As the state with the fifth highest concentration of fire inspector and investigator jobs in the nation and more than 10,000 EMTs and paramedics, North Carolina offers first-responder trainees and professionals numerous opportunities. Approximately 13,000 firefighters are employed at the state’s 1,000 fire stations. Community colleges and universities offer fire science education and training to prepare students for this challenging, but rewarding career.
In North Carolina, fire science education and training is offered through community colleges and four-year universities. Community colleges partner with local fire departments and high schools to offer fire academy training and certification as well as diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees in fire science. Fire academy typically lasts three months and is designed to train and prepare firefighters for certification, with an aggressive physical fitness program to help students meet the physical demands of fire service. North Carolina state certifications include Fire Fighter I & II; Hazardous Materials Level I Responder; Rapid Intervention Training; and Incident Command System. In addition, students are strongly encouraged to complete EMT training in conjunction with fire academy training.
North Carolina students who wish to continue their education can pursue a certificate, diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in fire science, though associate degrees are the most popular option. Associate degrees in fire protection technology include general education courses as well as major courses such as Introduction to Fire Protection and Fire Protection Law in the first year, and OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) Standards and Emergency Management in the second year. Fire science bachelor’s degree programs, which are offered through four-year colleges and universities, incorporate advanced-level major courses such as Fire Investigations, Fire Prevention Organization and Management, and Advanced Fire Administration into the curriculum. A bachelor’s degree in fire science provides the administrative skills students need to advance through the ranks to chief officer positions. It also prepares students to seek admission into the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program as well as other graduate study, such as master’s degree programs in public administration and related disciplines.
Students pursuing fire science degrees in North Carolina have several college and university programs from which to choose, including three Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE)-recognized degree programs. The National Fire Academy’s FESHE Recognition certificate is given to emergency services degree programs that meet national standards of excellence. North Carolina’s fire science colleges include:
I recommend that you do your research before you get into the business. Firefighting is a unique career path and not everyone has the ability to be a firefighter. See what characteristics are needed before you sign on the dotted line. Do a ride-along and talk to other firefighters to learn how firefighters work. It will save you and the department a lot of time.
If you or your parents can afford it, get your formal education before you apply. If not, start working on your associate degree as soon as you get on the department. If you aspire to be a chief, start working towards your master's degree. Most of the courses are online and you can work on them while on shift, after all the work is done. If you start early, before you know it, you'll be done.
The schedule is what makes the fire service unique. Working only, on average, 10 days a month makes you feel like you’re working part-time. While most of us get a second job to make ends meet, always remember that your top priority should be to strive to eventually only work at the fire department. Also remember to treat the fire service as your primary job. This can be challenging, especially since you only work 10 days a month.
*Denotes FESHE recognition
Take a closer look at two fire science degree programs available at colleges and universities in North Carolina:
Program Name: Fire Protection Technology
Program Description: The associate of applied science degree in fire protection technology at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) provides students with technical and administrative skills in areas such as hydraulics, fire protection systems, fire suppression, fire rescue service management, arson investigation, fire prevention, hazardous materials, inspections, law, and codes. Coursework includes classroom discussion as well as laboratory exercises to introduce students to various aspects of fire protection.
Upon graduation, students are prepared for fire protection technology positions in governmental agencies, industrial firms, private corporations, insurance rating organizations, safety organizations, educational organizations, and municipal or volunteer fire departments in North Carolina. The associate degree also lays the groundwork for bachelor’s degree programs in fire science, which may offer opportunities for more skilled and supervisory positions. Get more information at CVCC’s fire protection technology page: http://www.cvcc.edu/Health_Public_Services/Public_Services/Fire_Protection/
Program Name: Fire and Emergency Services Administration
Program Description: The bachelor’s degree program in fire and emergency services administration at Fayetteville State University (FSU) is a 2+2 program in partnership with accredited community colleges using an online delivery system. Many students enroll in the program after completion of an associate degree in fire protection technology from one of North Carolina’s community colleges.
Fayetteville Fire Station 14 was built right on the campus of FSU, with dorm rooms to accommodate juniors and seniors as they complete fire department internship requirements. The station also includes classroom and community space, along with video-conferencing capabilities to strengthen education delivery services. Learn more at FSU’s fire science page: http://www.uncfsu.edu/ghp/fire-and-emergency-services-administration
While fire science may not seem to lend itself naturally to distance education, online fire science degrees have sparked the attention of firefighters and other first responders across the country. The National Fire Academy even sponsors the Degrees at a Distance Program at several colleges and universities across the country, including Fayetteville State University. Initial hands-on, in-person training takes place at fire academies, with academic courses such as Fire Behavior and Combustion, Principles of Emergency Services, and Applications of Fire Research available online. Because many chief and mid-level officers in North Carolina’s fire departments are now required to have a bachelor’s degree, they can take advantage of online courses to continue their education while maintaining regular shifts at work.