Aside from the state’s size and sheer volume of people, California has dense urban cities and expansive areas with dry, arid and windy climates, all of which fuel natural wildfires. As a result, the state needs a robust and diverse network of firefighters, fire investigators, fire inspectors and first responders.
The state of California employs more firefighters than any other state, making it a hub for fire science training and education—nearly ten percent of all firefighters in the country work in California.
In addition to strong employment opportunities, firefighters and other fire prevention specialists in California earn some of the highest wages in the nation:
California Fire Service Careers
|Fire Inspectors and Investigators||$47,390||$76,510||$115,910|
|Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists||$45,840||$77,420||$93,560|
The vast majority of fire science education in California is taken at the undergraduate level, with most of these programs at community colleges. Because of California’s unique firefighting demands, the state government provides its own programs and training facilities for firefighters outside of the college arena, including the CAL FIRE Academy located in the Sierra Nevada foothills southeast of Sacramento.
Most undergraduate degrees are two-year associate or certificate programs aimed at aspiring firefighters. These courses explore the nature of fire, fire chemistry and flammable materials. They also delve into fire department administration, fire management and legal issues surrounding the profession. Four-year bachelor’s degrees are often aimed at current fire professionals seeking advancement in careers such as fire science training, command and control, or fire and emergency services management.
There are dozens of colleges in California that offer degrees related to fire science and emergency response, including associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and certificates. Nearly 3,000 students graduate with degrees and certificates pertaining to fire science every year in California.
It is a career filled with risk and challenges. There is also a difference between being a firefighter and a professional firefighter. It is all based on self-determination. Take the opportunity to prepare yourself and become a well-rounded candidate by doing the following: 1. Education. Attend college and work towards an A.S. degree at a minimum. Consider classes that specialize in hazardous materials, emergency medical services, fire prevention and technology. 2. Experience. Consider opportunities that enable you to work with a team; learn building construction, auto mechanics or other jobs that develop mechanical skills, or any other job that is in line with the knowledge, skills, and abilities of being a firefighter. 3. Be involved in your community through service projects, coaching, etc. 4. Obtain certifications that demonstrate a desire to be a firefighter, such as E.M.T, Firefighter 1, Hazardous Materials Operations, Confined Space Rescue, etc. 5. Demonstrate good judgment. When we hire personnel we perform background investigations. We look at previous drug and alcohol use, driving record, use of social media, etc.
We accept personnel who have, at a minimum, received a high school diploma or GED. These will not be enough against the competition. One needs to consider an A.S. degree at a minimum, even a bachelor’s degree. Look at a Firefighter 1 program. Consider becoming an E.M.T. or Paramedic. As one progresses in their career, there are many avenues of education and certification, which will carry one to the top. Many of these are listed by the State Fire Marshals Office in California. Also consider classes at the national level like from the Department of Homeland Security-National Fire Academy.
What makes firefighting unique in our jurisdiction is the wide variety emergencies we can have based on the topography. We have an ocean, coastal mountains, wildland urban interface, streams and lakes, a major highway through our jurisdiction, and unfortunately we are prone to natural disasters. We are also a tourist destination. All of these afford us an opportunity to be challenged with a wide variety of emergency calls or other types of calls for service.
The CSU campus in Los Angeles offers an upper-division program for students aiming at specialized fire science careers or administrative and managerial roles in fire services.
Program Name: Fire Protection Administration and Technology
Program Description: Because Cal State LA does not offer lower-division fire science courses, the Fire Protection Administration and Technology program is a “2 + 2” articulation program. This means that students must first complete two years at one of California’s many community colleges, and then transfer to Cal State LA for the remaining two years of this bachelor’s degree program.
The majority of fire science programs are relegated to lower-division coursework at the community college level. The school reports that this is the only program of its kind in the state, potentially leading graduates to occupations such as arson investigators, fire prevention specialists, fire loss insurance claims adjusters and fire station chiefs. This program is designed to equip graduates with the skills and credentials needed to compete for fire services administrative and supervisory roles, managing and commanding large-scale fire operations.
The fire protection administration curriculum encompasses subjects such as fire defense planning, fire disaster administration, fire prevention administration, fire protection and the community, fire protection systems, technological aspects of the urban environment, and interpretation and enforcement of building codes. Students have taken advantage of internships with several local city governments as well organizations ranging from Sony Picture Studios to the U.S. Forest Service. The program is offered through the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology.
Ranked first in transfers to four-year universities for Northern California, Sierra College is located in Rocklin, in the heart of California’s fire country.
Program Name: Fire Science Administration and Technology
Program Description: The fire technology program is built to prepare students for careers in fire services and potential advancement for those already in the field, with a focus on aiding professionals to halt danger to lives and property. Both the associate degree and certificate coursework in the Fire Technology program incorporate the standard curriculum recommended by the California State Chancellor and the State Fire Marshal. The program covers guidelines and protocols that are in place to protect the safety of fire professionals and the public. The program was designed under the guidelines of the California Fire Service Training and Education System, the Dept. of Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Fire Academy. Most fire technology courses, up to about 30 units, can serve as transfer credits to the CSU system.
Sierra College's accredited Firefighter I Academy takes advantage of partnerships with the Placer and Nevada County Fire Chiefs Associations and the Roseville Fire Department. Successful completion can result in Certificates of Training in areas such as Basic Incident Command System, National Incident Management System,
Confined Space Awareness, Hazardous Materials First Responder, Fire Control, Firefighter Survival and Vehicle Extrication. For the convenience of working students, the Firefighter I Academy is delivered through evening and weekend classes.
The physical nature of firefighting means some education must entail hands-on training, but there are many programs available through online education. Distance learning programs range from certificates to master’s degrees, and can cover much of what would be taught at a traditional campus. Subjects that may be suited for online delivery include general education requirements as well as fire service personnel management, administration and investigative techniques. Current fire service professionals — who have already completed physical training and have unpredictable work schedules — are especially likely to benefit from online education. Many fire science schools offer hybrid courses, blending online work with instruction at a physical campus.