What is Fire?

Fires start when a flammable or a combustible material combines with oxygen or another oxygen-rich compound. For a fire to occur, it also requires a heat source that is above the flash point of the material. Flash point is the minimum temperature that a flammable material’s vapor will ignite. Therefore, fire is essentially a chemical reaction.

Fire science is the study of all aspects of fire, from fire behavior to fire investigation. You can study fire science through a certificate, associate, bachelor, or master’s degree. The concentration of science courses generally increases as you proceed to a more advanced degree.

In this post, we present examples of coursework, from a certificate to master’s. This should give you an idea what subjects in science you are likely to study.


For most people involved with fires, the entry-level job is a firefighter. You can apply to a fire academy with a high school diploma. However, most often, there are more applicants than openings. In addition, there are stringent qualifications to meet. For example, a DWI or DUI in the past five years can make you ineligible. To increase your employment chances, a fire science certificate but will teach you the basics of fire science. A fire certificate may be available at a local community college.

One example is Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. They offer a 24 credit Certificate of Completion (CCL) in Fire Science. The course in Hazardous Materials involves chemistry through the study of methods of recognition and identification based on the chemical and physical properties of hazardous materials. Another program has a course in Fire Investigation and Analysis that examines the physical properties associated with different fuels.

Therefore, in most certificates, the science of chemistry is prevalent.

Associate Degree

You may complete a certificate in a year. A sixty-credit associate degree will take two years on average. However, these too can be found at many community or junior colleges and online. Upon graduation, you will be able to evaluate the principles of fire chemistry, fire behavior, and safety practices in the fire service industry.

In this degree, chemistry is the predominant science as you study the terms and concepts associated with the chemistry and dynamics of fire. Graduates will have the knowledge to explain the physical and chemical properties of fire. You will be able to identify the physical properties of the three states of matter.

A popular textbook at this level is Principles of Fire Behavior and Combustion. The study of this book will teach you about heat transfer, fire behavior, gas, solid, and liquid combustibles, and more. You should prepare for mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

Bachelor’s Degree

This degree is available online and on-campus. It requires a longer time commitment of four years and more expensive than the prior degree. Your search will reveal schools recognized as a Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) Recognition program.

At this level, the types of science courses increase to include biology, microbiology, chemical properties of fire, hazardous materials, mathematics, algebra, and structure designs/construction. You may also see courses in calculus, university physics, statistics & strength of materials, technical graphics, and thermodynamics.

At this undergraduate level, there are opportunities to select a program suited to your career goals. For example, Eastern Kentucky University offers these three online options:

Master Degree

Individuals who aspire for positions of leadership should consider a master’s degree. Depending on the school’s program, the typical graduate program will take two to three years to finish.

There are an assortment of Master of Science degrees across the country that may suit your career in fire science. Particularly, in a leadership role. The list is as follows:

  • Fire Science
  • Fire Management
  • Public Administration
  • Emergency Services Administration
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • General Fire Engineering
  • Arson/Incident Investigations

The extent of science-related subjects will vary by specialty. As you notice, some programs focus more on leadership and management roles. Others concentrate on fire prevention, construction engineering, investigation, and science of fire.

Fire scene investigation explores the techniques of crime scene documentation and investigation as they relate to fire and explosion scenes. These include evidence recognition and collection. Laboratory analysis of fire scene, arson accelerants, and explosion scene residues are additional topics. You may also study the scientific proof of arson.

Another example of a master’s class studies the chemical nature of fires and explosions. The focus of the curriculum is on the chemical reaction involved in the ignition and explosion of materials. The program may include:

  • The chemical principles underlying fires and explosions.
  • Chemical properties of various synthetic materials and the products of their combustion.
  • Fire retardant materials and chemicals used in fire extinguishment.


All additional education beyond high school is advantageous to your career as a fire professional. As illustrated, with each level of your degree, the emphasis on science and math classes increases. In addition, many firefighters receive training as EMTs. This means classes in anatomy, physiology, and other areas of medicine. It is vital, then, for any profession in the fire industry to be versed in a variety of sciences.

Additional Resources

Do I need a degree to be a Fire Inspector?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Safety Engineer?

What Specializations are there in an Emergency Management Degree?