Fire Service Leadership Degrees: Master's & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in a fire service leadership program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and courses and potential careers.
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Studying Fire Service Leadership: Programs at a Glance

Many firefighting professionals choose to earn master's degrees in order to obtain leadership positions in their fire companies or other organizations. A master's degree can be a practical choice for students who want to obtain leadership positions in fire service agencies or other local governmental departments. These fire service leadership programs can provide important leadership skills to current fire department employees who have bachelor's degrees and want to pursue captain or director positions within local city agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment growth for all protective service occupations would increase by 11% from 2010-2020.

Master's Training
Who is this degree for? Firefighters who want to improve their credentials for promotion Volunteer firefighters seeking full-time work and professional firefighters engaging in professional development
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) Fire chief ($70,000 - based on fire service supervisors of all levels)* - Firefighter ($45,000)*
- Fire investigator and inspector ($53,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time Varies by course
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-15 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis for some programs
- Master's exams
Completion requirements vary by course
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree or equivalent non-degree award in fire safety Varies by course
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Fire Service Leadership

The professionalization of fire service leaders has led to an increasing expectation of fire service leadership degrees among fire chiefs and those competing for leadership positions. While that does not mean that all fire service leadership positions will require a master's degree in the field, such a degree can improve the chances of being selected for these positions. Degree programs are targeted at mid-career professionals who are looking for ways to develop their standing and increase their possibilities for promotion.

Pros and Cons


  • Master's degrees in fire service leadership can be used to fulfill educational requirements for promotion to leadership positions
  • Fire service leadership master's degree programs provide training in skills necessary for developing and maintaining effective leadership in the fire services field
  • These master's programs can offer thesis options that train professionals in research and publication


  • Because of the requirements of the field, fire service workers do not have normal office hours, which can make finding the time to earn a degree more challenging
  • The slower-than-average growth of this field may strengthen competition for leadership positions
  • Not all leadership positions require master's-level education, and these degrees do not guarantee selection for leadership roles

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in fire services leadership is not completely standardized, but there are a number of areas that programs generally address, such as methods and theory of leadership, crisis management, strategic planning and finance. Fire service professionals may also select programs, or options within programs, that provide training on research methods and publication expectations, usually in association with thesis options. Topics that may be covered include:

  • Fire services strategic planning
  • Emergency and fire services leadership
  • Budgeting and finance in the public sector
  • Crisis management and public services

Online Degree Options

Online programs that offer master's degrees in fire service leadership are available, and these programs can be beneficial to career professionals, especially as they make these options available to students asynchronously and at a distance. Because of the requirement that fire services be on call 24/7, scheduling regular times for coursework can be particularly difficult.

Stand Out with This Degree

As a professional looking to stand out with this degree, you may seek out opportunities for developing your leadership skills either through your current employers or through the program itself. Building good relations with instructors can expand your professional network, as can connecting with other students who are also seeking such leadership positions. Seeking out leadership internships can provide you with opportunities to strengthen and reinforce the training in the program.

Degree Alternatives

Students looking to learn the skills necessary for leadership in the fire services may also seek out master's programs offering degrees in public administration. These programs generally address a broader audience than just the fire services, and may have concentrations for firefighting, police work, social work, other emergency services and homeland security. In a public administration program you can study such topics as crisis management and working with the public to prepare for crises.

Courses and Training in Fire Service Leadership

In addition to programs that offer degrees in fire service and fire service leadership, there are a number of programs that offer individual courses and seminars addressing topics of special interest to those in the field. These programs may teach both professional and volunteer firefighters and leaders. In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association noted that volunteer firefighters made up more than two-thirds of firefighters in the U.S., and standards of training may vary from one organization to the next. Courses taken may be stand-alone or part of certificate programs. Prerequisites can vary from course to course.

Pros and Cons


  • These programs are specifically designed to increase the effectiveness and professionalism of firefighters and those who lead them, providing opportunities for career growth
  • Unlike full degree programs, these seminars and courses do not have additional general education requirements
  • Courses usually do not have prerequisite educational requirements


  • As these courses are generally meant to stand alone, they might lead to certificates but do not generally lead to formal degrees
  • Certificates earned may not fulfill the educational requirements necessary for promotion
  • Programs designed to grant certificates may require intensive time commitments

Courses and Requirements

Courses can cover a wide range of administrative issues, including leadership challenges relating to protecting diverse communities and legal aspects of fire prevention and protection. There is significant diversity in the topics covered in these courses, but some topics that may be of interest are:

  • Fire code enforcement
  • Fire investigation and incendiary analysis
  • Effective communication and diversity
  • Strategic planning
  • Building inspection
  • Protective services human resources
  • Political aspects of the fire chief position

Online Degree Options

Online training in fire service leadership is available in some subjects. These programs, delivered asynchronously, can help develop useful leadership knowledge and skills. Some certificates can be earned through online programs. These programs may address both administrative tasks and specific challenges of leading in crisis situations. Courses offered may also touch upon responsibilities having to do with natural disasters and homeland security incidents.

Getting Ahead with This Training

Fire service leadership certificate programs are offered with the purpose of training firefighters in order to prepare them for the challenges of leadership, both in the field and in the station. As such, they are intensive courses that address specific aspects of leadership and decision-making, and bring together the future leadership of various fire companies. With this in mind, firefighters who attend these seminars and programs may want to take advantage of both networking and educational opportunities. Further, if the training can be done with the knowledge of station superiors, firefighters may be able to find opportunities to apply their learning in order to both reinforce it and prove its value.

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