What Degrees does a Firefighter Need? (and what ones should you get!)

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Either you’ve already started the career, or you’re wondering how to start off on the right foot and a quick google search has led you here.

TV has made it seem like Firefighters only go to a quick week long course before showing up on the Fire Grounds (that’s not true).

Maybe it’s the thought of a promotional exam coming up and the rank requires a degree or you have some credits that you might as well finish it up.

So the question stands what degree should a firefighter get?

The best Degree for a Firefighter would be one in Emergency Management or Fire Science. Other Common Degree types include Business Management, Forestry, Construction Management and Disaster Response.

Why is a Degree important in the Fire Service?

The most important reason must certainly be to obtain more knowledge to further help protect your community. After all knowledge is the difference between following orders and making decisions. 

But most people head to the colleges so that they can increase their income! Lot’s of people assume that Firefighters are paid well, but only some of the one million firefighters across the united states actually make over 100k a year!

A degree is also necessary if a role in management is in the career path. Some departments require a degree to promote to a Lieutenants rank and anything higher than that is almost a guarantee for at least an associates degree.

This also shows a dedication to the job and the eternal learning process that this career entails. After all the job is a job of passion. 

What is a Fire Science Degree?

A fire science degree is a degree that provides firefighters the scientific knowledge behind fire chemistry and firefighting. Its pretty much THE degree to get for firefighting.

The classes in the degree will give a great insight on why fires behave and occur the way they do. Also it often ends up needing to be a degree for promotion to a chief rank. 

What is an Emergency Management Degree?

This is probably the degree that most are already close to getting especially if they have been through paramedic school. Often times those will count as credit hours to a degree in emergency management.

If you take a paramedic course at a technical college chances are they offer this degree as well. This is a great degree to start off with especially if you foresee a future in a management position.

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What are some Certifications a Firefighter should get?

Fire officer 1 and 2

The bread and butter for becoming a company officer. Almost all departments will at least require Fire Officer 1 to promote to a officer position like lieutenant. This certification requires 4 core classes. They are company officer, building construction, tactics and strategies and course delivery.

Will firefighters be needed in the future?

These classes, especially the building construction as well as tactics and strategies, provide a fantastic new perspective for those starting to move toward learning to be  a company officer. 

Fire inspector

Fire inspector is  the certification needed to approve permits and inspect occupancies to insure they are up to code. This is done not just for the occupants safety but the safety of the firefighters as well.

While this may not be a class needed for a lieutenant rank, it will probably be for chiefs and actual fire inspectors. This also provides a large amount of knowledge in identifying safety hazards for your units first due structures.

A lot of times this is only done to specifically become a fire inspector. This can be a transition from a line firefighter to an administrative official in the fire department.

But don’t take this course lightly because it is no small certification due to the large amount of fire codes that have to be learned but definitely knowledge worth having. 

Fire instructor 1 and 2 

This is another likely certification needed to become a company officer. This is the basic knowledge needed to safely instruct your fellow firefighters in how to perform tasks needed in the fire service.

This also a stepping stone to becoming a fire standards teacher for the fire academy. In the fire service for larger company trainings there will likely be several instructors leading the training and they will most likely have this certification.

So if your interesting in teaching your craft that you work so hard to perfect, then you definitely should take this class. 

Pump operations

Most of the time when someone graduates EMT and fire school they will have also gone through EVOC which stands for Emergency Vehicle Operations Course. Which means you will have some basic knowledge on how to drive an ambulance or a fire truck.

Do fire trucks have different sirens?

Now for most departments this is not enough to actually hold the title of driver/operator. For a fire truck being a pump operator or driver is a craft all in itself. To hold this position you must be proficient in pumping a fire truck in order to flow water for fires.

This is a complicated task that requires in depth knowledge and skill. Thus the pump operations course. This will teach how to pump a fire truck in many capacities with different variables. The course also teaches the math that is needed to operate the pump efficiently with multiple hose lines.

Plus there’s tactics, skills and conditioning course that aren’t a Degree but Helpful for your Resume

This a broad category but that’s for a reason. This is a job that you can never train too much for. So take as many classes and you can. Fire and rescue have so many avenues to go, so learning those specific skills is extremely beneficial. Here is a list of a few skill based classes.

Truck company ops

Probably one of the best classes to take even if you are not on a truck company. This class will focus on the bread and butter of rescues in the fire service. That’s primary search and for some departments VES.

In my experience as a firefighter so far it was the most intense class I have ever taken. This is a class of constant repetitions to better become a well oiled machine when searching. This class can also include forcible entry, roof work, throwing ladders and ladder rescues. Basically anything dubbed “truckie” work. This is on top of the firefighter conditioning that will surely happen.

Engine company ops

Perfect class for those hose gorillas out there. Learning to properly deploy and maunevor a hose line is a key skill in the fire service. Anybody passionate about engine work should aim to take this course.

VMR ( Vehicle and Machinery Rescue)

A lot of times the fire academy will hit just the basics of extrication. In comes the VMR course. This is a course I recommend you ask around about to find out who offers the best course.

This is the type of class that will get you really comfortable with handling those extrication tools and tactfully tearing cars to pieces.

You will want to find a course that does a lot of hands on work. The one I personally took was in a junk yard with virtually an unlimited amount of cars to destroy. I recommend a class like that!

Rope operations

Rope and knot junkies, climbers and high angle rescue interests. pay attention for this is the class for you. It Will most certainly be required to be on any tech rescue crew and its excellent knowledge to have even if your just an enthusiast.

Everything from rappelling to rescuing. These guys are priceless to have on a crew because they are the ones who are gonna rig up some crazy stuff to get people out of sticky situations.

Confined space 

Not for the faint of heart its a class that if done correct can really take you way out of the comfort zone. But as firefighters we will go most anywhere and do most anything to save a life.

That includes going in the extremely cramped and dark storm drain. This class teaches how to safely perform these difficult tasks in very extreme environments. 

Structural collapse

This really useful for tech crews in big cities especially. Learning how to safely operate in unstable collapse zones is priceless. Learning to shore and systematically search for people in complete choas is no small undertaking.

Firefighter survival 

If you are able to take this class in your first year as a firefighter do it. Its not offered everywhere or often but it is the number one class to take.

Learning to save victims is important but learning to save your own ass is just as if not more important. This class will teach to maintain control in these trapped situations and problem solve your way out. 

Do all my Current Certifications count as Credits?

By far the most difficult question to answer due to almost zero consistencies between colleges. So the best answer is most likely some of the courses will get you credit hours….probably. I know vague right?

This is a do your own research kind of situation and don’t discredit online colleges, they seem to be the most laxed with excepting credit hours from previous certifications. While core classes are unavoidable you may get to avoid a useless but “required” elective.

Why shouldn’t you get a Degree as a Firefighter?

So is there really a reason not to get a degree? Well sort of. College degrees don’t hold weight like they used to, but in the fire industry the degrees preferred do provide some use.

Now I am not a big proponent of college especially the money that goes into it but the options of fire science and emergency management do seem logical and applicable to what we firefighters do.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of different avenues, certifications and degrees in the fire service and most are rich with useful knowledge and information.

If you are passionate about the job and want to better yourself at this craft then I encourage you to explore these options and absorb as much knowledge and skill as possible. After all you cant train hard enough for a job that can kill you.

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