Fire Science Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or a bachelor's degree in fire science? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and fire science training programs.
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Study Fire Science: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in pursuing a career in firefighting or investigation, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in fire science can be a good place to start. A degree in fire science is not always required to begin a career in the field, though it may improve your job prospects. To begin a career as a firefighter, you'll need to complete a firefighting academy, take a written test and pass a series of physical tests separate from your schooling.

It is important to note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted slower-than-average growth for firefighters and fire investigators from 2010-2020, with a projected employment increase of 9% during that period of time. In 2011, the BLS reported that firefighters earned a mean salary of about $48,000 and fire inspectors earned an average yearly income of approximately $57,000.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as firefighters or fire investigators People who want to work in fire management and administration positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Firefighter ($48,000)*
- Fire investigator ($57,000)*
- Fire chief (majority earned between approximately $47,000 and 106,000)**
- Fire prevention engineer ($52,000)***
Bachelor's degree holders are generally qualified for the same careers as those who have an associate's degree
- Fire Chief (majority earned between $53,000 and $112,000)**
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credit hours in fire science and general studies coursework - Roughly 120 credit hours in fire science and general studies coursework
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** salary figures (as of June 2012), (June 2012 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Fire Science

Associate's programs in fire science may be either exclusively coursework-based or combine classroom education with some in-field experience. Upon completing an associate's degree program in fire science, you'll have the knowledge and experience you need to pursue several fire-related careers such as firefighting or fire inspecting.

Additional training and certifications, such as the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification, the Paramedic designation or the firefighting certification may be necessary after earning this degree in order to find employment. Most associate's programs can prepare you for the additional certifications you might pursue after graduating, and some may even give you course credit for earning those designations.

Pros and Cons


  • An associate's degree in fire science could give you a competitive edge over applicants with only a high school diploma
  • An associate's degree may qualify you for several lower-level promotions within a firehouse
  • You can easily continue on to a bachelor's degree program after you complete an associate's degree program


  • You'd still be applying for the same jobs you could qualify for with only a high school diploma
  • An associate's degree is not a replacement for the certifications and training requirements needed to become a firefighter, adding even more time before you could begin working
  • Few elective options means you may not be able to focus your courses in an area of interest

Courses and Requirements

The courses you will take in an associate's level fire science program are designed to prepare you with a strong foundation in the basics of fire servicing, safety and prevention. You'll learn how to inspect and investigate fire causes, deal with hazardous materials and safely extinguish flames from a building. Some of the courses you might be able take include:

  • Fire prevention
  • Fire protection systems
  • Behavior of fires
  • Hydraulics and water supply
  • Safety and health for fire servicers
  • Building construction for fire safety workers

Online Availability

Associate's programs in fire science are available on campus, online or in hybrid formats that combine campus and distance learning. Some hybrid programs require as little as one day a week to be spent on campus or working in the field. An online program will offer similar coursework to an on-campus program, but it may lack the hands-on experience a campus program provides. However, many online programs are designed for professionals who have irregular hours, so you can still pursue a degree even if you're already a fire service professional.

Stand Out With This Degree

In addition to associate's degree programs, some community colleges have fire academies that can give you hands-on learning opportunities. Typically a semester in length, the certificate programs offered at these academies are usually equivalent to those offered by fire departments and are often taught by working fire servicers. The academy generally provides you with all of the physical training and experience you need to become a Level 1 Firefighter in the state where the program is located. If you complete an academy certificate program while you earn an associate's degree in fire science, you could have an advantage over other applicants.

Gaining experience as a volunteer firefighter can make you a much more attractive candidate to fire departments. You must complete a 110-hour training program accredited by the National Fire Protection Association before you can become a volunteer. You may also be able to volunteer while you work towards obtaining your associate's degree, so you don't have to wait until you graduate to get an edge in the fire service field.

Bachelor's Degrees in Fire Science

Bachelor's degree programs in fire science are typically targeted toward people who want to work in management and administration capacities within fire services. A bachelor's degree program will provide you with advanced knowledge in fire safety, fire behavior and fire prevention, in addition to teaching you concepts about leading a team. You may have some flexibility in what electives you take, depending on your school's selection of courses. Some schools also give you opportunities to earn certifications if you complete specific courses during your studies.

The BLS noted that although a bachelor's degree is rarely required to becoming a firefighter or a fire inspector, an increasing number of employers are looking for candidates who have completed a 4-year undergraduate program. Completion of a bachelor's program could also be a stepping-stone to a master's program, especially if you're looking to use your skills in industrial safety or other fields.

Pros and Cons


  • Could qualify you for promotions within a firehouse or management positions within the fire investigation field
  • May help you stand out from the hundreds of other applicants competing for a firefighting position
  • Variety of elective course options can allow you to gain knowledge in your areas of interest


  • Does not guarantee you instant access to management or administration positions
  • You still may only qualify for the same jobs that you'd qualify for with an associate's degree
  • Takes at least 4 years to finish a bachelor's program

Courses and Requirements

The coursework offered by most fire science bachelor's programs is designed to teach you a combination of advanced fire behavior and safety concepts with basic fire service management techniques. You'll be able take courses on leadership and managing a team as well. These courses are designed to help you qualify for promotions to management and administrative positions. Some courses you might take include:

  • Fire administration
  • Fire prevention management
  • Fire protection systems
  • Disaster planning
  • Advanced firefighter safety
  • Fire science building construction

Online Availability

When choosing a bachelor's degree program in fire science, you may have the option to take your courses on-campus or online. An online program will offer more flexibility in school scheduling, making it a good fit if you are already working as a firefighter or inspector. Online programs offer similar coursework to on-campus programs, so you don't have to worry about missing out on important concepts if you decide to go with a distance learning option. However, make sure to find out if the program you're considering is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Stand Out With This Degree

The National Fire Academy (NFA) hosts training sessions and programs for firefighters to help them expand their knowledge and area of specialization in the field. Not only could you earn a degree through a school that is partnered with the NFA, but you also could take specific courses tailored to your area of interest. You can even take a single course without committing to a full degree program through the NFA.

Similar to standing out with an associate's degree, getting experience as a volunteer firefighter while you pursue your bachelor's degree may really help you out after your graduate. You also may be able to get course credit for completing certifications and training sessions, so you'll want to check with your school to see what credit options are offered.

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