Fire Science Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Are you considering pursuing a fire science career? Get real job descriptions and training requirements to see if a fire science career is right for you.
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Careers in Fire Science

The field of fire science includes professionals who work with fire in various capacities, such as prevention, rescue and regulation. Some of the best known fire science careers are firefighter, fire investigator and fire inspector, and you can compare these occupations using the following chart:

Firefighter Fire Investigator Fire Inspector
Career Overview Firefighters put out fires and respond to other emergencies. Fire investigators process evidence to determine a fire's origin. Fire inspectors enforce compliance with fire codes.
Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Additional Training Fire academy training; on-the-job training Fire/police academy training; on-the-job training Classroom training; on-the-job training
Certification and/or Licensing Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification usually required Employers may require Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) or Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) credentials; private investigator license required in some states Optional certification available through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC)
Experience Required None; entry level Experience in a related position; may need several years with the organization to acquire position Need experience in a related occupation; may need to work several years for the organization or have already obtained a higher rank
Job Outlook for 2014-2024Fast-as-average (5%)*Fast-as-average (5%)*Fast-as-average (6%)*
Mean Average Salary (2014)$48,750*$58,980*$58,980*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Firefighter

Firefighters extinguish fires, rescue victims and respond to different types of emergencies, such as accidents and natural disasters. They maintain and operate equipment, drive emergency vehicles and render first aid to victims. Their duties can include climbing ladders, using equipment to break through walls and digging trenches or clearing shrubbery to suppress a fire. Many firefighters have paid positions working for governments, some work at airports or industrial facilities, and some work as unpaid volunteers.

Requirements

According to the BLS, you must have a high school diploma or its equivalent to be considered for a firefighter position, but many people earn some amount of college education in fire science or a related field. Certificate programs in fire science teach students about safety, hazardous materials, first aid and methods for fighting fire. When applying for jobs, expect to take medical and substance abuse tests.

You may also need to take written and physical exams and be a certified emergency medical technician (EMT). Earning EMT-Basic or paramedic certification involves classroom and practical training in first aid, medical condition assessment and emergency management. Paramedic training is more extensive and may result in an associate's degree. A national exam and any other state requirements are necessary after completing the training.

As an entry-level firefighter, you often must enter a fire academy after being hired. Here is where you receive training, which can last up to several weeks. This training takes place in classrooms where you learn the techniques, tools and equipment needed to suppress and prevent fires and provide victims with medical assistance. Field experience is also included during this training so you can apply learning concepts to life-like situations. Depending on the fire department, you may receive supervised on-the-job training in an apprenticeship program. According to the BLS, some states have voluntary or required preparation and certification programs. Minnesota was the first state to implement licensing for firefighters.

Here are some examples of what employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A South Carolina town was seeking a firefighter with a high school diploma, current driver's license, 1-3 years of experience, first responder certification and firefighter certification. Job duties included putting out fires, responding to emergency calls and attending public relations events.
  • A county in Florida wanted to hire a firefighter with a high school diploma or GED, EMT certification and state firefighter's certificate to extinguish fires, maintain equipment, operate emergency vehicles and render medical assistance.
  • A Kentucky fire department sought a firefighter/EMT or firefighter/paramedic with at least a high school diploma or GED, firefighter certification and physical ability certification.

Standing Out

According to the BLS, you can expect keen competition for positions. You can better your chances of employment by staying in shape, obtaining some amount of college-level training and earning paramedic certification.

Obtaining a degree in the fire science field may give you an edge that can help you advance your career. There are several upper-level positions that a firefighter can progress to, including lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, deputy chief and fire chief. The BLS reported that positions beyond the battalion chief level typically require a bachelor's degree in fire science, public administration or a related field. A typical fire science degree program offers courses in fire protection and prevention, hazardous materials, building construction for fire prevention and fire behavior. Earning a degree at the bachelor's or associate's level may also qualify you for the Executive Fire Officer certificate program offered by the National Fire Academy.

Fire Investigator

Fire investigators visit scenes where fires have occurred to gather and examine evidence that can help them determine what caused the fire. They conduct scene reconstructions, take photographs, interview witnesses and write reports to be used in legal proceedings. Many fire investigators work for law enforcement agencies and fire departments, while others work for insurance companies and forensic consulting firms.

Requirements

You must have at least a high school diploma or GED to become a fire investigator; although, the BLS stated that employers may prefer candidates with associate's or bachelor's degrees in fire science or another relevant field. A fire investigator position isn't typically categorized as entry-level, so you most likely need to gain experience working in a different position in the field. You may need to put in several years with an organization and work your way up the ranks before you'll be considered for a fire investigating job.

Once obtaining a fire investigator position, you may participate in classroom and practical training at a police or fire academy. You may learn about inspection techniques, equipment operations, toxic material management and fire codes. The training is typically followed by a period of on-the-job training in partnership with an experienced fire investigator. After training ends, you may complete exams to become state certified. Continuing education may be necessary to maintain your certified status. If you work for a private company, you may need to be a licensed private investigator, depending on your state. Requirements for this license vary greatly from state to state.

Employers were seeking some of the following requirements in November 2012:

  • A forensic consulting firm in New Mexico sought a certified fire investigator with either an associate's degree or at least 10 years of experience to conduct arson investigations and inspect buildings to ensure code compliance.
  • An insurance company based in Los Angeles was looking for a senior fire special investigator to determine the cause of fires and explosions. Duties included interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, preparing reports and providing testimony. A bachelor's degree or relevant training with a minimum of 5 years of experience in the fire science field was required along with CFEI or CFI credentials.
  • An engineering company in Indiana was looking for a fire investigator with at least 2 years of experience to determine the origin of fires, document findings and testify in court. Candidates were capable of lifting heavy objects, climbing ladders and accessing small spaces. A CFI credential, private investigator license and valid driver's license were required.

Standing Out

Many employers prefer to hire candidates with the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) credential from the International Association of Arson Investigators or the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) credential offered by the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). To become a CFI, you must meet education and professional requirements as well as pass an exam. The CFEI designation is awarded after becoming a member of NAFI and passing an exam.

Additionally, the BLS stated that individuals with fire suppression expertise may increase their hiring potential. You can check with your state to see if it offers certification in fire suppression. Training in criminal investigations can also prove beneficial. Some colleges and universities offer continuing education courses in criminal investigations.

Fire Inspector

Fire inspectors look over buildings to detect fire hazards and make sure the buildings comply with fire codes and other regulations. They test equipment, such as fire extinguishers, fuel storage tanks, fire alarms and fire sprinklers, and make recommendations when they see a problem. Their duties include collecting permit fees, documenting their findings and reviewing plans for new construction. Fire inspectors work for governments, fire departments and private companies.

Requirements

You typically must pass a drug test and a criminal background investigation as a requirement for employment as a fire inspector. Most employers also require several years of relevant work experience and/or an associate's or bachelor's degree in a fire science-related subject. You can expect to attend a fire or police academy at the start of your employment, and then you'll receive on-the-job training. A state certifying exam covering the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) philosophies may conclude training.

Here are a few requirements from job openings that were posted in November 2012:

  • A Michigan company was looking for a fire alarm inspector with an associate's degree or relevant experience to test the safety of fire detection systems and maintain test documentation. Other duties included responding to calls, troubleshooting and performing minor repairs. This job required 80% travel.
  • A New York fire sprinkler company was seeking fire sprinkler inspectors with at least 1 year of experience to inspect sprinkler systems and document faults. Travel to various sites in the New York City area was required.
  • A Florida city sought a fire inspector with a high school diploma or equivalent and at least 1 year of relevant experience to inspect buildings and new construction in order to ensure compliance with fire safety codes and regulations. Tasks included issuing code violations, record-keeping and searching property records. A Florida municipal fire safety inspector's certification and a current Florida driver's license were required.

Standing Out

You can make yourself more attractive to employers by joining professional organizations like the NFPA, which also offers certifications for fire inspectors. The NFPA offers the Certified Fire Inspector and Certified Fire Protection Specialist credentials to individuals who meet education and experience requirements and/or pass an exam. In addition to certification, membership in a professional organization provides you with networking and educational opportunities.

Popular Schools

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  • Richmond, KY

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Bachelor: Fire and Emergency Management
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South College

  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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Saint Leo University

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  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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Post University

  • A.S. in Criminal Justice

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Central Christian College of Kansas

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Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

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