Are you interested in a career that requires strength, training, knowledge, and courage and also lets you help people, even save lives? If you answered yes to all of these things, then you may want to consider pursuing a career as a firefighter. You may remember members of your local fire department visiting your school when you were a child, to teach you all about fire safety and prevention, who can forget “Stop, Drop, and Roll”?
Firefighters must be courageous and strong, smart and quick on their feet, and be willing to work as part of a team. Firefighters are trained to handle a wide range of emergency situations from structure fires to wildfires to natural disasters. They also respond to traffic accidents and often respond to situations that may pose a risk to the public like chemical leaks or skills. Firefighters frequently participate in or coordinate rescue operations.
While firefighter jobs are not expected to increase significantly, the need is expected to remain steady. Despite the efforts and advances in technology to make products and building materials safer and fire resistant, there will be a continued need for this emergency service. There is a certain level of danger associated with the job, but many firefighters find their job both fulfilling and rewarding. Continue reading for more information about the firefighter salary and firefighter job description.
Overview of a Firefighter Salary
The BLS lists a median annual salary for firefighters of $46,870 per year or $22.53 per hour as of May 2015. Median salary indicates that half of those working as firefighters earn less than this amount while half earn more. Higher paid firefighters hold positions such as battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, or chief. The lowest paid 10% of firefighters earn less than $23,010 per year while the highest earning 10% receive in excess of $79,490 per year. The median annual salary for firefighters is approximately $10,000 higher than the total of all other occupations.
Earning Factors of Firefighter Salary
The firefighter salary may depend on the position a firefighter holds. Pay will typically increase along with rank. A firefighter may progress to engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and, ultimately, chief. Another factor in salary is location of employment. Larger fire departments in major cities may have more funds available to pay firefighters while smaller towns and municipalities are restricted by budgetary constraints. Fire departments are often dependent on about twice as many volunteers as paid firefighters. In 2013, the National Fire Protection Association estimated that 69% of fire departments were wholly staffed by volunteers.
As of 2014, the majority of firefighters are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the largest firefighter’s union.
Firefighter Job Description
The job of a firefighter requires a great amount of dedication. Firefighters often work twenty-four hour shifts followed be two or three days off, or they work ten hours on and fourteen hours off during a twenty-four hour period. They often eat, sleep, train, and maintain their equipment while on duty, waiting for an emergency to arise, at which time they spring into action.
In cases of major fires such as wildfires, firefighters may need to spend days or even weeks trying to extinguish a fire or stop it from continuing to spread with only brief periods to rest or eat. Firefighters must be able to work with other firefighters within their own department, neighboring fire departments, and other emergency responders. Firefighters are also expected to be active in their communities by teaching people of all ages how to prevent fires and stay safe in the event of a fire. They sometimes work with police departments and hospitals in cases of natural disasters and other major incidents affecting larger groups of people. Firefighters must meet physical requirements and remain up to date on all of their job training and requirements.
A typical firefighter job description includes the following responsibilities:
- Drive emergency vehicles such as fire trucks or ambulances
- Extinguish fires with water hoses, water pumps, and fire extinguishers, and know the best way to put out various types of fires
- Perform search and rescue services during fires or other emergencies
- Provide emergency care to ill or injured people
- Complete written reports regarding responses to emergencies
- Keep all equipment clean and in good working order
- Perform drills to help with preparedness
- Maintain good physical fitness
- Educate the general public in fire safety strategies
In addition to the required training and skills, firefighters must possess certain qualities. These characteristics are vital to every firefighter, whether paid or volunteer. There is a high level of risk associated with this job due to the hazardous situations they may or do face on a regular basis.
A firefighter should possess these important qualities and characteristics:
- Strong communication skills, to communicate with other firefighters and emergency crews as well as victims.
- Bravery, to face high risk situations and run into burning buildings.
- Stamina, in the event that a fire or other emergency continues for an extended period of time as may be the case of wildfires or other disasters.
- Strength, physical to haul equipment, move debris and other detritus, lift victims who may be unconscious or otherwise injured and unable to walk or move; mental strength to handle the risk and other stressors that accompany the job.
- Decision making abilities, the ability to make good decisions quickly during high stress, emergency situations involving victims and other firefighters and emergency personnel.
Firefighter Job Outlook
The firefighter job outlook is a steady but not exceptional with an expected increase of 5% between 2014 and 2024. This is only slightly lower than the 7% total of all other occupations. The BLS shows 327,300 firefighters in 2014 and expects that number to rise to 344,700 by 2024. About 91% of firefighters work in local departments, the remaining 9% work with state or federal departments, airports, and chemical plants or other industrial locations.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about the firefighter education.
Firefighter Education Requirements
If this sounds like a job you would be interested in, keep reading for more information about firefighter education. One thing that may appeal to many people is that it is an entry level position that does not require education beyond a high school diploma or equivalent. Most departments require EMT basic or EMT paramedic certification by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), but requirements vary by city or state. Many fire departments have fire schools or academies run by either the department or the state. Additional training with the National Fire Academy may include, anti-arson techniques, disaster preparation, hazardous material control, and public fire safety and education.
Education involves classroom instruction and practical training including: fire-fighting, fire-prevention, building codes, and emergency medical procedures. Trainees also learn the proper use and care of equipment such as axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, and ladders. A probationary period follows the training. In some cases, the fire department may have an apprenticeship program often lasting up to four years. An apprenticeship program involves technical instruction, on the job training, and supervision by a more experienced firefighter. Many firefighters began their careers as volunteers.
There are positions within the fire department that require education beyond a high school diploma or equivalent. To receive an Executive Fire Officer Certification from the National Fire Academy, a firefighter must have a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree in a field such as fire science or public administration is often required to advance to a rank beyond battalion chief. With training and experience, a firefighter may become a fire inspector or fire investigator.
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