What is the Difference between Certifications and a Certificate in Fire Science?

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Certificate vs. Certification

There is a difference between a fire science certificate and a certification offered by a professional organization. Certificate programs are available at community colleges, online universities, and fire schools. One of the features of a certificate is that provides a concentrated amount of knowledge in much less time and expense than it takes to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree.

They also have the benefit of tailoring to your specific interests and career. For example, if you work in fire investigation, work as an EMT, or employed as an airport firefighter, there are certificates available.

Most certifications are available through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Examples are certifications in areas, such as Hazard Recognition, Wildfire Mitigation, Electrical Safety, and Fire Protection. Since 1896, it has been the mission of this non-profit organization to mitigate the physical, emotional, and financial losses caused by fire.

Examples of Certificates

At the college level, schools offer undergraduate certificates in Fire Science. Depending on the institution, some may require a specified number of college credits before applying. Columbia Southern University (CSU), for example, offers stipulates that students must have at least 12 semester hours to be eligible. Moreover, these hours must come from their bachelor and master’s curricula.

Fire Science certificates generally cover a range of topics. Most often, these include fire prevention methods and the administrative duties within a fire department. You may also learn about fire scene investigation and domestic terrorism issues.

The difference in this certificate versus certification is the broader range of subjects covered. How they differ is evident in the examples of certifications.

An online program is ideal for individuals currently working as a firefighter, EMT, or emergency management. Some programs offer the added convenience of monthly start dates. Therefore, once you’ve decided to apply, chances are you can start soon after acceptance. One example of this format is the Undergraduate Certificate for Fire Science Professionals at American Military University (AMU).

Experienced professionals teach the AMU certificate, which will benefit those who want fire-related work. The curriculum provides a well-rounded foundation in fire science through the study of the chemistry of fire to building construction. Once you’ve earned your certificate, you can proceed to a bachelor’s degree in fire science to further boost your knowledge and opportunities for advancement.


The same qualifications apply to certifications as certificates. All you need is proof of a high school diploma. However, the undergraduate certificates require that you follow the respective school’s admission standards and procedures. The certificates can be easier to qualify for than some certifications. There are certifications whose eligibility stipulates a bachelor’s or master’s degree, instead of the mandated experience.

The NFPA is a valuable source of certifications. Since 1971, the organization has awarded more than 4,000 Fire Protection Specialist Certifications. This certification has helped the careers of professionals in the business of preventing, investigating, and inspecting fires. State Fire Marshals and fire inspectors have placed a value on adding this certification to their accomplishments.

There are conditions to the above certification. One is that candidates must have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a Fire Protection-related discipline from an accredited college or university. Engineering degrees in a field associated with fire science qualify. Additionally, applicants require a minimum of two years of work experience. This work must be in a fire-related profession.

Interested candidates with an Associate’s degree in a Fire Protection-related discipline are eligible. Your associate’s degree comes with a higher requirement of experience, however. You also require at least four years of fire experience.

Finally, the minimum academic requirement is a high school diploma or equivalent. With only high school education, the experience level jumps to six years.

Completion Time

The NFPA Fire Inspector I Certification is another to consider that requires zero experience. A high school diploma is the only academic prerequisite. This certification takes a total of 10 months. According to the Candidate Handbook, the program is “4 months to take the examination and six months to complete the practicum”. (Candidate Handbook 2017)

Practicum Phase:  Following your passing grade on the exam, you must complete the practicum or the practical application of your studies. A workbook outlines the requirements for this phase of the program. Ultimately, you have to complete seven inspections. Two of which are mandatory and five are electives. It is imperative that you complete all seven before submitting the verification forms to the NFPA. After their review and approval, you will receive your certificate.

The completion time for your undergraduate certificate may take the same amount of time as some of the certifications. The time frame depends on the number of credits needed for graduation. The AMU, for example, has 18 semester hours. Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona has 24 credit hours in their Certificate of Completion in Fire Science.


Cost is another factor and a significant difference between the two. Certifications have a set fee for the course and the exam. CSU has one of the lowest per credit hour charges at $225. In the above example, their certificate has 12 credit hours minimum or $2,700 total. AMU’s certificate has 18 hours at $270/hour equals $4,860.

Certifications are less costly than certificates. The NFPA Certified Fire Protection Specialist is $429.95 for the online Training Series, plus $350 in fees for the application and examination. Therefore, for $779.95 you can complete this certification. The Certified Fire Inspector I is only $215.95 for the online Training Series. The other fees are the same.

Additional Resources: 

The 10 Best Online Fire Science Degree Bachelor’s Programs

What is the Benefit of a Degree in Fire Science vs. Emergency Management?