Due to its diverse landscape, Pennsylvania depends on highly skilled fire science professionals to help fight and protect against urban and wild fires. Firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs may work out of the more than 1,836 fire stations in the state. Other positions can be found at hospitals, regional districts, and private ambulance companies. Colleges, universities, fire academies, trade schools and online schools offer a full range of degree and certificate programs for those interested in pursuing a fire science career.
Wages for Pennsylvania firefighters, supervisors, investigators, and inspectors may be higher in large urban areas to match the cost of living. Other salaries may vary based on length of service, education, and type of department. The following table indicates annual earnings for firefighters, inspectors/investigators, and supervisors in the state:
Pennsylvania Fire Service Careers
|Fire Inspectors and
|Fire Service Supervisors
In Pennsylvania, colleges, universities, community colleges and other institutions offer fire science programs created to prepare students for anything from firefighting training and duties to administration work, research or education in the fire sciences. Online education is also available for those who have difficulty with the schedules of brick-and-mortar schools.
Fire science studies often begin with the required certification of becoming an EMT or paramedic, and then grow from there through associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. There are even PhD programs available for those who want to take their fire science studies to the highest level.
The most common educational paths in fire science remain the associate or bachelor’s degree. Those who choose to pursue the bachelor’s degree often find a range of specializations, from fire prevention or fire protection, to administration degrees aimed at firehouse leadership. The associate degree typically offers two paths: the general associate degree in fire sciences, which can prepare students to move into a bachelor’s degree program, or the applied associate degree, which may suit students planning to move directly into the workforce.
In Pennsylvania, here are some of the colleges and universities where fire science is offered:
Working in the fire service is a privilege. It can be a very rewarding career and offer a dedicated person many ways to give back to their community. My best advice for anyone that is considering a career in the fire service would be to make sure you are getting into it for the right reasons. We are community servants. While the occasional personal achievement or accomplishment is something to be proud of, our profession should remain a humble one. Don't rush anything. Be observant and let your actions speak for you. Focus on how you can make your community and organization better and how you can give back to your profession. This will make you a better fire service professional and a better person. Always remember, it's never about what the fire service owes you, it's about what you can do to advance the profession and make your community safer.
We work in a profession in which 1) there is no substitute for experience and 2) there is no end to the learning. It's important that fire service professionals create a blended professional development plan—certification training, continuing education, formal education, conferences and symposiums, national fire academy training, and of course, local level courses that combine classroom and practical experience are all important. Stay focused on classes and programs that correlate with your current level of experience or that challenge you to the next step in your career. I highly recommend a bachelor's degree to compliment your fire service training, especially if you plan to transition in to a leadership role some day. Also, consider specializing in some aspect of the service that you particularly enjoy. It's also important to listen to other fire service professionals who can help guide and mentor you. Take the time to listen, to learn from others and explore your options, of which there are many.
One thing that's unique about the Pennsylvania fire service is that to this day, it is largely comprised of volunteer fire departments. It also boasts a wide variety of communities, from densely urban to rural and remote. That being said, more and more departments are adding career firefighters. There are more opportunities to start a fire service career in PA than ever before and one can do so in many cases in their own community. As volunteerism declines, many departments are blending services, creating regional fire districts or merging with neighboring departments in order to maximize services. These changes are creating opportunities never seen before. Municipalities are also looking for professionals that are diverse in experience—community risk reduction, code enforcement, and emergency management in addition to the typical operational aspects we associate with the fire service. The fire service in PA is changing, and with these changes will come new opportunities that were previously reserved for larger county or metropolitan areas.
This is just a sampling of the opportunities available to those who choose to study fire sciences in Pennsylvania. The spotlight series below explores two of the programs that might be of interest to students.
Program Name: AAS in Fire Science
Program Description: Bucks County Community College's program can help to prepare students to manage a wide variety of fire scenarios, as well as teaching leadership skills that could come in handy upon graduation. Courses encompass emergency planning, fire investigation, computer assisted design, building codes, fire safety education and more. Students learn the basic principles of firefighting and emergency response, as well as the more in-depth education required for fire inspection, insurance investigation, equipment inspection and risk analysis, with the goal of preparing graduates to enter any aspect of fire services.
To learn more, visit the program page: http://www.bucks.edu/catalog/majors/business/fire/
Program Name: Fire Science and Public Safety Administration
Program Description: This bachelor’s degree is offered to students who have completed 27 hours or more of formal education at an accredited school in the fields of fire science or public administration. Specialized coursework includes risk analysis, emergency services administration, labor and employment law, major incident analysis and more. In addition, students must participate in the co-op and internship program, which gives them hands-on experience in a firehouse or other emergency services institution. Holy Family University reports that 87 percent of students have found permanent jobs following this internship experience.
To learn more: http://www.holyfamily.edu/choosing-holy-family-u/academics/schools-of-study/school-of-business-administration/undergraduate-programs/104-bachelor-of-arts-in-fire-science-public-safety-administration
In the past, the only way to earn a certificate or degree in fire science – or any related field, for that matter – was through brick-and-mortar schools. This meant that those who had family obligations, full-time work and other responsibilities might have a difficult time completing their degree. Today, online courses and degrees are available for students who want to pursue their educational dreams but don’t have the time to sit in a classroom. Course delivery includes the fully online model or a hybrid option, which means that students can take some courses online, but complete the ‘hands on’ component in a real-world setting.
Some fire science programs offer the “life credit” option. This could give Pennsylvania students credit for training they have already completed and experience they have gained in the world of emergency services. For example, a student might be able to use “life credits” and potentially complete studies faster than they might expect. Admissions counselors at various schools can describe exactly what online and hybrid opportunities are available for a particular program.