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Firefighter Career Guide

Are you brave, a team player and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it ever came to it?

If the answer is YES, then a career as a firefighter may be the right one for you.

Firefighters do so much more than just putting out fires. They respond to other emergencies too, such as car accidents, terror attacks, floods… or cats stuck in trees! To become a firefighter, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent, pass written and physical tests and train to be an EMT. After this, they will then attend a fire academy where they will receive practical training and classroom training.

What I love about being a firefighter is the camaraderie that it brings. A crew on an incident really has to work together and everyone looks out for each other. They jump in when someone looks a little exhausted and there a willingness to teach people new skills. I get to do things an office environment just doesn’t offer. I can start and man a truck pump, and I can get water out of a fire hydrant in 60 seconds!

Kerry Slater

Firefighter Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What does a fire fighter actually do?

A career as a firefighter is both physically and mentally challenging. These individuals face the important responsibility of preventing and controlling fires, and they respond to other emergencies as well (such as car accidents… or cats stuck in trees!). Typically, if you see an ambulance rushing down the road, a fire truck is not far behind. The typical duties and responsibility of a firefighter includes:

  • Driving firetrucks and other emergency vehicles
  • Putting out fires using water hoses, fire extinguishers, and water pumps (firefighters are responsible for connecting hoses and operating the pumps that power the hoses)
  • Finding and rescuing victims in burning buildings or in other emergency situations
  • Treating the people that are sick or injured as a result of the fire
  • Preparing written reports on emergency incidents
  • Cleaning and maintaining all fire equipment
  • Conducting drills and physical fitness training

Why they are needed

On average in 2018, a fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association. A structure fire occurred every 63 seconds, a home fire occurred every 87 seconds, and an outside property fire occurred every 52 seconds. Fires occurred in highway-type vehicles every 2 minutes and 54 seconds. Often, the first responders to to emergency situations are paid or voluntary firefighters. These firefighters will work tirelessly to put out the fire in order to save as many lives as possible.

Firefighters are also needed for other services in the community. For example, they may help cut people out of road traffic accidents or rescue people from rivers. Firefighters are also needed to stabalize incidents (such as forest fires, floods or terrorist attacks) before they progress. Another really important part of a firefighters jobs is that they educate the public on fire safety and how to act to responsibly avoid fires.

Pros and cons of a career as a firefighter:

Pros:

  • You get to save peoples lives, which makes it a very rewarding and fulfilling job
  • Firefighters work in a supportive and cohesive work environment
  • There is a lot of variety (e.g., one day you might be putting out a small fire, the next you’re stopping a flood and the next you’re rescuing animals from wildfires)
  • It is a well respected and regarded job
  • No two days are the same and you’ll never be bored
  • It is a thrilling job (running head first into fires is fun!)
  • Firefighters tend to receive good benefits and here is high job security!

Cons:

  • Not everyone has a happy ending and you will see innocent people suffering
  • It is an incredibly dangerous job and there is a risk of death on the job
  • It is a physically demanding and strenuous job
  • Firefighters may work long shifts and have to work antisocial hours
  • There is a lot of training, and this training is never ending. Firefighters are constantly training to be better!
  • The pay is not always reflective of the work

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of firefighters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This increased employment is expected because although improved building materials and building codes have resulted in a long-term decrease in fires and fire fatalities, firefighters will still be needed to respond to fires. Wildland firefighters will still be needed to combat active fires and manage the environment to reduce the impact of fires. Firefighters will also continue to respond to medical emergencies.

Career paths

To become a firefighter, the career path looks like this:

  1. Complete a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Pass written and physical tests
  3. Train to be an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification
  4. Attend a fire academy. During this time, entry-level firefighters receive a few months of training that includes classroom instruction and practical training
  5. After attending a fire academy, firefighters must usually complete a probationary period
  6. If firefighters want to progress to become engineers, lieutenants, captains, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief and, finally, chief, they may be required to have a bachelors degree in fire science, public administration or a related field

Additionally, those wishing to become wildland firefighters may attend apprenticeship programs that last up to 4 years. These programs combine instruction with on-the-job-training under the supervision of experienced firefighters.

In addition to participating in training programs conducted by local or state fire departments and agencies, some firefighters attend federal training sessions sponsored by the National Fire Academy. These training sessions cover topics including anti-arson techniques, disaster preparedness, hazardous materials control, and public fire safety and education.

Example Job Titles for Firefighter

Below is a list of common job titles in the Firefighter field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for firefighters in the United States was $50,850 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,550 per year, and the highest 10 percent earning more than $92,020 per year.

The state government was the top paying industry for firefighters with a median annual salary of $55,030. This was followed by the federal government ($52,140) and the local government ($51,850).

Autonomy and Flexibility

Firefighters work in teams and are often told by dispatchers what emergencies they must respond to. In this sense, the control over their decisions, and thus their autonomy, is low. When a firefighter attends the scene of an emergency, they are often instructed by firefighters more senior than them on how they are going to tackle the fire, as a team. Therefore, firefighters who are at an entry level are likely to have less autonomy and control than those who have years of service.

As far as flexibility goes, firefighters are always hanging around waiting to respond to emergencies. They have little flexibility over how they plan their day and what shifts they will work.

Locations and commute

According to Zippa, the best states to be a firefighter which is where the annual pay is the highest and the number of job opportunities are the highest, are:

  1. Iowa, where the average annual salary is $62,679
  2. Kansas, where the average annual salary is $61,510
  3. Illinois, where the average annual salary is $63,626
  4. Indiana, where the average annual salary is $48,330
  5. New Jersey, where the average annual salary is $69,705

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Missouri, Nebraska, Vermont, Colorado and Utah.

Work environment

88% of paid firefighters work for the local government, 3% work for the state government (excluding education and hospitals) and 2% work for the federal government.

Firefighters may also be volunteers. They share the same duties as paid firefighters and sccording to the National Fire Protection Association, about two thirds of firefighters are volunteers.

Firefighter tend to work shifts. When responding to an emergency, firefighters will wear protective gear, which can be very heavy and hot. When not attending to emergencies, firefighters work at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, work and remain on call. Whenever an alarm sounds, firefighters must respond, no matter what the time of day.

Unsurprisingly, firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They will encounter dangerous situations, such as collapsing buildings or flames and smoke, on a regular basis.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Firefighter careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Firefighter career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Firefighter.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

Firefighters are likely to be ESTP personality types. ESTPs, or the ‘explorer’, are curious and have a sense of adventure – perfect for the thrilling and exciting nature of firefighting. They are energized, strong and active, which means they can keep up with the physical demands of being a firefighter. Finally, ESTPs are not sensitive, meaning they will be resilient to the types of things a firefighter will witness (e.g., suffering and death).

Accomplishment and mastery

Not everyone can be a firefighter. Not everyone has the bravery, courage and passion. Therefore, it is a job with a special status attached to it. Anyone who becomes a successful firefighter, after completing their training and their probation period, will feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, achievement and mastery.

Furthermore, throughout their career, firefighters will save the lives of many people. Every time a firefighter successful pulls someone out from a burning building or save a child from drowning, they will feel accomplished. Mastery is high as firefighters are constantly training to learn new skills that allows them to become stronger and better.

Meaning and contribution

Firefighters are often some of the first people at an emergency scene, whether it is a fire, a terrorist attack, road accident or flood. It goes without saying that their work has huge meaning and contribution to society. Without firefighters, hundreds of innocent people would die in fires, floods and other disasters. The work of a firefighter has huge meaning and contribution to every single person, and this is reflected in the respect and recognition they receive.

Life fit

Firefighters typically work long periods and varied hours. Moreover, overtime is incredibly common. Most firefighters will work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters may work 10/14 shifts, which means 10 hours working and 14 hours off. When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, wildland firefighters may have to stay for days or weeks when a wildland fire breaks out.

Overall, based on the long shifts that firefighter work, it can provide a very difficult life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

There are some key things that one must have to thrive as a firefighter, such things include:

  • Flexibility and adaptability, as firefighters must be able to sleep anywhere, do different jobs under different circumstances, find a way to change with their environment and overcome various situations
  • Dedication as firefighters work long and unusual shifts and they must be willing to do this for their entire career. Furthermore, many firefighters are volunteers and must be dedicated to giving their time away for free
  • To thrive, you must be in good physical shape in order to keep up with the demands of the job
  • You must be a team player and understand the concept of teams. As a firefighter, others will always be relying on you to do your job and to do it properly and efficiently
  • To thrive as a firefighter, you must be tolerant of the different types of people you may work with. This is important because firefighters will spend a lot of time with their colleagues and will have to work with them in stressful situations
  • Self-sacrifice as one day firefighters may have to give the ultimate sacrifice (their life) in an attempt to save others. To truly thrive as a firefighter, you must be equally as concerned for the lives of others as you are of your own life

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who are not resilient will struggle as a firefighter, as they are constantly faced with suffering and death. Those who do not have a strong stomach will struggle with the blood and gore of working as a firefighter. Similarly, those who are not naturally excitement or thrill seeking may struggle with the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the work. If you are someone who cannot easily forget or leg go of things, then you may struggle with the emotional turmoil of being a firefighter – the key to doing this job and keeping good mental health is to learn to leave the terrible things at work.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Firefighters will need skills and talents such as:

  • Empathy, as firefighters will help distressed people who are in a great deal of pain and will need to be understanding
  • Bravery, as everyday firefighters will face dangerous and potentially life threatening situations
  • Physical strength and stamina, as firefighters will need to cary equipment, cary victims and move debris. They will be on their feet for long periods of time and must be fit and strong
  • Compassion, as firefighters will need to provide emotional support to victims and their family
  • Teamwork skills as firefighters will works as part of a small
  • Decision making skills, as firefighters are responsible for making on the spot decisions that could save the lives of many
  • Interpersonal skills, as firefighters need to coordinate and work with other firefighters, paramedics and police

Education

Firefighters must complete a high school diploma or equivalent, pass written and physical tests and train to be an emergency medical technician (EMT). They will then attend a fire academy. During this time, firefighters will receive practical training and classroom training. They will learn about firefighting and fire-prevention techniques, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures. They also learn how to fight fires with standard equipment, including axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, and ladders.

Certifications

Usually, firefighters must be certified as emergency medical technicians. Some fire departments require firefighters to be certified as a paramedic. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies EMTs and paramedics. Both levels of NREMT certification require completing a training or education program and passing the national exam. The national exam has a computer-based test and a practical part.

How to Become

Summary

Firefighters do so much more than just putting out fire. It is a career that is both physically and mentally challenging. Firefighters have the important responsibility of preventing and controlling fires, and they respond to other emergencies, such as car accidents… or cats stuck in trees!

Immediate action

The first step to becoming a firefighter is to train as an EMT. If you are at high school, your immediate action is to pick courses in anatomy and physiology. You should all, regardless of your age, focused on becoming certified in CPR.

On top of this, gathering relevant work experience will make you stand out from the crowd when applying for EMT programs. Work experience can include things such as volunteering in a medical facility or working in a lower healthcare role (e.g., as a dispatcher).

Education and learning

Firefighters must have a high school diploma or equivalent, pass written and physical tests and train to be an EMT. After this, they will then attend a fire academy where they will receive practical training and classroom training.

Skill development

Firefighters learn the skills they need through their fire academy training. However, throughout their career, firefighters are always learning and training to become fitter, faster, stronger and better.

FAQs

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Have a question about Firefighter careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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