Fire Science Degree Programs in California | Firefighter Training

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Written by Kathleen Swed
Last Updated: Feb 5, 2020

In California, opportunities for aspiring firefighters abound. As the most populous state in the country and the third-largest state by area, California employs the highest number of firefighters in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 32,910 firefighters worked in California in 2018, earning the highest annual mean wage for firefighters at $81,580.


With wildfires raging across the state annually, seasonal firefighters are in high demand in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employs 8,000 full-time and seasonal employees. In addition, California's mixture of metropolitan and rural areas creates a wealth of options for individuals seeking employment as firefighters.


Firefighter requirements in California vary depending on the particular location. Read on for more information regarding how to become a firefighter in California, including details on testing, age requirements, and certifications. This page also covers educational programs in California, job growth potential, and professional resources for firefighters.



Firefighter Requirements in California


Firefighter requirements in California depend on the town, city, or county where an individual wishes to work. For example, firefighters in San Bernardino or San Diego may apply at 18 years of age, while candidates in San Francisco must be 20 and those in Burbank must be 21.


Most fire departments in California require applicants to demonstrate their ability to handle the physical challenges of the profession. San Bernardino and San Diego require candidates to pass either the National Testing Network's (NTN) Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT) or an Orange County-specific physical exam known as the Biddle. Some departments, like those of Burbank and Sacramento, administer their own physical examinations.


Many firefighters in California must undergo written and oral testing, as well. Burbank performs its tests, while San Francisco requires applicants to complete the NTN's FireTeam test.


California fire departments offer generous support to their firefighters. Corona offers support for prospective firefighters as young as 14 through its regional occupational program, and some departments in Corona accept individuals 18 and older into training programs. Similarly, San Bernardino County provides full training and certification opportunities for firefighters hired into its departments.


Some jurisdictions, such as San Diego, require candidates to hold several certifications, such as EMT and wildland firefighting, which the city offers for college credit through a 16-week educational program.


Becoming a Firefighter in California: Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the specific training for California?

    Some departments, particularly in Southern California, offer training for their firefighters in areas like rescue awareness, fire protection organization, wildland firefighting, hazardous materials, and incident command system.

  • Is EMT/paramedic/other training or certification required?

    California often prefers firefighters to undergo EMT training. Many departments, such as San Diego and San Bernardino, offer or support EMT training and other certifications for hired firefighters. San Francisco does not require it.

  • What is the test like for firefighters in California?

    Firefighters in California must generally complete written and oral examinations, along with a physical examination. Candidates in San Francisco must pass the NTN's FireTeam test, with mechanical, reading, and math components. Other departments run their own, similar tests.

  • What kind of shape should I be in to be a firefighter?

    Firefighters in California are expected to be in good physical condition. Most departments require candidates to pass a physical examination, such as the NTN's CPAT, which includes challenges like ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, and hose drag.

  • What if I only want to fight wildfires in California?

    The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employs both full-time and seasonal firefighters to battle wildfires in the state. Seasonal firefighters must be 18 years old and hold a CAL FIRE basic firefighter certificate.

  • How long does it take to become a firefighter in California?

    It depends on the specific requirements of each jurisdiction. San Diego, for example, provides all required certifications through a 16-week program, while entry-level firefighters in other towns may begin with just a high school diploma and a successful round of testing.

Firefighter Courses and Programs in California


California features a variety of excellent courses for aspiring firefighters, including associate and bachelor's degree programs and academies offering preferred certification for firefighters. Some programs prepare entry-level firefighters, while others emphasize administration and leadership. Students may seek out programs providing EMT, hazardous materials, and other specializations.


The programs below represent a few educational offerings for firefighters in California. Because firefighter requirements in California differ by location, students should make sure to research regulations for their local fire departments before settling on a program.

University of Antelope Valley

Program Name Associate in Fire Science
Program Description Designed for entry-level firefighters and individuals interested in forestry, insurance, and government careers, UAV's 64.5-credit associate in fire science features courses in fire protection organization, emergency medical services, fire behavior and combustion, and building construction for fire protection. Students generally complete the program in about 1.5 years.

Sierra College

Program Name Associate of Arts in Fire Technology
Program Description Designed for municipal and forest fire fighters, fire inspectors, and fire investigators, Sierra's 64.5-credit fire technology certificate takes two years, or four terms, to complete. In addition to general education requirements, the program educates students in fire suppression and prevention, emergency medical services, ethics, communication, and understanding of the fire service industry.

California State University, Los Angeles

Program Name Bachelor of Science in Fire Protection Administration and Technology
Program Description Ideal for students seeking technical and administrative skills in firefighting, Cal State LA's 120-credit bachelor's degree completion program serves students who have completed community college-level major courses in fire protection systems, fire prevention, and related topics.

Fire Science Colleges in California

State
Degree Level
School Type
Environment

Firefighter Salaries and Job Growth in California


California ranks as the highest-paying state in the country for firefighters. According to the BLS, firefighters in California made an annual mean wage of $81,580 as of May 2018, with an hourly wage of $40. Firefighters in the 90th percentile made $135,240, while those in the 10th percentile earned $40,100 -- still well above the mean wage for many lower-paying states. California's Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode region employs the highest concentration of nonmetropolitan firefighters in the country.


The BLS anticipates a 5% national rise in demand for firefighters between 2018 and 2028, and Projections Central projects the demand for firefighters in California to grow at the same rate between 2016 and 2026.


National Average Salaries for Firefighters

0-12 Months

Entry Level

$40,657
1-4 Years

Early Career

$41,666
5-9 Years

Mid-Career

$48,760
10-19 Years

Experienced

$56,191

Source: PayScale

Firefighter Resources in California


Professional resources for firefighters can include education, retiree benefits, and career support. Professional organizations advocate for better working conditions for firefighters, keeping government officials apprised of new technology and pushing for satisfactory budgets and regulations around firefighting.


In a state where wildfires rage annually, local firefighters may stay informed about threats due to weather conditions or hazardous materials they may need to handle. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Office of the State Fire Marshal provide a wealth of resources for firefighters to stay up to date on current threats.


California Professional Firefighters

With 175 local affiliates across the state, CPF serves a membership of career firefighters through governmental advocacy, political action, newsletter communication, retiree services, and health and safety protection.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employs 8,000 permanent and seasonal employees. The department alerts the state to fire watch conditions and works to protect California from the threat of wildfires. The department also runs the CAL FIRE Academy for firefighter training.

The California State Firefighters Association

The CSFA supports firefighters in California by cultivating community, offering an annual convention, promoting understanding of the field to elected officials, and advocating for legislation to protect firefighters.

California Fire Chiefs Association

CalChiefs provides support and resources for fire chiefs and emergency services leaders in California through free training and education, legislative action, a job search board, and an annual conference.

Office of the State Fire Marshal

The State Fire Marshal's office coordinates statewide efforts for municipal fire and wildfire prevention and takes responsibility for controlling potentially hazardous substances. The office researches and develops fire prevention techniques and provides educational opportunities.