Best Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Fire Science
An online degree in fire science can help prepare you for a successful career in fire services. Learn about the various degree options, the skills you'll develop, and the career paths you can take. Fire science students are also eligible for many financial aid options.
Online Fire Science Degree Overview
Over the years, fire science has become a highly sought-after area of study with careers in arson investigation, upper-level administration, wildland firefighting, and much more. Schools and training academies are responding with a growing number of online programs available for both entry-level students and experienced personnel. Students can expect to learn everything from fire mechanics and behavior to suppression systems, smoke control, emergency management, and more. With an online degree in fire science, you'll gain a wide variety of skills such as problem solving under pressure, effective communication, leadership, and personnel management. Online fire science programs are available at both undergraduate and graduate levels, helping you build the career path you seek.
Online Associate Degrees in Fire Science
As an undergraduate program, an online associate degree in fire science provides the educational background needed for an entry-level career in the fire industry. You can choose a more generalized fire science associate degree or specialize in a more focused program, such as fire science technology, management, or wildland studies. On top of general education course requirements, you will study topics such as fire behavior, fire investigation, emergency management, legal issues, fire protection and control, building construction, and more. Online fire science associate degrees typically do not require a capstone or final project prior to graduation.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Fire Science
Overall, an online fire science bachelor's degree helps to prepare you for a career in leadership within the fire protection industry. Many students who take these programs are already working in the fire science industry, and continue their education to advance their career. Most online bachelor's degrees either focus on fire administration or fire technology. Some schools also offer fire science as a degree focus, such as public safety administration with a concentration in fire science.
You will learn problem solving, leadership skills, public communication, and analytical skills and problem solving through these programs. Online courses cover topics such as emergency services personnel management, fire risk and management, incident management and tactics, disaster planning, hazardous materials management, and building design. A capstone project or internship is typically not required for completion of these programs.
Online Master's Degrees in Fire Science
At the graduate level, fire science degrees tend to split two ways. You can either follow an education path in administration and leadership or technology and engineering. In fire administration, you will learn skills in leadership, public policy, innovation in emergency services, operations analysis, and research. Technology programs cover topics such as building safety, combustion, risk management, hazardous materials, and industrial hygiene and environmental pollution.
No matter which direction you choose, some online master's programs require a capstone project prior to graduation, while other programs offer it as an option as part of the curriculum. Generally, these projects can also be completed online and allow you to choose your study subject with help from an advisor.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Fire Science
An unfortunate reality for the fire science field is the distinct lack of doctorates available for those wishing to pursue higher education. While it is difficult to find doctorates in this area, especially ones offered online, a small number of online programs are available. In these programs, students can choose to pursue fire and emergency management administration or follow an education path in fire protection engineering. Depending on the program, course topics may include public policy, disaster response and recovery, hazard mitigation, fire service leadership and management, fire dynamics, fire suppression system development and failure analysis. Since online doctorate degrees are few and far between, you may also want to consider closely related fields for a doctorate, such as public administration or emergency management.
Online Certificates in Fire Science
Online certificates for fire science are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Undergraduate programs provide the tools needed for entry-level positions in fire science services. You learn to analyze fire prevention methods and understand effective administrative aspects, such as personnel management and legal issues. Graduate certificates are typically designed for those who already work in the field and want to advance their career. Students build their skills in fire analysis and dynamics, smoke control, risk assessment, industrial safety, and more. Online undergraduate certificates typically take up to a year to complete, while graduate certificates may take two to three years.
Fire Science Specializations/Concentrations
In the fire science field, there are certain specializations to fit your needs. Although most online programs do not offer degree concentrations in the traditional sense, these programs still let you build a customized education path. With the way fire science degrees are focused, students can choose to follow administration and management, or fire technologies.
Occasionally, an online fire science program will also provide a traditional concentration. For example, students who want to focus on broader emergency management can specialize in homeland security or public administration. However, these more traditional setups are hard to come by for online fire science degrees.
Curriculum/Coursework for a Fire Science Degree
Coursework for a fire science degree varies depending on the chosen pathway. Curriculum for administration and leadership programs will focus more heavily on public policy, legal issues, and personnel management. Fire technology programs focus their courses on suppression system technologies, hazards control, and mitigation efforts. Both pathways also cover foundational skills for emergency services, such as:
- Firefighting tactics
- Risk assessment
- Fire or structural safety and management
- Life safety and emergency response
Again, a more specialized program will provide different course topics. Curriculum work will vary depending on which way the degree leans.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Fire Science?
Most online bachelor's degrees in fire science require a minimum of 120 credits. With a course load of 12 credits per semester, many programs will take about four years to complete. A part time student taking nine credit hours per semester might complete the program in five or six years. You might be able to complete it sooner depending on your course load. Transferrable credits from a previous degree or coursework may shorten the program length. Summer courses are also widely available with most online bachelor's degrees, and this can also bring your graduation date closer.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Fire Science Degrees
When searching for an online program, accreditation of the school or program you're interested in is important. Employers, financial aid organizations, and government entities all look for proper accreditation to ensure you received a sound education in your field. Accreditation also gives families and students the assurance they need that their time and money will not be wasted.
For institutions offering mostly online education, the main accrediting agency is the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, or DEAC. A non-profit organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the DEAC provides national accreditations for distance learning institutions from primary school to doctorate-level degrees.
The main accreditation agency for fire science education programs is the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, or IFSAC. The IFSAC is a CHEA-recognized organization that accredits associate, bachelor's and master's programs in fire science and other emergency service fields. In addition to program accreditation, the IFSAC also certifies individuals who pass examinations through the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA.
The U.S. Fire Administration also created the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Initiative (FESHE). While this initiative does not provide accreditation, it does work to promote higher education standards and increase recognition of fire and emergency services as a valid profession. FESHE's recognition program provides certificates to accredited programs and schools that meet a set of standards established by FESHE committees and the National Fire Academy.
Fire Science Licensure & Certification
Fire science certifications are voluntary and can vary greatly depending on your desired career path. For example, those who work in a more technical aspect might want to earn the Certified Fire Alarm ITM Specialist credential. Meanwhile, the Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist would be better for firefighters interested in wildland protection.
The NFPA provides 17 certifications in fire science, as well as certification training for some of their credentials. In addition to the certifications referenced above, other NFPA credentials include:
- Certified Water-Based Systems Professional
- Certified Fire Protection Specialist
- Certified Fire Inspector I
- Certified Fire Inspector II
- Certified Hazard Recognition Specialist
Additionally, the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute also provides an IFSAC-accredited national certification program for firefighters. These certifications are recognized in the United States, Canada, and other countries. The Institute offers 17 certifications, including:
- Rope Rescue Technician I
- Rope Rescue Technician II
- Confined Space Rescue Technician I
- Confined Space Rescue Technician II
- Hazardous Materials Operations
- Hazardous Materials Technician
- Driver/Operator - Pumper/Aerial
The Pro Board, also known as the National Board of Fire Service Professionals Qualifications, is a non-profit organization that accredits certification agencies for public sector firefighters. These accreditations signify that the credential adheres to NFPA qualification standards. Accreditations are provided at the state and local levels, which helps to empower that agency's leadership in their jurisdiction.
Fire Science Career Information
The fire science field provides a wide range of career opportunities. Entry-level probationary firefighters can advance in the ranks to become fire officers such as lieutenants, captains, and eventually fire chiefs.
Much like education programs, fire science careers can generally split two ways: administration or technological. Administrative careers are typically seen at the fire officer or fire chief level of fire departments. Skills in these careers include public policy, public speaking, finance and budgeting, and personnel management. Technology-based careers can include fire protection engineer, fire sprinkler designer, and fire alarm technician.
How to Become a Firefighter
Typically, entry-level firefighters are required to be 18 years old with a high school diploma. Many fire departments also require their crew members to procure and maintain their emergency medical training (EMT) certification. This is typically done through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).
Firefighters need a range of important skills to be effective at their jobs. They need to be able to make quick decisions under pressure, communicate effectively to their crewmates, and be able to provide emotional support to emergency victims. Physical fitness is also important and prospective firefighters need to pass both written and physical exams to be hired.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median wage reported in May 2019 for career firefighters was $50,850. Local governments employ about 88% of paid firefighters in the industry. Many firefighters, however, are volunteers and do not receive a salary. According to the NFPA, 67% of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers as of 2018.
The BLS projects a 6% job growth for firefighters from 2019 to 2029. Despite increased safety measures in building codes and materials, firefighters will still be needed to quickly control fires, respond to emergency events, and continue to protect communities from wildfires.
How to Become a Fire Inspector or Fire Investigator
Fire inspectors and fire investigators typically hold a two- or four-year degree in fire science, engineering, or related fields, although this may not necessarily be a job requirement. Job requirements typically include prior experience as a firefighter and a high school diploma or equivalent, and these professionals may need to obtain EMT certification through the NREMT if they don't already have it.
A typical day for fire inspectors might include administering burn permits, monitoring controlled burn areas, testing fire protection equipment for municipalities, examining buildings for fire code standards, reviewing emergency evacuation plans, and more. Fire investigators will document, collect, and analyze evidence from fires and explosions, determine the cause of fires and point(s) of origin, testify in legal proceedings, and may even exercise certain police powers such as making an arrest.
According to the BLS, the annual median wage in May 2019 for fire inspectors and investigators was $61,660. About 77% of these professionals are employed through local governments, and positions are expected to grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029. Fire inspectors will be vital to inspecting and maintaining new building construction and updating current buildings as codes change over time. As long as fires and explosions still exist, fire investigators will be needed to determine their causes.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Fire Science Degrees
Federal financial aid is available through the Free Assistance for Financial Student Aid program, commonly known as FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education offers this annual program to prospective and current students attending an eligible institution at least half time. Basic requirements include a social security number, a completed high school or GED program, and no defaults on previous federal student loans.
Many scholarships are available for fire science students, both nationally and locally. National scholarships include the Industrial Fire & Safety Scholarship through the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Applicants for this scholarship must already be assigned to a fire or emergency services role and have a demonstrated proficiency in emergency response. Winners of this scholarship can apply it towards further education and training expenses.
The Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association offers two scholarships - one at $1,000 and one at $500. These two scholarships are available to students enrolled in a two or four-year program pursuing a degree in fire science, emergency medical services, or related fields.
For graduate-level degree programs, The International Association of Wildland Fire offers two scholarships for students pursuing wildland fire or related master's and Ph.D. degrees. These scholarships are awarded annually and are typically valued at $3,000.
Many times, local and state fire and emergency associations offer education scholarships to area residents. The following are just a few of the many resident-specific scholarships available around the country:
- The South Carolina State Firefighters' Association offers two scholarships to association members, each providing up to $1,000 each for education and training to career and volunteer firefighters.
- The Michael Sacca Scholarship available through the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company provides a $1,000 annual award to Maryland residents pursuing a degree program in fire science.
- The Maine Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators awards a local scholarship to Maine chapter members and their families. Applicants must be pursuing a degree in fire science, law enforcement, or emergency medical services.
Many other fire science scholarships can be found through local fire, emergency, and public safety organizations. If you're searching for financial aid opportunities, be sure to check with your local fire departments and associations.