4 Career Options Outside the Firehouse for Firefighters
It might be surprising, but those interested in becoming firefighters have multiple career options. Those who have earned degrees in fire science or graduated from a fire academy have skills and knowledge for a variety of career paths. So, if you are considering a career outside a traditional fire department, here are four career options for firefighters.
Fire inspectors work to prevent deadly fires before they happen and are part of the fire department team. Inspectors are responsible for reviewing plans for new buildings to ensure they conform to national, state or local regulations.
Inspectors also tour existing structures to determine whether codes and regulations are followed to ensure occupancy, fire suppression, and escape provisions of the law. The National Fire Protection Agency lists more than 300 codes and standards that are used by inspectors to enforce structural integrity and occupation practices that directly impact the effects of fires and other catastrophic hazards.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that local government fire agencies employ 73 percent of all fire inspectors, while state governmental agencies hire an additional 17 percent of inspectors. The BLS also predicts that openings for fire inspectors will rise by nine percent from 2010 to 2020.
While fire inspectors work to prevent fires, fire investigators work on the scenes of extinguished fires to determine what led to the blaze. Investigators gather physical evidence, interview witnesses or building residents and trace the origin of the fire and its causes.
For those interested in this field, studies will likely include fire chemistry and physics, investigation procedures, legal and ethical issues, firefighting techniques, evidence gathering and preservation, emergency medical technician training, electrical and vehicular fires, interrogation techniques and arson detection.
Investigators work for public law enforcement agencies, fire departments, or in the private sector as fire researchers, consultants or insurance investigators. Some agencies consider fire investigators part of the law enforcement branch and may require its staff to carry weapons and enforce violations.
While the fire investigators are concerned with fire causes and origins, an arson investigator is dedicated to demining whether a crime contributed to the incident. This type of work typically requires studies in criminal investigations, civil investigations, arson immunity reporting acts and laws, courtroom presentations and financial-loss reporting. Those working as arson investigators are part-detective, part-engineer and part-scientist.
For those interested in a forensic science career, broad training in various forensic specialties allows for more job flexibility. Both a fire inspector and investigator are types of forensic scientists. With further training and higher degrees an individual can even become a lab director.
Fighting Forest Fires or Oil-Well Fires
In national forests and parks, forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists spot fires from watchtowers and report their findings to headquarters by telephone or radio. In addition, forest rangers patrol the parks and forests to ensure travelers and campers comply with fire regulations.
When fires break out, crews of fire fighters are brought in to suppress the blaze with heavy equipment, hand tools, and water hoses. Elite fire fighters called smoke jumpers parachute from airplanes to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Oil-well fire specialists fight one of the most dangerous types of fires — oil-well fires. During the Gulf War, more than 500 oil wells were set on fire in Kuwait. These fires are particularly dangerous due to the potential of blowouts when pressure builds inside the oil well. It is the job of the specialist to decrease the pressure in the well as well as contain the fire. Most specialists are on staff with petroleum producer companies, private emergency response companies or as consultants.
Fire engineering addresses architectural and social designs that can prevent or suppress runaway fires. Fire engineers assess fire risks in city buildings and in wild forests. They evaluate structural design and help establish building codes and safety requirements. Fire engineers are trained in the flammability of building materials, fire alarm and suppression systems and computerized research into human behaviors that can cause neglect or panic in fire emergencies. While firefighters use axes and hoses to put out fires, fire engineers use analysis and code enforcement to stop blazes before they start. Those going into the field of fire engineering can also specialize in fire protection engineering and fire safety engineering.
With a fire science degree in hand, you’ll have leverage in this competitive and exciting field to find a position that provides the benefits and rigor you seek, while saving lives and protecting your community.
House fire image by ShareAlike 3.0 Unported from Flickr’s Creative Commons.
Forest fire image by Eggs&Beer from Flickr’s Creative Commons.