. There are associate’s and bachelor’s degree paths for fire science. The associate’s degree is a better choice for someone who has a limited amount of time to commit to studying and finishing a degree on a full-time basis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighters must attain EMT certification. To become an EMT, a person must complete a post-secondary program, and paramedics must complete a degree program to become certified. The minimum goal for any aspiring firefighter should be an associate’s degree in fire science. The associate’s degree program is 60 credits. These are a few of the subjects covered in a program:

  • Protection and suppression systems
  • Fire behavior and combustion
  • Firefighting strategies and tactical procedures
  • Hydraulic and water principles
  • Fire safety basics

As it is in most fields, there may be broader opportunities and more chances for advancement with a bachelor’s degree. With a higher degree in fire science, it is also possible to pick a certain area of focus. Some examples include fire prevention, fire services leadership and fire suppression. In addition to the subjects listed for the associate’s degree path, these are some topics that classes cover:

  • Fire codes and laws
  • Chemistry of fire science
  • Physics of fires
  • Disaster planning
  • Fire control and investigation

2. Emergency Medical Services

This is another valuable degree path. There are associate’s and bachelor’s degree options with EMS as well. However, more schools offer the bachelor’s program than the associate’s. There are more opportunities for advancement with a bachelor’s degree, and the amount of information that students learn is greater. With the associate’s degree path, students learn the basics of paramedic duties and take some core classes. These are some of the program-related EMS degree course topics:

  • Emergency medical care concepts
  • Emergency medical care labs
  • EMT field internship
  • Paramedic theory
  • Paramedic labs and clinicals

With the bachelor’s degree program, students learn applied skills. For those who may want to pursue a master’s degree in the future, some schools offer a bachelor’s-to-masters program. In addition to the class topics included in the associate’s program, these are some topics that bachelor’s programs cover:

  • Direct patient care
  • EMS current advancements
  • Decision and critical thinking skills
  • Tools and techniques of EMS

3. Fire Technology

This is an associate’s degree program, and it is similar to the fire science program. Students may take most of the same classes. However, most schools offer it as an applied science degree instead of a basic science degree. It is designed to help students understand the causes of fires, how to respond to them, how firefighting teams work and much more. Like other associate’s degrees, the program is about 60 credits. These are a few of the topics that fire technology classes cover:

  • Fire safety
  • Fire behavior and combustion
  • Fire protection systems
  • Building principles for fire safety
  • Fire apparatus and equipment
  • Firefighting strategy and tactics
  • Crisis intervention

Students often pursue this degree before seeking a bachelor’s degree in fire science. This applied science associate’s degree provides an in-depth education on the technological aspects of firefighting.

4. Fire Administration

Some colleges offer fire administration programs for bachelor’s degrees. As such, they usually include about 120 credits. This is a good degree choice for those who hold an associate’s degree in fire science. While the two-year degree in fire science provides a good foundation for the broader aspects of the field, a bachelor’s degree in fire administration is better for someone who wants to focus on administrative work instead of just physical work. In comparison, fire technology, fire science and EMS degrees are better for people who want to be involved directly in firefighting. Some schools offer 100% online fire technology degree programs. These are some of the topics that fire technology classes cover:

  • Emergency planning management
  • Incident command system
  • Human resource management in fire service
  • Fire service organizational leadership
  • Strategic planning in fire service management

5. Firefighter/Paramedic

Although only a few colleges offer dedicated degrees for firefighters and paramedics, they include the most important courses for students to succeed as emergency responders. Because the degree is so specific, it is offered as an applied science associate’s degree. It is about 60 credits. This educational path is designed to give students an opportunity to find a job at the entry level. It is ideal for people who want to be first responders for fire calls. It is not an ideal choice for someone who wants to quickly advance to an administrative role or a managerial role. However, it may be a stepping stone toward those goals for someone who wants to start as an emergency responder and move to an administrative role in the future after obtaining more education. These are some examples of classes in this associate’s degree program for firefighters and paramedics:

  • Fundamentals of EMS
  • Paramedic procedures and labs
  • Paramedic clinicals
  • EMT clinical externship

Some of the classes include information about fire response, fire safety and other topics. These classes prepare students to take the necessary tests to become certified paramedics or firefighters.

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6. Emergency Management and Homeland Security

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends this degree type for people who want to be firefighters or other emergency responders. There are both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs, and some are offered partially or completely online. Although homeland security is a focus in some degrees, others are more about emergency management and related topics. An associate’s degree may satisfy the basic requirements to become a firefighter. However, a bachelor’s degree is better for someone who wants to move to a higher position of emergency management and planning. As it is with most degrees, the associate’s programs are about 60 credits, and the bachelor’s programs are about 120 credits. These are some of the class topics included in an associate’s degree program:

  • Emergency management law and planning
  • Terrorism and emergency management
  • Crisis intervention
  • Disaster response
  • Fire prevention and public education
  • Mitigation and preparedness

In a bachelor’s degree program, these are some topics that are included beyond those in the associate’s program:

  • Crisis leadership
  • Chemistry of hazardous materials
  • Business continuity
  • Fire service supervision
  • Local government finance
  • Fire protection law

FEMA provides lists of links to online and on-campus degree programs for associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in emergency management services and homeland security.

7. Emergency Medical Technology

This associate’s degree program is ideal for students who want to complete the basic educational requirements to become a firefighter. It is also ideal for students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in emergency medical services in the future for advancement. The associate’s program teaches students how to provide life-sustaining treatment to trauma victims and people who experience medical emergencies. These are both useful for firefighters who may encounter injured people. The program is about 60 credits at the schools that offer it.

Students must take several electives and meet the program’s prerequisite terms. These are some of the class subjects that students can expect to learn in an associate’s degree in emergency medical technology:

  • Medical trauma and emergencies
  • Health and wellness
  • EMS operations
  • Paramedic foundations and clinicals
  • Special populations
  • Paramedic internship

In most cases, programs of this nature that lead to an accredited associate’s degree also satisfy the basic educational requirements for those who want to become certified firefighters or paramedics.

8. Emergency and Disaster Management

Similar to the previous degree path, this one focuses more on disaster planning and preparedness. It is only available from a few colleges. Some offer completely online degrees. It is a bachelor’s program, which means that it requires about 120 credits for graduation. Some schools offer special programs, such as discounted rates with military grants for qualifying students. Since it teaches planning and administrative skills, it is a good choice for a person who wants to start as a firefighter and focus more on management or strategic disaster planning in the future. These are some examples of class topics in this bachelor’s program:

  • Hazard mitigation and preparedness
  • Managerial concerns with hazardous substances
  • Psychology of disaster
  • Natural disaster management
  • Emergency planning
  • Consequence management

Although the program lacks the fire safety, theory and science classes that some of the top items on this list include, it provides a good foundation for the other aspects of firefighting and administration. Students who choose this degree path should consider taking additional classes about fire theory, fire behavior or fire science if they plan to work directly with fires on a long-term basis.

9. Leadership and Management

Many people who want to become firefighters enter the field to experience being a first responder before moving on to a management role. For those who want to take such steps, a degree in leadership and management can be a valuable choice. With this degree path, students learn the most important concepts of business management, organizational leadership and strategic planning. Also, leadership and management degree programs allow students to choose some electives, and some colleges may offer electives that are helpful for other aspects of fire service management. If not, it is important to supplement this knowledge by taking some fire service and safety courses separately.

Most colleges offer leadership and management degrees as bachelor’s programs. Because it can be hard to find a leadership or management position in the competitive field of fire services without a bachelor’s degree, it is better to enroll in a four-year program. Plan on taking about 120 credits to finish a leadership and management degree. Ambitious students may choose to pursue a master’s in business administration later. These are some helpful classes in the bachelor’s degree path:

  • Organizational culture and performance
  • Principles of management
  • Business law
  • Organizational change
  • Business finance
  • Organizational leadership

10. Psychology

A degree in psychology can be useful since it teaches students how to relate to people. They also learn how to work better with all age groups, which can be beneficial in emergency situations. For example, a person with mental limitations who is stuck in a burning building and is panicking will likely not think clearly. Having the skills and knowledge to understand and reason with people can be highly valuable in intense situations.

While the classes in a psychology program do not directly relate to emergency management or fire science, they are especially useful for aspiring firefighters who want to move into management roles someday. It helps to take additional classes about fire safety. Firefighters who move to management or administrative roles can use their psychology skills for human resources tasks, public relations and much more. Students may choose an associate’s degree path in psychology, which is about 60 credits. A bachelor’s degree is about 120 credits. Some may later pursue a master’s degree. These are some examples of related class topics that an associate’s degree in psychology covers:

  • Psychological disorders
  • Personality types and theories
  • Social influence
  • Developmental psychology
  • Group interaction
  • Child psychology

A bachelor’s degree program includes more in-depth information about various disciplines. Some programs also allow students to choose a focus or specialty area. When it comes to bachelor’s degrees, students must choose between an arts or a sciences concentration. The main difference is that sciences in this field focus on the physical sciences of psychology, and the arts in psychology focus more on social aspects. These are some examples of class topics in a bachelor’s degree program in psychology:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Drugs and behavior
  • Social psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Human behavior

Finding the Right Degree Program To Become a Firefighter

There are other degrees that people can use to become firefighters. While they may not be ideal choices to seek with the intent to become a firefighter, those who already hold them may be able to use their degrees without taking too many additional classes. For example, someone with a physical fitness and health degree may already possess some useful physical skills. People with medical degrees, such as nursing, medical assisting and others, may also possess some useful skills. Human resources, human services and related fields also provide people with valuable knowledge that can be useful to firefighters. To promote safety and boost understanding, it is still helpful to take additional classes about fire science and emergency planning. Those who want to become firefighters in the future and have not yet chosen a degree can benefit the most from one of the top five options on this list.

Recommended Online Degree Programs

Explore our featured online programs to find the right match for you today.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?