Fire Safety Technicians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

While in high school, you should study the physical sciences. You should take physics and chemistry courses that include laboratory work. Fire science demands some knowledge of hydraulics, physics, and chemistry. For example, laying out sprinkler systems requires skills that are introduced in high school mechanical drawing courses and computer-aided design classes. Algebra and geometry are also recommended, as well as English and writing courses.

Postsecondary Training

Two-year, postsecondary fire-technology programs are now available at more than 100 technical institutes and community colleges. These programs provide in-depth education in the fire-science specialization for people seeking to work for industries, institutions, or government as fire safety technicians. These programs are also available to members of fire departments or related fire specialists.

Courses in these programs include physics and hydraulics as they apply to pump and nozzle pressures. Fundamentals of chemistry are taught to help students understand chemical methods of extinguishing fires and the chemistry of materials and combustion. Communications skills are also emphasized.

Typical courses in the first year of a two-year program include fire-fighting tactics and strategy, fire-protection equipment and alarm systems, fundamentals of fire suppression, introductory fire technology, chemistry (especially combustion and chemistry of materials), mathematics, and communications skills.

Second-year courses may include building construction for fire protection, hazardous materials, fire administration, industrial-fire protection, applied physics, introduction to fire prevention, and applied economics.

Newly hired technicians generally receive on-the-job orientation and training before they are allowed to work without close supervision.

Other Education or Training

Like most professional workers in high-technology careers, fire safety technicians must continue to study during their careers to keep up with new developments in their field. Improved fire detection and prevention instruments, equipment, and methods for making materials fireproof are being developed all the time. The National Fire Protection Association offers seminars, self-guided online courses, on-site seminars, and webinars. Recent offerings included Fire Sprinkler System Types and Application, Code Requirements for Interior Wall and Ceiling Finishes, and Installation of Sprinkler Systems. The American Society of Safety Professionals, National Fire Sprinkler Association, and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers also provide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) offers the designations associate safety professional (ASP) and certified safety professional (CSP). Although the BCSP does not offer a specific certification unique to fire safety technicians, anyone wishing to advance in the field of fire safety should get the ASP and CSP designations. These credentials demonstrate that the technician has completed a high level of education, has passed written examinations, and has acquired a certain amount of professional experience.

The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies offers certification to fire protection workers in the following specialty areas: Water-Based Layout, Fire Alarm Systems, Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems, Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems, and Special Hazards Systems. The National Fire Protection Association offers the following certification designations: certified fire protection specialist, certified fire inspector I, certified fire inspector II, and certified fire plan examiner I. Contact these organizations for information about requirements for each certification.

Other Requirements

Those who wish to work in fire-science technology in fire departments may train as technicians and apply for specialist jobs in large fire departments. Others may choose to enter the fire department as untrained firefighters. For the latter group, very rigid physical examinations are usually required. Firefighters must keep themselves physically fit and conditioned since they may be required to do hard work in all types of weather and sometimes for long hours.

Because of the physical demands of the profession, physical-performance tests are required and may include running, climbing, and jumping. These examinations are clearly defined by local civil service regulations but may vary from one community to another.

In most cases, prospective firefighters must be at least 18 years of age. They must also meet height and weight requirements. Applicants must have good vision (20/20 vision is required in some departments), no hindering physical impairments, and strong stamina. Some fire departments require that applicants be nonsmokers.

For fire safety technicians in industry or government, no licenses are usually required. Favorable academic records and an appropriate two-year degree or certificate are given special consideration by most employers. Becoming a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers is a valuable mark of achievement of which employers take note.

For those who want to enter fire departments as firefighters and work toward technician-level tasks, civil service examinations are required in most cases.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Some fire safety technicians have prior experience working as firefighters. Others gain experience by participating in cooperative work-study programs. Firefighters must be able to follow orders and to accept the discipline that is necessary for effective teamwork. While on active call, firefighters usually work under the close supervision of commanding officers such as battalion chiefs or assistant fire chiefs. Their work requires highly organized team efforts to be effective, since there is usually a great deal of excitement and confusion at fires.

Fire science technicians, who do not work as firefighters but as industrial or government inspectors and consultants, do not need unusual physical strength. These technicians must be able to read and write with ease and to communicate well to study technical information and give good written or oral reports.

Fire safety technicians must have a natural curiosity about everything that relates to fire. They must be patient and willing to study the physics and chemistry of fire, as well as fire prevention and control. They must also be able to think systematically and objectively as they analyze fire hazards, damages, and prevention.

Technicians must be observant and understand how human factors of carelessness, thoughtlessness, fatigue, or haste may cause fires. One of the great challenges of this career is to learn how to teach people to avoid the mistakes that cause fires and to establish safety procedures and controls that prevent fires.