The associate degree in fire science not only prepares students for a job in the field, but also fulfills general education requirements. An associate degree in any subject is often considered equal to the first two years of a four-year undergraduate degree. However, the associate is considered a terminal degree, and many graduates find work in their field of study following graduation.
Those who study fire science gain foundational knowledge and skills in behavior, hazardous materials, and fire prevention and investigation. Many students in this field hope to become firefighters, fire investigators, or fire inspectors. Others may take their education in different directions, such as forest fire management or conservation science.
Why an Associate Degree in Fire Science?
The high school diploma is the only educational requirement for individuals who want to work as firefighters, and the same holds true for fire inspectors and investigators. Even so, an associate in fire science can be a worthwhile investment for individuals interested in entering the field. Some fire departments prefer candidates who have a two-year degree or equivalent work experience. Furthermore, graduates of the program will gain fundamental knowledge of fire safety and prevention. Entry-level individuals already at work in the field often seek the degree to further enhance their skills.
There are also students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in fire science, but who do not yet have the resources; an associate program serves as a suitable starting point for this group. The degree takes two years to complete and is less expensive. Moreover, the associate degree is advantageous for students are unsure whether or not they want to continue with their higher education. With an associate, they gain foundational knowledge in their subject of choice that can help them secure a job or enable them to earn a four-year degree.
Getting Into a Fire Science Associate Program
Some fire science associate degree programs admit only students who are “Firefighter I” certified, meaning they have completed the most basic firefighter training. The regulations for this certification as well as the “Firefighter II” certification are defined by the National Fire Protection Agency in a document titled “NFPA 1001.”
Certification varies from state to state, however, and those seeking certification should contact their state of residence for more information. Candidates for most associate fire science programs must meet submit a completed application (a fee may apply). As mentioned earlier, applicants should have a high school diploma or GED equivalency.
Inside a Fire Science Associate Degree Program
Most associate degree in fire science online programs require students to fulfill a majority of credit hours in the major. In addition, they need to complete courses outside of the major. At Keiser University, for example, fire science students must earn a total of 60 credit hours to receive their degree. Thirty-six of those credit hours are earned in the major, while 24 must be earned through general studies courses.
Example general studies courses include General Biology, English Composition I, and American History Pre-1876. Courses within the fire science concentration include Fire Investigation: Cause and Origin, Fire Service: Course Delivery, Codes and Standards, and Fire Department Administration.
What’s Next for Fire Science Associate Degree Holders?
Associate graduates from fire science programs who plan to find employment as firefighters, and who were not previously employed firefighters, should contact their city fire department for more information. The City of Seattle, for example, has a Fire Recruit Training program that all newly-hired firefighters are required to complete. In this training, recruits learn how to tie knots, hoist tools and equipment using ropes, respond to emergency calls, and perform other competencies related to physical and practical firefighting skills.
Firefighter certification entails different requirements for each state, involving various written and physical tests. One essential credential for the job, however, is the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Additionally, it is common across states that firefighters continue their education with extensive on-the-job and classroom training. Some states offer a Basic Firefighter program, which is available to city fire departments and fire protection districts.
Furthermore, prospective firefighters must have a valid driver’s license, pass a background check, and present proof of U.S. citizenship. These qualifications apply to fire inspector and investigator positions as well. However, successful candidates for the fire inspector and investigator positions must already have some experience working with a police or fire department.
Firefighter training never really stops. Many seasoned professionals attend federal training sessions through the National Fire Academy in addition to in-house training. There, students learn about disaster safety and preparedness, as well as educational outreach programs.
Some students will continue their academic studies by pursuing the bachelor’s degree and possibly a master’s degree in fire science. Others may look into related careers such as national or state-level foresters. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, firefighters earned a median salary of $45,250 in 2010. BLS also reports that the projected rate of employment change for firefighters between 2010-2020 is 9%, whereas the average growth rate for all occupations for the same 10-year time-frame is 14%.