Online Degrees In Fire Science

Firefighters are found in almost every community. They respond to a wide range of emergency situations, and are usually first on the scene for fires, accidents and other life-threatening scenarios.

An online science degree in fire science at the associate level can give current or aspiring firefighters a strong leadership foundation, as well as help them understand the scientific nature of a fire. Core curriculum typically includes general education courses, as well as in-depth information on fire prevention, fire behavior, fire protection, building codes and related topics.

What Does an Associate Degree Program in Fire Science Entail?

Full-time students can generally complete an associate degree in fire science online in about two years, although this varies from program to program. Most programs are designed to provide students with the analytical skills, scientific knowledge and communication prowess to work with other emergency personnel in crisis situations. Examples of core courses include:

  • Principles of Fire Behavior: This course focuses on how a fire begins, the chemical and physical changes that define its movement, the causes of dangerous situations like flameover and flashover, understanding the movements of a fire and how it grows, lessons on the chemical agents used to combat the flames, and more.
  • Fire Protection Systems: Provides instruction on how to protect homes, lives and property from an approaching fire, including understanding how fire acts in different structures. Also covers water supplies necessary to contain fire; suppressant systems such as sprinkler systems; the variety of chemical agents available for containment or extinguishing and how each affect individuals or the environment; responding to and maintaining fire alarm systems; ethical considerations of firefighting; and similar issues.
  • Introduction to Fire Prevention: In-depth study of famous fires and their causes and consequences; the firefighter’s role in media; education of the public on fire safety; arson situations; philosophies of firefighting organizations; fire prevention and protection techniques and how they have worked in a historical context; fire prevention responsibilities of the public, government, companies and firefighting units; and firefighting programs on an international scale.
  • Building Codes: This course focuses on the structure, design and maintenance of various types of buildings; the reach of fire codes and compliance; firefighter safety in determining when and where to enter and exit burning buildings; and how fire behaves with various building materials.

In addition to courses that focus on fire prevention and behavior, associate degree programs typically include general education courses that provide students with instruction in history, psychology, math, English or other fields that can provide a foundation for future education. Elective courses chosen by the students could pertain to the discipline of fire science or related subjects. For instance, occupational health and safety might be a useful supplement for fire science majors. Some online fire science schools may require students to attend a one-time, on-campus training session during the course of the program.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs in Fire Science

Some students who enroll in online fire science associate degree programs are current firefighters looking to strengthen their fire safety knowledge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of firefighters is expected to grow by nine percent nationally from 2010 to 2020, slower than average. The BLS reports that firefighters with postsecondary firefighting education are among those expected to have the best job prospects. As the population grows and the need for fire protection increases, full-time firefighting teams could become necessary in areas that were once serviced only by a volunteer team. In addition, a large portion of the population is reaching upper age brackets, and this is expected to increase the number of emergency medical calls firefighters respond to.

Firefighters with an associate degree in fire science and several years of work experience could also seek positions as fire inspectors or investigators. The BLS expects national employment growth of eight percent for these fire safety professionals between 2019 and 2029. With new building construction expected to grow and building codes getting stricter, competition will likely be tough for fire inspector or investigator positions.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are hundreds of thousands of fires in homes and businesses around the country every year — and those who work for fire service organizations are charged with bravely putting out those fires, saving lives and mitigating property damage in the process. Students interested in pursuing these important jobs should consider pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in fire science, which teaches the fundamentals of how fires spread and are extinguished, as well as the principles for running a fire service organization. These programs typically cover topics such as fire prevention, legal issues involved in fire protection, the chemistry of fires, and how emergency service organizations are operated on a local level.

What Does a Bachelor’s Degree Program in Fire Science Entail?

Students enrolled in online bachelor’s degree programs in fire science can generally expect to complete their degree within four years, but this may vary. Core curriculum teaches the science behind fires and fire protection, the fundamentals of emergency management, and the ethical and legal challenges that fire service organizations face. Examples of course topics include:

  • The Fundamentals of Fire Protection: This class covers the philosophy, history and basic principles of fire protection. Students in this course are taught about fire protection technologies, the physics and chemistry behind fire protection, the phases of fire protection, effective fire protection tactics, fire protection training techniques, and the health hazards that firefighters face from being in contact with different fire protection materials. In addition, this course may cover the legal concerns associated with fire protection, including potential legal action that can be taken against fire organizations on a civil or criminal level, and the laws that govern these agencies. In order to give students hands-on experience with the course content, they could be required to participate in activities such as creating a pre-fire plan or conduct a fire loss analysis.
  • Fire Prevention Basics: This course gives students an overview of the fire prevention process, as well as the history and philosophies associated with fire prevention. Topics covered in this class may include the principles and procedures that fire service organizations follow when conducting fire inspections, the tragedies that led to best practices in fire prevention, how to implement an effective fire prevention program, fire avoidance measures and fire code enforcement. In addition, coursework typically covers the role that fire officers play in the community, how fire service organizations are managed, and the social and political factors that influence how fire service organizations agencies are run. Exercises designed to prepare students for the real-world of fire protection may be required, such as identifying fire hazards in buildings or creating a fire prevention class for elementary school students.
  • Hydraulics and Water in Fire Protection: In this course, students learn how hydraulic principles and water are used in fire protection. Subjects covered may include water pressure, how to choose the proper water-carrying container, how to plan for water usage during emergencies, methods for dealing with water supply problems, and the math and physics behind the movement of water. In addition, students might explore the science behind fires and how they spread.

Students in online fire science degree programs may also be required to take elective courses, as well as general education courses offered by other departments. Fire science electives can include topics such as fire science law and ethics, fire department leadership and the psychological impact of disasters. General education classes commonly include English composition, political science, math, physics and chemistry, which are designed to provide a well-rounded educational experience. Depending on the school they attend, students may also have the opportunity to participate in an internship that allows them to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world situations at fire service organizations.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Fire Science

There are a number of career options for those with a bachelor’s degree in fire science, both in the public and private sector. Two jobs that graduates can pursue are fire inspector or fire investigator, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are both expected to experience employment growth of nine percent nationally between 2010 and 2020. Fire inspectors perform duties such as looking for fire hazards in buildings and ensuring that these structures are compliant with local, state and federal regulations. They may also test fire protection devices, like fire extinguishers, to ensure they are working properly. Fire investigators collect and examine evidence to determine how fires were started.

Fire science graduates can also pursue careers as firefighters. The duties of this job include driving emergency vehicles to the scene of fires and medical emergencies, using fire protection equipment to put out fires, educating the public about fire safety and rescuing people from burning buildings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for firefighters is projected to increase nine percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020.

In addition to these positions, those who earn online bachelor’s degrees in fire science could pursue careers as fire marshals, smoke jumpers or a variety of managerial positions in fire service organizations.

As noted above, hundreds of thousands of fires occur in residential and commercial buildings every year in the United States. These blazes can have serious ramifications, causing deaths and injuries and costing the country billions of dollars. Fire service and emergency management organizations play an instrumental role in containing, extinguishing, and preventing fires of all kinds. Online master’s degree programs in fire science help prepare students for management positions in these organizations. Students in these programs learn how fire service organizations operate, and the role they play on a local, state and federal level. Curriculum typically covers the legal and ethical concerns of fire service organizations, the behavior of fires, best practices for fire protection, the history of fire protection and prevention, and groundbreaking research in the fire science field.

What Does a Master’s Degree Program in Fire Science Entail?

Full-time students pursuing an online master’s degree in fire science can generally finish the program in about two years. The core curriculum is designed to prepare students for leadership roles by teaching them the fundamental principles of managing these agencies. Coursework tends to emphasize leadership styles utilized in emergency organizations, the effects that emergencies have on a community, and the science behind fires and fire protection. Examples of course topics include:

  • Emergency Management Principles: This course gives students an overview of management principles and techniques used in fire service organizations. Course topics may include disaster preparedness, crisis management, the role that fire service organizations play in the protection and prevention of fires, how fire service policy is created and the decision-making process of fire service organizations. In addition, students might learn about financial matters such as cash flow, taxes, bonds and budgeting. In order to give students hands-on experience with the material of the course, they may be required to participate in activities such as creating a budget plan for a fire service organization.
  • Legal and Ethical Principles of Fire Service: Topics covered in this course generally include how laws are applied to emergency situations, the powers and limits that the law gives to fire service organizations, how fire service organizations comply with standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and how government policies and programs are designed to help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. In addition, students might look at the ethical dilemmas these organizations face and how ethics standards are developed. Real-world applications of the material may be required, such as writing case studies that apply ethical and legal standards to different emergency situations throughout history.
  • Basics of Arson Investigation: Students in arson investigation courses typically learn about the techniques investigators use when working on these cases. Topics might include types of fire accelerants, explosives commonly used for arson, and what needs to be proven in order to prosecute someone of an arson-related offense. In addition, students may explore the financial techniques used to investigate arson-for-profit cases, including analyzing financial documents.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master’s Degree Programs in Fire Science

Earning an online master’s degree in fire science could pave a path for graduates to pursue managerial positions in fire service organizations, such as fire chief, lieutenant, deputy chief or battalion chief. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighting jobs are expected to grow seven percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Firefighters rescue and treat victims of fire, drive emergency vehicles to the scene of fires and other emergencies, and educate people about fire safety practices, among other duties. These positions typically require additional training and certification, as well as written and physical examination.

Other potential career options for fire science graduates include fire investigator or fire inspector. The BLS expects demand for these occupations to rise eight percent nationwide between 2019 and 2029. Fire investigators collect and examine evidence after a fire occurs, while fire inspectors ensure that buildings are up to code by looking for fire hazards and also inspect fire protection equipment. These careers typically require at least several years of fire service experience. The BLS reports that firefighter, fire investigator and fire inspector jobs are extremely competitive, but that those with postsecondary fire service education should have an edge.

“Fire Inspectors and Investigators,” Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics,
“Firefighters,” Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics,
“Residential and Nonresidential Building Fire Estimates,” U.S. Fire Administration, 2013,

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