The Most Useful Certifications to Get a Job in Firefighting

You’ve put hours of volunteer work in. You’ve focused on your fitness and stamina, and you’ve completed your basic training to be a firefighter. These courses likely included CPR Training, EMT certification, and a trip to the firefighter academy. You’ve earned state certifications and you’re logging in routine 24-hour shifts at your local firehouse.

While this may be enough for some, others may be interested in continuing their education, gaining new skills and certifications or perhaps have goals to climb the corporate ladder. Figuring out what the next step is can be tricky, and that’s where we come in.

We’ve compiled a list of specialized training certificates, paths to formal education as well as online resources and magazines to help you continue to gain the knowledge you need to keep up with the changing world of firefighting and set you on the career advancement path you want.

Certifications for Specialized Tasks

Specialized training certificates vary from state to state, so it’s important to do your research and see what is available or required in your jurisdiction. Below are some certifications and specialized trainings that will propel you to the top of your field.

  • Paramedic Certification

While it is a requirement for firefighters to complete EMT training, more and more fire departments are looking for those who have paramedic certifications. Your local community college is a great place to find the courses you need to get certified. Keep in mind that if you intend to be certified through the National Registry, you must complete coursework from an accredited paramedic program. This means that the institution meets certain requirements in terms of training standards that are maintained by an outside agency.

You may also be interested in taking classes online where you combine online classroom work with face-to-face, hands-on training. After completing the required courses you will need to obtain state licensure, which is likely to include certification by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).

  • Swiftwater Rescue Training.

Firefighters located near moving waters may want to take part in a swift water rescue-training course. The Swiftwater Safety Institute offers world- class training designed to help rescuers with limited gear and resources. The institute also offers a technical rope rescue course, a professional safety kayaker course, and can customize courses to fit the needs of a group.

  • Hazmat Technician

Part of the role of a firefighter may include responding to a situation involving hazardous materials. Obtaining your Hazmat Technician certification will give you the education and proficiencies needed to perform advanced control, containment and confinement of hazardous materials. Training courses vary on length of time required for certification, so check with your state’s Department of Emergency Management or with your state OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for specifics and locations near you.

  • Arson Investigator.

According to a National Fire Protection Association report from 2014, intentional fires resulted in 420 civilian deaths and 1,360 civilian injuries from 2007-2011. As a firefighter, it’s your responsibility to protect lives first, but you may also be interested in the investigation aspect to determine the cause of the fire.

Certification programs are available and offer training in all areas of arson investigation including behavior of fire, motivation of the fire setter, documenting the scene with and without photography, evidence collection, point of origin and interview and investigative techniques. Depending on your training program, completion can lead to certification through the state and national levels.

  • The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) is a wonderful resource for fire and emergency personnel and offers professional credentialing for the following five designations. Check out the applications for each designation below. They can help you determine the qualifications you already have, what you are missing, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and the continuing education you need to reach your desired designation.
    • Fire Officer Certification. Open to junior officers, company officers and those who have been in an interim role for 12 months.
    • Fire Marshal Certification. Open to fire marshals or fire prevention officers who have management responsibilities over specific aspects of fire prevention programs.
    • Chief Fire Officer Certification. Open to chief officers serving at or above the level of Battalion Chief.
    • Chief EMS Officer. To qualify you must have a minimum of 10 years in the emergency medical services field or experience as an EMT, Paramedic, Registered Nurse, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner or Physician.
    • Chief Training Officer. Any administrators of training programs in fire and emergency service are eligible to apply.

Higher Education Opportunities for Firefighters

A degree in fire science is not mandatory for becoming a firefighter, however it may give you the edge you need when looking for a job. Check with your local community colleges and state universities to see what is available in your area.

  • Technical Courses.

Perhaps you don’t have the time or the money to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree but you wish to improve your skills. Consider taking a standalone technical course from a local community center or community college to help move you forward. This can include courses like business writing, building construction, training and development, leadership, technical/report writing, public sector employment and project management. Any one of these classes, and many others, can increase your knowledge and put you one more step in the right direction.

  • Associate’s Degree in Fire Science or Fire Technology.

This is typically a two-year program and prepares students for entry-level firefighting positions. Typical coursework may include Firefighting Strategy and Tactical Procedures, Fire Combustion and Behaviors, Fire Prevention Basics, Introduction to Emergency Services and more.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science or Fire Technology.

This is a four-year program combining general education with targeted courses, but allows students to obtain more specialized training. Depending on the school, students can focus on a specific aspect of firefighting or emergency services. Degrees include fire administration, arson and explosion investigation, fire service management and more.

  • Master’s Degree in Fire Science.

Most programs are available online so that students can continue to work while pursuing further education. This degree typically takes two to three years to complete and graduates can finish with an MS in Fire Science, Fire Management, Public Administration, General Fire Engineering, Emergency Services Administration and more. Obtaining a master’s degree may make you more desirable for a promotion, especially if you are a department specialist, chief, or commander.

Other Resources to Consider

The age-old adage of knowledge is power is true. The best way to stay up to date with what is happening in your field is to read. That could mean researching articles online that answer questions you may have, checking up on the latest requirements with governing agencies or stocking up on magazines that are relevant to you. Keeping yourself informed of the latest in firefighting and emergency services can help improve your current skillset and take you to the next level.

Visit the websites below to gain more knowledge on fire prevention and public education, look for additional training and professional development or just educate yourself on the changing requirements in your field.

International Association of Fire Fighters

National Fire Protection Association

National Fire Academy

National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians

U.S. Fire Administration

Head to your local library, or look online to subscribe to any pertinent magazines that can give you the edge you need to stay at the top of your game.

Firehouse Magazine

Fire Engineering Magazine

Journal of Emergency Services Magazine

The bottom line is that education is essential to professional development. Goals and career aspirations vary from person to person and figuring out where to start on your journey forward can be confusing.

Take a look at the recommendations above, and consider having a talk with your fire chief, or another fire officer you respect and admire. They are ultimately the best resources for what’s required in your area and can give you sound advice on how to move your career forward. Good luck!

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