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Fire Science

The Fire Science Program is designed to lead to an AAS Degree in Fire Science Technology which will prepare students for advancement in technical or administrative careers in the fire service and related fields.

Earn your Fire Officer 1 and 2 Certificiation at NOVA

Although the curriculum is focused on assisting students who are currently firefighters with their career development goals, students with a variety of backgrounds have graduated from the program and pursued careers in the public sector fire services, or for private sector careers in safety, loss prevention engineering and risk management. Opportunities also exist for transfer into four-year baccalaureate degree programs in fire science, public safety, public administration, and emergency management and planning.

Nationwide, fire suppression and emergency response is a labor intensive growth industry. Careers in fire science and allied fields continue to increase.

Overview of Programs

By Assistant Professor Michael J. Ward

There is a huge amount of diversity in "fire science" academic programs. From community college credit for Firefighter I, to graduate engineering and hard science PhDs from universities.

Most fire departments do not provide preferential considerations for someone with a two- or four-year degree. If you are going to college to prepare for a career in fire-rescue, your best investment is to obtain paramedic certification.

Two-Year Community College Fire Science Programs

Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees are designed for a student to complete in PREPARATION for a career in a craft or trade (hospitality, allied medical technicians, mechanic, computer technician, business office skills, realtor, etc.) In general, completing an AAS in Fire Science DOES NOT increase your chances of getting hired.

AAS degrees are considered terminal degrees, which means they are NOT designed to prepare you to progress to a bachelor degree.

Most fire departments are still using 19th century municipal hiring practices. You are hired based on your potential (physical, mental and moral) and the recruit school will provide the needed job skills training. The majority of NOVA FIR students are already on-the-job and taking classes to prepare for promotion to technician, Lieutenant or Captain.

Four-Year Fire Science Degree Programs

There are three flavors of a four-year "fire science" bachelor degree.

The most academic challenging is the Fire Protection Engineering degree that is offered at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, Mass.). These degrees are similar to civil, mechanical or electrical engineering programs with two years of higher level math, one to two years of hard science and about twenty engineering courses.

Completion of the program qualifies you to start working as an Engineer-In-Training (EIT) and eventually becoming certified as a Professional Engineer. Both universities offer master's of FPE.

WPI - Fire Protection Engineering Program
UMD - Department of Fire Protection Engineering

One of the undergraduate degrees offered by the University of New Haven is for Fire Protection Engineering, but it appears NOT accredited by the appropriate engineering council.

Many four-year fire science degrees fall into the technology arena -- not as academically robust as an engineering degree. You receive a Bachelor of Science degree and you will have taken more math/science/engineering technology classes than the next flavor of degree, but you will not be prepared to sit for the Engineer-in-Training program or become a registered Professional Engineer.

Fire Technology bachelor programs include:

The third flavor is a four-year non-technology emergency service degree that will lead to a bachelor's in management, supervision, leadership, emergency services and more. It usually requires a year of English, a year of college level math and whatever other general education requirements are needed by that educational institution. Many are offered through distance education and most assume that the student has some emergency service experience.

Emergency service degrees include:

Two universities offer bachelor degrees in EMS leadership/management that only require EMT-Basic certification:

There are other programs, check the following websites:


Prior Fire Department Training?

Get College Credit for Prior Fire Department Training

Credit received from training outside of the traditional academic environment is recognized as Advanced Standing Credit. You can read about the College's Advanced Standing Policies here.

The Virginia Community College System and the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP) have developed a guide to Fire Science Advanced Standing in a "Crosswalk" format for NOVA Fire Science students.

NOTE: The conversions in the crosswalk are one way.   

The EMS program also has advanced standing to allow EMT-basic and enhanced personnel to bridge to EMT-intermediate, EMT-IS to bridge to paramedic, and allow paramedics to earn their AAS degree. For more information regarding the EMS program contact Michael Pariser, assistant dean of the program.

To obtain credit you already have for certifications that are listed in the Advanced Standing guide, you will need to bring copies of your certificates to the Student Services Center at any NOVA campus and fill out a Transfer Credit Evaluation Request form. Be sure to indicate that this is an Advanced Standing Request. There is no fee to have these credits transferred to your NOVA transcript.

The Fire Science Department is located at the Annandale Campus. It is recommended that Fire Science Students use the Annandale Campus Student Services Center, located on the 1st floor of the CA Building.

A more detailed list of courses from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (including some courses not listed on the "Crosswalk") has been approved by the American Council on Education (ACE) for college credit. 

Details on each of these courses, as well as conditions of approval and eligible course dates as of Spring 2010, are listed here. A summary of that information is in the table below. In order to get college credit for the entire list of classes you can get a transcript from ACE reflecting your training, which you can bring to the Student Services Center as described above. The VDFP has provided instructions on how to obtain an ACE transcript. Although NOVA does not charge a fee for credit transfers, ACE does charge a fee to compile your records and process your transcript request.

Virginia Department of Fire Programs ClassNumber of CreditsWhat Will Show on Your NOVA Transcript
Airport Fire Fighter 2 FST elective
Arson Detection First Responder 1 FST elective
Confined Space Rescue Technician 1 FST elective
Driver/Operator Aerial Device 1 FST elective
Driver/Operator Pump 2 FST elective
Fire Fighter I 3 FST 100 (FF II also required)
Fire Fighter II 2 FST elective
Fire Inspector I 5 FST 115
Fire Instructor I 2 FST 135
Fire Instructor II 2 FST 136
Fire Investigator 6 FST 230 (3) and FST 231 (3)
Fire Officer I 4 FST 140
Fire Officer II 3 FST 250
Fire Officer III 3 FST 255

Hazardous Materials First Responder at the Awareness Level

1 FST 111
Hazardous Materials First Responder at the Operational Level 2 FST 111
Health and Safety Officer 1 FST elective
Incident Safety Officer 1 FST elective
Leadership I: Strategies for Company Success 1 FST 237 (all 3 needed)
Leadership II: Strategies for Personal Success 1 FST 237 (all 3 needed)

Leadership III: Strategies for Supervisory Success

1 FST 237 (all 3 needed)
Training Operations in Small Departments 1 FST elective

Other Fire and Rescue training organizations have also been approved for ACE credit. If you have earned credits at any of these institutions they may be added to your ACE transcript.

Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute MFRI
National Emergency Training Center (NFA)  NFA
National Emergency Training Center (EMI) EMI
Fire and Rescue Training Institute, University of Missouri  UMFRTI
Fire Department of New York City FDNY
Texas Engineering Extension Service TEEX
West Virginia University Fire Service Extension WVUFSE

Credit for Experience by Portfolio

The final option for earning credit for training and experience is through the Prior Learning Activity Credit Evaluation (PLACE) program. PLACE is a student development course (SDV 298) that will allow you to assemble a portfolio of your experience and training/education, and use it to challenge for credits for a specific class. You can earn up to 15 credits with this method.

If you are considering SDV 298 PLACE, you are encouraged to contact the Credit for Prior Learning Office at 703-425-5835 or pla@nvcc.edu. The SDV PLACE course is offered in-person on a NOVA campus and online through ELI.

Credit From Testing

It is possible to earn college credit by examination for many of the required courses, but this is not recommended for all students. For more information, check out the Advanced Standing handbook.

Transferring Credit to NOVA From Other Colleges and Universities

Credit is generally acceptable for transfer if it is earned from an institution that is accredited by the Commission on Colleges or the Commission on Higher Education by one of the regional accrediting agencies, and is comparable to the required course credit in the student's chosen NOVA curriculum. Credit also may be transferred from institutions if the Transfer of Credit Practices of Designated Educational Institutions, published by AACARO, states that credit from the institution is generally accepted for courses that are appropriate to the reporting institution's baccalaureate programs.

Credits earned at other post-secondary institutions usually do not transfer to NOVA, even if the institution is accredited through a commission other than those previously listed.

The instructions page for Form 125-049 is also a good resource. The form can be found in the NOVA Forms Library.


Policies are always subject to change. Students should always consult the most current version of the Advanced Standing handbook and the College Catalog. Check this site frequently for updates.

Remember that 25% of the credits used towards your degree must be earned through actual classes at NOVA, so even if you have advanced standing, PLACE credit, or testing credit for every class, you will not be eligible to graduate. Please contact a counselor or your advisor for more information.

For answers to the most commonly asked questions go to the FAQ page.