Fire protection in the US has always been a mixed bag, because there are very few universal guidelines. Fire departments are usually municipal, rather than state or federal, and organization is different from one town to another. Across the US, fire departments may be strictly volunteer or professionalized; administrative positions like fire chief, fire inspector, and fire marshall might be elected offices, appointed by the mayor or town board, or hired. Finding a professional job as a firefighter or administrator is complicated, and for cities, finding qualified firefighters and fire services leaders can be challenging.
With all of these variations, education for firefighters runs the gamut. Firefighters may have associate’s degrees or diplomas from community colleges, or just a training course organized by the fire department. In recent years, though, firefighting is becoming much more professionalized, and larger cities and regions are beginning to expect firefighters and administrators to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Fire science degrees programs are becoming a standard all over the US, and students interested in a career in fire protection services would be smart to start there.
Methodology: How We Ranked the Best Fire Science Degree Programs
To rank the top traditional, on-campus Fire Science degree programs in America, Bachelor’s Degree Center editors began by seeking out accredited programs in fire science, fire service administration, and related fields. From there, we ranked schools according to five main factors: Average Alumni Salary, Employment Rate, Graduation Rate, Reputation, and Tuition Cost. Data was drawn from College Scorecard, IPEDS, and Niche.
1. University of Florida
The University of Florida’s BS in Fire Safety & Emergency Service degree program is available on campus or online from the School of Construction Management. Students are required to complete 120 credit units; of which 60 credits must be upper-level coursework. Degree candidates can opt to specialize in EMS Management, Emergency Management, and a Fire Specialization.
The University of Florida was established in 1853 under the Morrill Land Grant Act. UF is one of only a select group of universities that are a space grant; land grant and sea grant institution of higher learning. UF is the senior member school of the University of Florida system. US News recognizes the University of Florida among the 10 best public institutions of higher learning in the country.
What We Like: UF’s fire science degree program has been received a recognition certificate from the Fire & Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) –a designation of excellence.
Degree: BS in Fire and Emergency Services
2. Providence College
Providence College offers a BS in Fire Administration degree program that has received a FESHE Certificate — denoting the quality of the on-campus or online program. FESHE is an integral part of the country’s National Fire Academy. Students graduate prepared for a career as a Fire Chief, A Battalion Fire Chief, a Fire Inspector, or a Firefighter, among others. Providence College’s emergency management degree program offers a generous transfer policy of up to 75 credit units.
Providence College (PC) was established in 1917. The school’s 100+-acre campus sits on the city of Providence’s highest point — Smith Hill and is home to more than 3,800 students. The school is organized among four schools — Arts & Sciences, Business, Professional Studies, and Continuing Education.
What We Like: The school holds the distinction of being the only institution of higher learning in the United States that is overseen by the Dominican Friars
Degree: BS in Fire Administration
3. University of North Texas at Dallas
The College of Health & Public Service offers the University of North Texas at Dallas’ BS in Emergency Administration & Planning degree program. UNT-Dallas’ emergency management degree program is one of just a few fire science degree programs that holds the FESHE certificate of quality assurance. Students have an opportunity to study abroad in Asia, South American, and many other countries.
The University of North Texas at Dallas was established in 2000 as a state university. The school’s 250+-acre urban campus is home to more than 3,500 (mostly part-time) students. The student body is quite diverse with African American and Hispanic student accounting for 75% of total enrollment.
What We Like: The University of North Texas at Dallas is the only public institution of higher education situated within the city limits of Dallas.
Degree: BS in Emergency Administration and Planning
4. Holy Family University
Holy Family University offers BS in Fire Science & Public Safety Administration degree program in a fully online format. Coursework includes Public Risk Analysis, Modern Public Safety Concerns, and Incident Analysis, among others. Students must complete 27 credit hours of classes specifically required by the Fire Science major. Students graduate with risk management, leadership, business knowledge, and leadership skills.
Holy Family University was established in 1954 and is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The school’s student enrollment, nearly 2,000 students, studies from Holy Family University’s four schools/colleges — Business, Education, Nursing/Allied Health Profession, and Arts & Sciences. Holy Family University holds the distinction as being the youngest of Philadelphia’s four Catholic universities.
What We Like: Holy Family is one of a select few fire science degree programs that has received accreditation by IFSAC — The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress.
Degree: BS in Fire Science and Public Safety Administration
5. Lewis University
Lewis University offers a BA in Fire Service Administration degree program in on campus, online and accelerated formats. Coursework includes Ethics In Fire Service, Legal Aspects of Fire Service, Labor Management Mediations, Fire Service Administration, and Emergency Medical Services, among others. Lewis University offers a generous transfer credit policy. Lewis University has received accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
The Archdiocese of Chicago established Lewis University in 1932. The school is recognized as a Lasallian, Roman Catholic institutions of higher education. Lewis University’s suburban campus is home to more than 4,600 students studying for degrees offered by university’s five colleges/schools. During WWII, the campus was converted to a military area to train pilots.
What We Like: Lewis’ location in suburban Chicago gives fire science graduates ample job opportunity in a huge metropolitan region.
Degree: BA in Fire Service Administration
6. University of Nebraska Omaha
The University of Nebraska Omaha’s BS in Emergency Science-Fire Service Management concentration comes from the College of Public Affairs & Community Service. UNO’s fire service degree’s curriculum includes Fire Strategy, Public Fire Protection, Inspections and Codes, Emergency Services Management, among others. A fire service management major explores the responsibilities of the professionals in emergency and fire services.
The Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary established the University of Nebraska Omaha in 1908. The school became a public institution of higher learning in 1930. Nearly 40 years later, The University of Nebraska Omaha became a member school of the University of Nebraska system.
What We Like: UNO’s Peter Kiewit Institute houses the only $65+ million state of the computer system in the area that supports the school’s bioinformatics and management information systems at a premium level.
Degree: BS in Emergency Management – Fire Service Management
College of the Ozarks – School Removed
This school is no longer offering the Fire Science program for the school year 2019-2020.
8. Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University’s School of Law Enforcement & Justice Administration offers a BS in Fire Administration (that can be completed online) or a BS in Fire Science degree program (which is an on-campus program). WIU’s emergency management degree program has received certification by the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE). The faculty is made up entirely of retired or active firefighters and administrators who have real world experience, and can provide top-notch mentorship – not to mention job market connections.
Western Illinois University was established in 1899 as a teacher training school with land donated by the city’s Freemasons. Western Illinois University’s small-town campus is home to more than 8,000 students.The National Register of Historic Places acknowledges Sherman Hall’s history — the first building on campus.
What We Like: WIU offers students tuition rates (and other expenses) that remain fixed for four years — the first guarantee of this kind in Illinois.
Degree: BS in Fire Administration (online) or Fire Science (on-campus)
9. California State University Los Angeles
The Department of Technology offers Cal State Los Angeles’ BS in Fire Protection Administration & Technology degree program. The online fire science degree offers a comprehensive overview that explores both the administrative and technical skills required by fire science professionals. Students vying for their Cal State LA emergency management degree are required to complete 120 credit units in total — of which 72 credit units are directly related to the fire science major.
The California Legislature established Cal State LA in 1947. Cal State LA and is a member school of the California State University system. Cal State LA is recognized as a Hispanic serving institution of higher education and a land grant school. The school’s urban campus is home to nearly 28,000 students.
What We Like: The school is home to NASA-partnered CHARTER program — SPACE — the first government-funded program in the country.
Degree: BS in Fire Protection Administration and Technology
10. Jefferson College of Health Sciences
Jefferson College of Health Sciences offers a BS in Emergency Services degree program in conjunction with the Carilion Clinic that can be completed on campus or entirely online. The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE) accredits Jefferson College of Health Sciences’ emergency management degree program. The Virginia Department of Health/Office of Emergency Medical Services (VAOEMS) also accredits the Jefferson College of Health Sciences’ fire science degree program.
Jefferson College of Health Sciences was established in 1982. JCHC operates with four academic divisions — Arts & Sciences, Nursing, Rehabilitation & Wellness, and Community Health Sciences. The school is home to more than 1,000 students who are represented by Jeff, JCHC’s St. Bernard Mascot. The school holds the distinction of being the longest operating hospital-based institution of higher education in the state of Virginia.
What We Like: JCHC students experience a rotation of internships in various EMS and First Response facilities in and around the Roanoke vicinity.
Degree: BS in Emergency Services
11. University of New Haven
The University of New Haven’s BS in Fire Science degree program has received accreditation from The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE). Students explore the fire’s life cycle and the strategies to extinguish the flames. From the College of Criminal Justice & Forensic Sciences, UNH’s fire science degree program offers students two academic paths: Arson/Fire Investigations, or Fire Administration.
The University of New Haven was established in 1920. UNH’s suburban campus is situated between the city of West Haven and the Long Island Sound, and home to nearly 7,000 students. The school operates with six schools/colleges that offer degrees in Fine Arts, Business, Engineering, Arts & Sciences, Criminal Justice and Health Sciences.
What We Like: The school overlooks the Long Island Sound and is only 1-1/2 hours from New York City and 2-11/2 hours from Boston – both prime job markets for firefighters.
Degree: BS in Fire Science
12. Southern Illinois University – Carbondale
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale offers a BS in Public Safety Management degree program that maintains an accreditation certificate from The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Program (FESHE) and the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. SIU’s emergency management degree program is designed for students who have already earned a minimum of 26 credit units, or hold an associate’s degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning.
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale was established in 1869 and holds the distinction as the flagship member school (and the third oldest) of the Southern Illinois University system. The school operates with several campuses in Carbondale, Edwardsville and Springfield IL. SIU is organized with ten schools/colleges, including the College of Applied Sciences & Arts, that offer nearly 250-degree programs.
What We Like: Southern Illinois University’s library system is recognized among the top 50-academic/research libraries in the country.
Degree: BS in Public Safety Management
13. Hampton University
The University College at Hampton University offers a BS in Public Safety degree program with a Fire Administration concentration. Hampton University’s fire science degree program requires the completion of 122 credit units to graduate. Coursework includes Legal Problems Impacting Fire Investigations, Ethics & Leadership, Community Fire Risks, Disaster Incident Command, and Fire Analysis, among others. Degree candidates complete their studies with a culminating safety capstone project.
Hampton University was established in 1868 and is recognized as a Historically Black school (HBCU). Booker T Washington began studying at Hampton University when he was 16 years old (1872). Hampton University is home to the oldest museum in the state of Virginia. The school’s 300+-acre suburban campus is home to more than 4,600 students.
What We Like: Hampton is also recognized for an established education program dedicated to Native Americans that operated for approximately 50 years.
Degree: BS in Public Safety – Fire Administration
14. Salem State University
The Bertolon School of Business offers Salem State University’s BS in Fire Science Administration degree program, which meets the education standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Students studying for Salem State University’s fire science degree must complete 120 credit hours to graduate. Coursework includes Fire Service Law, Arson Prevention, Emergency Scene Practices, and Fire Science Management, among others.
Salem State University was established under the supervision of Horace Mann in 1854 as a normal school. Salem State’s suburban campus is just north of Boston and operates with six campuses that offer degree program to nearly 9,400 undergraduate and graduate students. Salem State University offers an innovative series of speakers which has included in the past Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Jay Leno, Tom Brady, Maya Angelo, and Robert Redford.
What We Like: Fire science degree candidates are required to participate in a fire science internship, with numerous opportunities throughout the greater Boston region.
Degree: BS in Fire Science Administration
15. Lake Superior State University
Lake Superior State University offers a BS in Fire Science degree program that offers a certification or non-certification academic path. Students have the opportunity to apply fire science theory to real-world applications through the school’s required culminating senior project that often coordinates with local communities.
Lake Superior State University was established, in 1946 as the Salem Normal School. Lake State is Michigan’s smallest public institution of higher learning. Lake State operates with several campuses located in Escanaba, Gaylord, Petoskey and Dearborn, MI. Lake State participates in joint academic programs with two institutions of higher learning in Ontario, Canada — Algoma University & Sault College. Lake Superior State University is situated near the US-Canadian border. As a result, Lake State is home to many Canadian students.
What We Like: Lake State’s fire science degree program holds the distinction as being the first internationally accredited emergency degree program in the nation.
Degree: BS in Fire Science
Becoming A Fire Protection Engineer: Fire Protection Engineering Jobs
One of the most desirable jobs within the fire department in most cities is the fire protection engineer position. The duties of fire protection engineering jobs vary widely. Generally those who hold these jobs within the fire department often ensuring the usage of non-flammable materials in construction, engineer fire escape routes in buildings, and sometimes work on the equipment that protects firefighters when they are putting out a fire. These fire jobs are generally a bit hard to come by, as each fire department jobs hiring committee may only be looking for one or two.
Like all fire jobs, applicants with a fire science degree stand a better chance of being considered for fire protection engineering jobs. All fire department jobs, including the few fire protection jobs within the fire department, are very competitive. This is something that prospective fire science students should keep in mind when looking at fire department jobs.
Arson Investigator Jobs & Fire Inspector Jobs
Arson investigators, also known as fire inspectors, investigate suspicious fires to determine whether or not they were set on purpose. After ‘What does an arson investigator do?’ the next question is often ‘Where do I find these jobs?’ Arson investigator jobs are generally found within police and fire departments. Many fire inspector jobs can be found in fire insurance companies.
Arson investigation positions are among the most sought after fire science degree jobs. Many people want to go into this profession because they find the answer to the question ‘What does an arson investigator do?’ challenging and interesting. However, people looking at fire science degree jobs should keep in mind that arson investigation jobs can be hard to come by.
Fire Department Administration
Fire and emergency services administration jobs are very desirable, as they generally offer relatively lucrative salaries. Also, fire service administration jobs are usually not as dangerous as firefighting jobs. Fire and emergency services administration jobs almost always require a fire sciences degree or similar. Experienced firefighters may be able to get fire service administration jobs without a degree.
High-Level Fire & Emergency Services Administration Jobs (Fire Chief & More)
High-level emergency and fire service administration jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree. For those wanting to go into fire department administration, a fire science degree is an excellent choice. While a bachelor’s degree may be enough, some departments will require a master’s degree.
Fire Safety Jobs: Fire Marshal
Fire marshals have among the most visible fire safety jobs. They are responsible not for putting out fires, but for preventing and mitigating them. For example, the fire safety officer job description includes setting the maximum number of people who are allowed in a building at any one time without it becoming a fire hazard. The fire safety officer job description also includes giving educational presentations and more.
Advanced Firefighting Positions: Other Fire Related Careers
There are many other fire-related careers. If you’re asking ‘What can I do with a fire science degree?’ you may have to think outside the box to find the job you want. There are many careers involving fire science besides fire safety engineering and arson inspection. When it comes down to it, ‘What can I do with a fire science degree?’ may include advanced firefighting positions. Of course, these positions require more experience than most careers involving fire science. Also, different fire departments will likely have different advanced firefighting positions. These different positions will likely be created based upon the fire safety challenges of the area.