The decision to become a firefighter is a brave one – every time you go to work you’ll be saving the lives of strangers and maybe even risking your own. You’ll be looked up to by the neighborhood kids and bragged about by your son on the playground. But apart from the social accolades, being a firefighter is a challenging and exhausting job, and you’ll need more than bravery to succeed.
You can read all about the job duties of a firefighter, but those descriptions can only tell so much. To start to really understand what it takes, these firefighter testimonials can let you know what you’re getting into.
Still interested? Good.
It’s true that a high school diploma is often the minimum requirement to become a firefighter. But you’ll need more than that if you want to stand out, and especially if you dream of one day becoming a fire chief. Everyone applying for the job will have the minimum education required, so what can you do to move your resume to the top of the pile?
A fire science degree is the best place to start. But is a degree really worth it? We say yes. Here’s why.
1. A fire science degree is the best way to start your career
Breaking into the firefighting business might be more difficult than you think. It is, after all, a rewarding job that will leave you with a sense of accomplishment, as these testimonials from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) firefighters illustrate.
You can work your way up from an entry-level position, but the first hurdle is simply getting hired. Most fire departments have far more candidates than open positions, making each slot extremely competitive, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Just how competitive can these positions be? Use the City of Boston as an example. The city has 618,000 residents, of which 1,611 are firefighters. And if you want to be a Boston firefighter? The city takes on only about 100 new firefighters each year.
The bottom line is your fire science degree can help you stand out from other applicants and get your foot in the door.
2. Firefighter jobs are growing
Speaking of jobs, are you wondering if you’ll even be able to find one after earning your degree? That’s a valid concern, but recent data shows your chances are good.
First, jobs for firefighters are expected to grow nine percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS attributes this, in part, to population growth in rural areas, creating a need for full-time firefighters rather than volunteers. Why are full-timers important? They have the training and experience necessary to handle the quick pace of a profession in which communication and organizational skills are essential.
Second, an analysis of 1,957 job firefighter job postings over the last 12 months* shows that 25 percent require an associate or bachelor’s degree. But that also means that 75 percent of departments are hiring high school kids. What’s the best way to stand out among a group of high school diploma holders? Bring a degree to the table. You also need to think further ahead in your career, too. If firefighting is your second career or you’re joining the ranks later in life, you need to decide how long you can afford to be in one of those entry-level positions, working with colleagues who are fresh out of school.
3. A degree can help advance your career
Once you’ve scored your first firefighting position you’ll naturally think about what comes next – promotions.
For firefighters, the promotion process can be a lengthy one, and education is one of the things taken into consideration, according to Monster.com. Education means any number of certifications and, of course, a degree. The skills learned with additional education can be helpful when promotion time comes – not to mention being crucial to a job where you’ll often have to perform EMT duties in addition your firefighting ones.
Most departments require an associate’s degree to even be considered for promotional testing, says Jon Ibrahim, Battalion Chief and Director of Operations for the Romeoville Fire Academy (RFA) in Romeoville, Illinois. Further he says that the two points allotted to degree holders in the testing process can be a huge advantage when those being considered for a promotion are separated by fractions of a point when testing’s done.
What job titles can those promotions lead to? While rankings depend on each department, common titles include:
- Assistant chief
- Fire chief
As you can see from these rank descriptions, those in the upper ranks are often in supervisor roles, which can mean a higher salary, additional responsibilities and more prestige.
The bottom line
It’s true that you don’t need a degree to become a firefighter. A high school diploma and a good dose of bravery can serve you just fine. But remember that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other applicants have those qualifications, too. A fire science degree is worth it to help you stand out from the crowd.
Interested in learning more before you make your final decision? Check out Rasmussen College’s fire science degree.
*Source: Burning Glass (An analysis of 1,957 online job postings between Aug. 1, 2012 and Aug. 3, 2013)