Firefighter Training: Ultimate Guide

Firefighters have a wide range of job duties. Though rescuing kittens from trees may not be as common as the stereotype implies, a variety of public safety and public service roles typify a fireman’s life.

Fire safety has improved in the past few decades, reducing the number of fire emergencies that fireman fight. At the same time, some recent emergencies, such as major industrial fires, have been among the biggest and most powerful fires ever fought.

Fire safety has improved due to materials science advances, improved construction techniques, new building codes, and sprinkler systems and smoke alarms. But another reason has been advances in public education regarding fire safety, and identifying and correcting fire risks – and these areas of progress are largely attributable to the work of firefighters. The job duties of a firefighter include public education, fire inspections and other activities focused on fire prevention.

Emergency medical services are also among the typical fireman’s duties. Indeed, the first responders to many medical emergencies are firefighters, whether they are certified EMTs or only competent with CPR or basic first-aid.

The work of fighting fires has also become more sophisticated and complex. Handling hazardous materials and rescues from collapsed struggles are among the common tasks facing today’s firefighters.

High school education remains the minimum requirement for a firefighting career, but firefighters now more often pursue advanced education in fire sciences to more effectively meet the growing challenges of modern-day firefighting and the correspondingly greater sophistication of both the analysis required and the methods used.

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Relative to the number of openings, firefighting is a popular job aspiration. In many fire departments, applicants outnumber openings by 10 to 100 times. But if you have advanced education, or relevant experience, accomplishments or skills, there’s a good chance your application will stand out. See the Resume section elsewhere on this site for insight on what types of background makes a difference.

Ongoing education is also valuable for those already working in the field. It can help an individual become ever more competent in meeting the highest challenges of the job, or lead to career advancement in the form of promotion to positions such as investigator, inspector, emergency services director or fire chief.

What You’ll Study

To meet all the above roles that a firefighter plays in today’s society, programs offer education and training in a wide field of areas.

Associate degree

At the associate degree level, the following areas are typically covered:

  • Firefighting equipment
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Hands-on fighting actual fires
  • Field experience working with firefighting professionals

Courses typically include:

  • Chemistry related to fire sciences
  • EMT basics
  • Fire behavior, combustion fundamentals
  • Fire codes, fire legislation
  • Fire extinguishment basics
  • Rescue procedures

* NOTE: some firefighters are paramedics, which is considerably more comprehensive and advanced than EMT certification, and entails up to 1800 hours of training.

Bachelors Degree

At the bachelor’s level, besides general education courses, field training and internships, fire sciences, fire control methodologies, rescue procedures and environmental issues are studied in greater depth and detail.

Course typically include:

  • Disaster management and fire defense planning
  • Emergency management
  • Fire chemistry, physics of combustion and oxidation
  • Fire control
  • Fire investigation
  • Fire prevention
  • Hazardous materials management

Masters degree and other advanced/graduate education

The categories of advanced training relevant to aspects of fire sciences, arson and forensics, disaster management, and emergency medical services are vast and ever growing.

Categories of Firefighting-Related Programs

There are specializations within firefighting, and corresponding degree programs. Formal educational options are oriented to the full range from entry-level applicant to seasoned professionals looking for career advancement.

Fire academy training

When beginning one’s first job as a fire-fighting professional, most departments require several hundred hours of training at a fire academy selected by the municipality. These post-employment training requirements generally take 3-4 months to complete.

Associate degree programs

Offered by community colleges and other institutions, associate degrees usually take about two years to complete, and require a high-school diploma or GED as a pre-requisite.

An associate degree is not a requirement for many entry-level fire-department jobs, but associate-level studies of fire sciences can be an asset to any applicant.

Bachelor’s degree programs

Typically takes four years to complete, and is a favored stepping-stone for existing fire-fighting professionals who are seeking career advancement. Bachelor’s studies, however, have become more common among entry-level candidates.

Online fire science degree programs

Because field experience, lab practicums and hands-on training are key aspects of fire-fighting training, online training programs typically emphasize administrative and policy topical fields.

Sometimes such online education is pursued to expand their competencies by current fire-fighting professionals who already have practical experience.

Hybrid programs

These programs combine online education with real-life hands-on field training, sometimes including internships. Entry-level firefighters or applicants without experience and seasoned professionals can both find value in hybrid programs.

These programs are particularly popular in remote areas, and among seasoned professionals seeking a change of career direction within the fire-fighting profession.

Certificate programs

Certificate programs or testing services are a way of securing credentials verifying your competence in certain areas such as fire inspection or arson forensics. In the case of certificate program courses, they generally take a year or less to complete, and often have no prerequisites other than a high-school diploma or GED.

Master’s degree programs

Very few firefighters ever obtain any fire-sciences education beyond the master’s degree level.

A master’s degree takes about two years on a full-time basis, but since many firefighters who pursue master’s degrees are already in the profession, they often obtain the degree on a part-time basis over a longer period.

This is a common stepping stone to becoming a fire-chief.