How to Become a Fire Chief: Requirements and Qualifications

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Two firefighters walking with a blazing fire in the background.Becoming a fire chief can be a daunting yet fulfilling challenge. It requires going beyond expectations, creating and maintaining strong relationships, active participation and continuous education. It is a long-term balancing act of real-world experience, training and educational courses that must be taken seriously.

Firefighters who are dedicated to their plan and go above and beyond the requirements can accomplish their career goal of becoming a fire chief. If you’re hoping to attain this position and want to make that dream a reality, the process of how to become a fire chief starts with becoming a firefighter. Earning a degree, such as an online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety, can prepare individuals for the career.


What Is a Fire Chief?

Fire chiefs are responsible for supervising their fire department, working with public services and other government agencies, fostering positive goals, and wholly advocating for their team. They represent their department and their community, and manage the first line of defense against accidents and disasters. Firefighters who want to make it to the top need to genuinely practice and understand every role within the department. Due to the dangerous work they are involved in, firefighters are a close-knit group and build strong relationships with colleagues.

Fire chiefs have to be prepared for a job that’s both mentally and physically taxing. Those who want to become fire chiefs should have leadership qualities and develop relationships with their fellow firefighters. Vetting for such a prominent role begins when a firefighter first joins the department. Demonstrating strong leadership skills can lead to promotions.

Firefighter Ranks

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for firefighters is projected to grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the average growth of most careers. The common path for firefights involves learning about every aspect of the job and being promoted through the following ranks:

  • Engineer
  • Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • Battalion Chief
  • Assistant Chief
  • Deputy Chief
  • Chief

How to Become a Fire Chief

Fire chiefs benefit fire departments and communities alike. For those who are keen on becoming fire chiefs, here are a few requirements and qualifications that can help accomplish that goal.

Fire Chief Requirements

Applicants must be eighteen years old, and most fire departments require a high school diploma to become a firefighter. Training in emergency medical services and working as a volunteer firefighter can increase the chances of being hired as well. Firefighters are almost always required to earn an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification and will have to train at a fire academy.

To advance through the ranks, extra training, education and certifications are required. A bachelor’s degree is a must to be promoted past the position of battalion chief. Bachelor’s degrees in fire science, public administration, occupational safety or a similar area can be the best options for someone dedicated to upward movement. Earning a bachelor’s degree, becoming a firefighter and being active in the department and community are essential for those interested in becoming fire chiefs.

Firefighters will need an EMT certification, of which there are multiple levels. Basic certification is almost always required by fire departments, and a paramedic certification can help with career advancement. Accredited schools throughout the U.S., such as the National Fire Academy, offer programs and courses for continued education. To become a fire chief, firefighters may want to consider their executive fire officer certification, which helps firefighters understand the responsibilities of administration.

Fire Chief Qualifications

Firefighters work in high-stress, dangerous situations. The nature of their work requires trust and clear communication among the fire crew. These are attributes that can’t be developed through coursework and education alone. Education helps firefighters maintain best practices and learn new techniques, but real-life experience helps firefighters create strong bonds with others on their team.

Taking initiative by engaging in events, activities, volunteering, drills and training is another useful tip for becoming a fire chief. Active personal and professional growth within the department and community is a major step toward being acknowledged as a potential candidate. Actions speak louder than words, and this is especially true in firefighting. Colleagues and upper management will take notice of a candidate’s participation and the benefits they offer toward experience and education.

Although most of the job requirements and tips involve mental preparation, education and professional relationship building, the physicality of the job is important as well. To ensure that they’re able to fulfill their duties, firefighters have to be in peak physical condition.

Working with fires, disasters and rescues can be taxing on the body; especially when using heaving, complex equipment. Firefighting gear can weigh between 45-65 pounds, depending on the type needed for the situation. Some gear can weigh more than 70 pounds.

Pursue a Career as a Fire Chief

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through earning an online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety degree. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education from industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to preparing you for continued success.

Learn more about how the program can help you achieve your professional goals and teach you how to become a fire chief.

Recommended Readings

The Demand for Safety Professionals in the U.S

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists: A Day in the Life.

What Is an Online Occupational Safety Degree?


FireRescue1, “10 Chiefs Answer: What Does It Take to Be a Fire Chief?”

NFPA, “Training and Certification”

STEPS, “How to Become a Firefighter: 6 Steps to Success”

The Times-News, “Haul of Duty: Firefighting Gear”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Firefighters

U.S Fire Administration, “Executive Fire Officer Program”