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.
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
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.
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
Categories of Firefighting-Related Programs
Fire academy training
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
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.
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.
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.