Washington fire service professionals carry a tremendous responsibility in the Evergreen State. They protect the state’s mountain ranges, national wildlands and forests, small towns, and metropolitan areas from fire loss and damage. Nearly 8,000 firefighters staff Washington’s numerous fire stations and departments. Related careers include fire inspectors and investigators and first-line supervisors.
Like most other careers, wages for fire service personnel can vary by experience, education, and employment type. To illustrate, the following table lists salaries for firefighters, inspectors/investigators, and supervisors at various levels in the state of Washington:
|Washington Fire Service Careers
|Fire Inspectors and Investigators
|Fire Service Supervisors
Entering the fire science field can be challenging because the field is fiercely competitive, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that postsecondary education and professional certifications can brighten the employment outlook. New recruits must pass rigorous physical, mental and academic challenges to gain admittance into a fire academy. Those who want to enter the field can be proactive by earning a degree or certificate in fire science, increasing their knowledge base and building experience. Washington offers numerous opportunities for education in fire science. In addition to programs at colleges and universities, the Washington State Fire Training Academy in North Bend offers courses designed for professional certification.
An associate degree is a good starting point for prospective firefighters looking to gain some experience before applying to a fire department. Students learn the history of the field and become familiar with the physical and academic requirements of fighting fires. Certificate and bachelor’s programs serve current fire professionals by expanding their knowledge of the field, often serving as a stepping-stone for career advancement or entry into specialized occupations such as arson investigation. A master’s degree can offer the “big picture” perspective, which is useful for administrative and management positions in private or public agencies and organizations.
Washington has numerous institutions where students can start on the path to a fire science degree. Below are some of the schools from which to choose.
Keep your driving record and criminal history spotless. Keep yourself in good physical and mental shape by doing routine physical fitness. Get a college degree early on. Seek out firefighter tests and research departments where you would like to work, then start testing as soon as you can.
Get an IFSAC Firefighter-I certification; get your EMT cert as well. If possible attend the Washington State Patrol Fire Academy or Everett Community College Fire Academy. Go to college and get a degree. Fire science, business management, finance, and leadership are some of the degrees/courses that will make you a more desirable candidate.
My agency covers 50+ square miles that includes two state highways, two rivers, seven lakes, a small city, and a rural area with a population of about 25,000 people. We are a combination fire department with career staff, part-time staff, and volunteers. We do BLS and ALS transports with our own FF/Paramedics on staff.
Those who have already earned an associate degree can deepen knowledge and choose a specialized focus with various certificates in fire science.
Program Name: Fire Science
Program Description: Bellevue College (formerly Bellevue Community College) has a range of choices for fire science training, including associate degree and certificate programs.
Prospective and practicing fire professionals alike can explore one of the many fire science programs at Bellevue College, such as the Fire Officer Certificate of Accomplishment. This certificate program is designed to set the graduate up with building blocks for promotion in fire science. The program follows the IAFC Professional Development recommendations for fire officers working in a supervisory position. Certificate recipients learn how to apply management principles and problem solving skills in a variety of situations. Additional opportunities for certificates at Bellevue include the Fire Science Certificate of Achievement, Fire Investigation Certificate of Completion and Fire Prevention Specialist Certificate of Completion.
Bellevue's associate degree program in fire science is constructed according to the standards of the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education's core curriculum and requires studies at the EMT level. Courses for the major could include fire behavior and combustion, fire prevention and practices, fire service hydraulics, fundamentals of emergency services, fire investigation, fire protection, fire tactics and strategies, wildland/urban interface and fire inspection and building codes. General education courses, known as distribution requirements, could contribute to a student's communicative and interpersonal skills as well as quantitative reasoning abilities: business software essentials, English composition, technical writing, psychology, sociology, chemistry and math. Required academic subjects such as chemistry could have a practical application in the fire science field.
Students interested in forestry and forest maintenance can earn a degree to deepen their understanding of fire science.
Program Name: Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Resource Management
Program Description: Many people become fire science professionals because they want to help preserve the nation’s landscape through fire prevention and rehabilitate lands that have been devastated by fire. A degree in environmental science from the University of Washington can help in that endeavor. Students learn about the natural landscape and focus on sustainability throughout the program. They work in the field with environmental professionals and can choose to specialize in wildlife conservation, sustainable forest management, landscape ecology and conservation, or restoration ecology and environmental horticulture. Electives encompass ecosystem management and wildland hydrology. The knowledge gained in a program like this can help boost the prospects of a fire science professional interested in careers beyond firefighting.
Students at "U Dub" have access to a rich community of inquiry focused on forest resources. Potential studies include fire ecology, which provides an overview of the history and function of forest fire in the western United States. A class in wildland fire management examines the impact of climate, fuels and topography on fire behavior. Concepts discussed include fire-safe forests, wilderness fire control and multiple-use forests.
UW hosts fire research projects such as the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Intertribal Timber Council. Another research initiative is the Joint Fire Science Program, a high-tech remote sensing project funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Advanced students at UW can seek the opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research projects in forest management and fire science.
Online learning can be a convenient and flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar programs, particularly for students living in the many remote areas of Washington, or fire professionals who work variable shifts. For example, a fire science program using asynchronous delivery allows students to learn at their own pace while balancing personal and professional responsibilities. Students receive lectures and communication from professors and peers via Skype, Blackboard and email and submit assignments and research papers in much the same manner. Online programs make real-world experience a challenge, but fire science schools can circumvent this problem by partnering with fire departments and other institutions across the state. Another solution is to complete academic studies online and then pursue physical training through certificate programs at colleges or certification courses at the Washington State Fire Training Academy.