emerg vs fire science smart

What is Emergency Management?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines emergency management (EM) as “the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.” (FEMA 2007)

What is Fire Science?

Fire science is the study of fire from the perspective of its chemical properties. A typical program focuses on how fires start and how to extinguish them. To understand these two aspects, firefighters need to have some knowledge of the chemistry of fire. Hence, the science delves into not only combustibles and ignition temperatures but also building construction and materials. You learn about hydraulics, fire apparatus, inspection, arson, and fire codes.

admin vs fire smart

The answer depends on your career goals. Many fire science majors begin as firefighters, which has its training for all candidates. If you plan to advance through the ranks of the fire department to the position of Fire Chief, then a fire science degree will be highly beneficial. After receiving a promotion to captain, firefighters may be selected for a fire chief position. Within a fire department, the Fire Chief is the highest-ranking officer. Once elevated to this rank, chiefs assume the role of administrator and leader. Their hands-on firefighting days are in the past.

One difference in the occupation of firefighter and an emergency manager is the training. As mentioned, all firefighters attend a fire academy. Their training doesn’t stop upon graduation from an academy. They are assigned to a fire department wherein their instruction continues for up to twelve months. During this probationary period as new firefighters, they are under constant supervision and evaluation.

In contrast, individuals choosing emergency management will need a degree to apply for entry-level. Your college education is the start of your training in this field. As you progress from an associate to a bachelor’s degree in fire science, your stature may also be elevated. However, a bachelor’s degree in emergency management could be the minimum requirement to apply for a particular job. Many jobs at the county level require a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration or Emergency Management. In addition to your degree, you need to have leadership qualities. Senior positions demand experience in dealing with communications during both routine and emergency operations within a government unit.


Your education in either EM or fire science can begin with an associate’s degree. A typical two-year associate degree program in fire science allows students to master the fundamental principles of fires. The coursework involves fire behavior, fire suppression, firefighting tactics, brush fires, and the chemical elements of fire. This degree benefits firefighters who want to advance their knowledge and career potential through courses, such as the Principles of Fire and Emergency Services, Fire Behavior, Fire Protection, Prevention, Building Construction, and Chemistry.


Similar to occupations in fire service, the majority of emergency management jobs are in civil service. Civil servants are professionals who work for the government and whose salaries are paid by taxpayers. Therefore, the city, county, or state sets these salaries.

The salaries for fire science professionals vary by job title. According to current (2018) data from Payscale.com, the median salary is $46,764 for firefighters. The salary for a battalion chief ranges from $122k to $159k per year (2016), depending on the geographical location.

As illustrated, financially, there is an advantage to the fire science degree for those with strong leadership skills.

For entry-level jobs, the firefighter may have the edge in median salary. With just a high school education and training, you can start at a median salary of $49,080 (May 2017), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). To earn a comparable wage in emergency management, you will need a bachelor’s degree in most cases. The BLS reports the median pay for Emergency Management Directors at $72,760 with a Bachelor’s degree, as well as multiple years (5+) of experience in emergency response, disaster planning, and public administration.


The professions of fire science and emergency management require altruism: meaning, a concern for the well-being of others. Both degrees with the requisite experience and education lead to leadership roles. Occupations resulting from either degree will benefit from a more advanced college degree. Jobs in emergency management appear to necessitate a bachelor or master’s degree more than fire science.

Generally, you can excel in a firefighting role with an associate’s degree. Less so with emergency management. Moreover, the fire profession offers several certifications through the National Fire Protection Association. For example, there are two levels of Fire Inspector and several others.

By comparison, there are certifications in EM. However, most require a four-year undergraduate degree. The lower national certification for emergency managers is the Associate Emergency Manager (AEM). Individuals must have 100 hours of emergency management training before applying. At the next level is the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree, in addition to other qualifications.

Additional Resources: 

What Specializations are there in an Emergency Management Degree?

How can I upgrade my Emergency Management Degree?

How can I gain experience in Emergency Management while attending College?

How much Science is in a Fire Science Degree?

Do I need a degree to be a Fire Inspector?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Safety Engineer?

What is a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Administration?