Firefighting is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world – and in much of the US, it’s a volunteer position. In most larger cities and municipalities, though, the fire protection service is highly professionalized, and that is becoming more and more common. Fire protection is complex, from the technology and techniques of actual fire-fighting to the organizational challenges of collaborating between cities, especially for major events like forest fires. That’s why more fire services are requiring a bachelor’s degree for firefighters and administrators, and working professionals are under pressure to catch up.
Colleges and universities have developed all sorts of ways to make an online fire science bachelor degree convenient for working firefighters. In addition to accelerated schedules (courses that take only 6–8 weeks instead of the conventional 16), fire science programs offer generous credit transfers. Since many firefighters already have associate’s degrees, they are halfway to a bachelor’s; they can finish in as little as 18 months. When credit for work experience and certifications is added in, a fire science bachelor degree can take as little as a year.
Methodology: How We Ranked the Best Online Fire Science Degree Accelerated Programs
For our ranking of the Fastest Online Fire Science Degree programs, Bachelor’s Degree Center began with a list of all reputable, accredited online fire science degree programs, as well as fire and public services administration, fire investigation, and related programs. From there, we searched for fire science online degree programs that took the needs of working fire service professionals seriously, with accelerated classes, helpful transfer programs, and other opportunities to speed up the process.
Finally, programs were ranked according to five factors: Cost, Graduation Rate, Job Placement Rate, Reputation, and Salary Expectations. Data came from IPEDS, College Scorecard, and Niche, for a ranking that focuses on job market value and returns on investment. These are the best in fire and emergency services higher education.
1. American Public University
American Public University’s BS in Fire Science Management degree program can be completed 100% online. Students explore the theory and practices of the fire science discipline. American Public University’s Fire Administration degree program requires the completion of 120 credit units in the areas of prevention, safety, fire suppression, and fire behavior. APU offers a generous transfer policy that allows for up to 90 eligible credits.
American Public University was established in 1991 and operates independently of the United States federal government. APU is a private, for-profit institution of higher learning where more than 55+% of the 48,000+-student population have previously served in the US military. APU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and endorsed by the Council on Education for Public Health, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the National Council on Family Relations. Wendy B. Lawrence, a space shuttle veteran, is a faculty member at the American Public University
Degree: BS in Fire Science Management
Format: Online — transfer 90 credits
2. Anna Maria College
One of the few colleges with a dedicated School of Fire & Health Sciences, Anna Maria College offers an online BS in Fire Science degree program that is available entirely online. The FESHE approved coursework (AMC was the first in the country to earn this certification) includes fire dynamics, firefighting skills, hazardous materials handling, and management theories. Anna Maria College’s transfer credit policy accepts up to 900 eligible credits. They also offer students an accelerated Master of Public Administration that can be earned during an agreed-upon 5th Year of instruction.
Anna Maria is a private institution of higher learning that was established in 1946. The school was founded by the Sisters of Saint Anne and remains affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The school’s 175+-acre rural campus is home to nearly 1,500 students. The school is located in the beautiful central portion of Massachusetts. Boston, Cape Cod, Connecticut, Albany, Vermont, and Even New York City are within driving distances.
Degree: BS in Fire Science
Format: Online — accelerated — FESHE Certificate
3. Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green State University’s BS in Fire Administration (FIAD) can be completed 100% online. BGSU’s program is recognized among the best online fire science degree programs in the region. The school allows for up to 90 transfer credits for incoming students. BGSU holds the distinction as being the State Fire School since the early 1970s. The program’s curriculum includes requires the completion of 122 credit units and a capstone culminating project; which is completed, on average, in two-three years.
Bowling Green State University is a public institution of higher education that was established in 1910. US News, Forbes, and Washington Monthly have nationally recognized Bowling Green State University. The school operates with multiple campuses but overall, the school’s student enrollment nears 23,000. The school is home to the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater/Museum, a collection of keepsakes dedicated the Gish sisters of early film.
Degree: BS in Fire Administration
Format: Online — only 30 credits at BGSU
4. Eastern Kentucky University
Eastern Kentucky University offers a BS in Fire, Arson, and Explosion Investigation that can be completed online entirely. The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFASAC) accredits the fire administration degree programs offered by Eastern Kentucky University. EKU’s fire science bachelor’s degree program requires the completion of 120 credit units. EKU’s allows for the transfer of up to 90 credit hours and reduce tuition prices for active service members. US News & World Report recognizes Eastern Kentucky University’s fire science program among the top online program in the nation.
Eastern Kentucky University is a public, regional institution of higher learning that was established in 1874. EKU is a distance-learning school and also offers on-campus classes on several campuses in Richmond, Lancaster, Corbin, Manchester, and Hazard. Including online learners, Eastern Kentucky is home to nearly 17,000 students. US News, Forbes Magazine and the Chronicle of Higher Education have recognized many degree programs offered by Eastern Kentucky University.
Degree: BS in Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation
Format: Online — transfer up to 90 credits
5. Lewis University
Lewis University offers an online BA in Fire Service Administration degree program that is delivered as an accelerated program. Students experience real-world fire-related circumstances alongside professional firefighters in the Chicago area. Core courses include Fire Service Ethics, Fire Service Risk Management, Fire Service Financial Management, and Emergency Medical Services Administration, among others.
Lewis University is a private university that was established in 1932 by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The school’s suburban campus is home to more than 4,600 students studying from the more than 75 degree programs offered by Lewis University. LU’s fire administration degree program requires incoming students to be a minimum of 24 years old, and either 3 years of full-time work or hold an associates degree in a fire-related subject. The school accepts up to 72 eligible transfer credit units.
Degree: BA in Fire Service Administration
Format: On-Campus or Online — Accelerated
6. Liberty University
Liberty University offers a BS in Fire Administration degree program that is available 100% online. LU’s fire science bachelor degree program requires the completion of 120 credit units across 3.6 to 4 years. Coursework includes Fire Prevention, Fire Service Organizations, Leadership in Fire Services, Incident Command, and Emergency Planning, among others. Liberty University’s fire administration degree allows for the transfer of up to 90 credit units and prepares graduates for a career in the field of fire service, fire administration, and emergency services management.
LU is an evangelical Christian institution of higher education that was established in 1971. The school’s suburban campus is home to more than 15,000 students; however, Liberty University’s online student enrollment exceeds more than 94,000. Liberty University’s recently built Freedom Tower holds the distinction of being the tallest structure in Lynchburg, VA.
Degree: BS in Fire Administration
Format: Online — transfer 90 credits
7. Neumann University
Neumann University’s offers a BS in Public Safety Administration degree program that is available online, and in an accelerated format through the Adult Education division. The school offers transfer credits of up to 90 and credit for previously earned certifications. Students attending Neumann University’s fire science degree program either online, or on-campus follow the Franciscan tradition of social responsibility, environmental protection, and respect for everyone.
The Franciscan Sisters from the City of Brotherly love – Philadelphia established Neumann University in 1965. The school is affiliated with the Franciscan Roman Catholic Church and was initially an all-girl institution of higher learning. The school is organized into five divisions covering the disciplines of Nursing, Education, Business, Arts & Sciences, and Professionals Studies. The school’s southeastern Pennsylvania campus is home to more than 3,000 students.
Degree: BS in Public Safety Administration
Format: Online — accelerated
8. Northern Arizona University
Northern Arizona University offers an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Applied Science degree program in Emergency Management that is available completely online. Students attending the fire science bachelor degree explore the concepts of Emergency Planning, Disaster recovery, Homeland Security, and Incident Management, among others. The school’s generous transfer credit policy allows for up to 90 eligible credits that can be applied to the program’s 120-credit unit requirement.
Northern Arizona University is a research institution of higher education that was established in 1889. The school’s 700+-acre ‘small city’ campus is home to more than 31,000 students and sits at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. NAU holds the distinction of being the first university that applied credits to degree programs for life experience. Northern Arizona University ranks among the top worldwide .5% universities according to the Center for World University Rankings.
Degree: BAS in Emergency management
Format: Online — transfer 90 credits
9. St Thomas University
St Thomas University offers a BS in Emergency Services Management degree program that is available online and in an accelerated format. STU’s coursework mirrors the standards set forth by FESHE — the Fire and Emergency Higher Education Program. Curriculum coursework includes Rescue Operations, Fire Suppression, Conflict Resolution, Fire Services Technology, and Emergency Services Personnel Management, among others.
The Archdiocese of Miami established St Thomas University in 1961. St Thomas University traces its roots to Havana Cuba in the mid-1940s. The school’s 150-acre urban campus is home to nearly 4,700 students and minutes from the infamous Miami beaches and the Magic City’s nightlife. College Factual recognizes STU’s fire science bachelor degree among the top 15% of Law Enforcement, Homeland Security and Firefighting online programs countrywide.
Degree: BS in Fire and Emergency Services Management
Format: Online — Accelerated
10. University of Maryland University College
The University of Maryland University College’s Global Campus offers a BS in Public Safety Administration degree program that delivers all the flexibility and convenience of a quality distance-learning program. The Global Campus’ fire science bachelor degree program requires the completion of 120 credit units – of which up to 90 eligible credits can be transferred. Coursework includes Public Safety Ethics, Public Safety Leadership, Legal Issues, Public Policy, and Public Service Technology, among others. FESHE — the Fire and Emergency Higher Education oversight program — accredits UMUC’s public safety baccalaureate degree program.
The University of Maryland University College is a public institution of higher learning that focuses on online education. UMUC’s online student body totals more than 90,000 students, worldwide. UMUC is one of eleven member schools of the University of Maryland System. The University of Maryland University College is considered a pioneer in distance education as it originally offered distance-learning programs using dial-up access.
Degree: BS in Public Safety Administration
Format: Online — transfer 90 credits — FESHE Certificate
What If I Don’t Want a Full Bachelor’s Degree?
You don’t need a full Bachelor’s degree to start your fire safety career. After all, how long does a fire science degree take? Instead, you can earn a certificate of fire safety by getting your fire science certificate online. A fire safety officer course can jumpstart your career. Keep in mind that a certificate is a bit different from a Bachelor’s degree. For one thing, a certificate takes far less time to earn. Instead of staying in school for four years, you could earn your certificate in two years or less. While a Bachelor’s degree requires some core courses, a certificate does not. Instead, you only take the courses that are absolutely required for your certificate of fire safety. Instead of studying math, English, and other subjects, you’ll go straight to your online fire protection courses.
There’s one more difference between getting a bachelor of science and getting a fire science certificate online. Bachelor’s degrees come from colleges and universities. Certificates, on the other hand, come from a licensing organization. With either choice, you’ll learn all of the basics and gain relevant skills to get your career off the ground. That said, you should note that a Bachelor’s degree is required for certain promotions. Those who reach the highest offices in fire safety usually have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. However, online fire protection courses provide great places to start.
Most of the time, becoming an EMT or paramedic requires only an associate’s degree.
If you want to jumpstart your career now, save some money (and have less in financial aid to pay back), and then get a Bachelor’s degree when you’re ready to move forward with your career path, you can absolutely do so. Start by searching for a fire safety officer course near you.
What Will I Learn in a Fire Science Program?
Whether you get your fire science degree online or on-campus, your fire science degree requirements will cover a lot of ground. A fire science program will cover everything from the fire science definition to fire science technology. Essentially, you’ll learn everything that you need to know to start your firefighting career. Fire science degree requirements vary from one school to the next. However, most of these programs are very similar to one another.
Common fire science degree requirements include courses on safety, fire science technology, prevention, and combustion. Keep in mind that the fire science definition covers all aspects of fire. You’ll study how fires start, how they behave, and how they react to different conditions.
If you’re interested in becoming a fire inspector or fire chief, a bachelor’s or master’s degree will be really key. Combining criminal justice with fire science or emergency management can help get into higher positions. Choosing your electives wisely can also help you specialize. Look into degree completion if you already have an associate’s degree; the admission requirements are usually much easier when you already have college credit for general education.
Do I Need a Certification or License to be a Firefighter?
Generally speaking, yes. Of course, all municipalities and fire departments have their own rules and regulations for their firefighters. Your best choice is to look up the municipality where you want to work so that you can find out what the requirements are there. In some places, you need only a high school diploma. In some places, an associate of applied science (A.A.S.) from a community college is required. If you’re not sure where you’ll end up working, then it’s best to go ahead and get your fire science certification. Most municipalities will require that you do. Even if your municipality doesn’t require it, having your certification will give you confidence and a competitive edge.
Furthermore, firefighting is a dangerous profession. When you have certification, you can be sure that you have all of the skills that you’ll need to fight fires effectively. Getting your certification will require taking an exam. An online fire science bachelor’s degree will help you prepare for that exam. With all of the classes that go into an online bachelor degree, you’ll feel more confident when you aim for your fire science certification.
However, you don’t necessarily need a full Bachelor’s degree, as stated above. You can find online fire science classes to help you study for your fire safety certification online. These often have multiple start dates and partnerships with organizations like the U.S. Fire Administration. However, when you look for that fire safety certification online, make sure that you only use legitimate sources for your fire science classes online. For example, the National Fire Protection Association or the National Fire Academy are great places to start.