If Hollywood is to be believed, becoming a firefighter is primarily a test of physical endurance. If you can manage the challenge of running up multiple flights of stairs carrying heavy equipment, carry people from burning buildings, and go to great lengths to be a hero, then you can be a firefighter.
Of course, most of us know that it isn’t really that simple.
Even though physical strength and stamina are important, more is required to successfully fight fires. In fact, many municipalities now require firefighters, in particular those in leadership roles, to have a college degree, preferably in fire science. Not only does having a well-educated fire service ensure that the services delivered by fire departments are of the highest caliber, but it also sets a standard for professionalism within the industry.
So, what is it really like to study fire science? While every program is different, if you are thinking about a career in firefighting, you can reasonably expect your program to be similar to the following.
As you might expect, a fire science degree program is going to have a heavy emphasis on fire itself. This means that students will learn about how fires are ignited, how they spread, and the best ways to extinguish them; however, because putting out a fire requires more than just spraying water on the flames, coursework will cover such topics as fire behavior, fire dynamics and how to manage different types of fires, including structure fires, wildfires and those involving hazardous materials.
Working as a firefighter requires more than just putting out fires, though. Fire safety and prevention are important parts of a firefighter’s job, so you can expect training in how to identify and mitigate fire risk, including fire prevention tools and techniques. Coursework in this area might include classes on construction methods to prevent fire, how to educate the public on fire prevention, and how to conduct fire and safety inspections.
Depending on your intended career path, you may also take courses in topics such as fire investigations or terrorism response. Having skills in these areas can help you become more marketable once you complete your fire training, so many fire science administration programs offer electives to help balance out the educational experience.