What to Know About Being a Firefighter

Firefighters provide essential services to the public. Learn about training requirements, earning potential, and career growth for firefighters.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Updated May 13, 2022

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What to Know About Being a Firefighter


Introduction

Being a firefighter can involve doing meaningful and rewarding work. These professionals serve essential roles in their communities by putting out and preventing fires, protecting life and property, and responding to various crisis incidents.

Most paid firefighters work shifts lasting more than 24 hours. They generally understand the hazards that come with this occupation. Their classroom education and practical training prepare them to perform their jobs in the face of potential danger.

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What Does a Firefighter Do?

Being a firefighter involves putting out and preventing fires, providing emergency medical services, rescuing humans and animals, and protecting property. Firefighters need to know how to use chemical retardants, fire hoses, ladders, and other equipment and tools. They also must undergo regular drills and undertake continual training to perform their jobs effectively.

Firefighter job responsibilities also include cooperating with local agencies to remove hazardous materials, perform rescues, and handle crisis events. These professionals also educate their communities and engage in outreach. Good communication skills can help these professionals talk to school groups and local organizations about preventing fires and identifying relevant fire hazards.

What Training Does a Firefighter Need?

Most fire academies have a minimum age requirement of 18, sometimes 21. Prospective firefighters must possess no criminal record, have corrected 20/20 vision, and demonstrate a certain level of physical fitness. Most fire academies also require applicants to possess a high school diploma or equivalent, but increasing numbers of fire departments prefer to hire individuals with an associate degree in fire science.

Before acceptance into a fire academy, applicants must pass a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), written exam, and skill test. During training, fire academy students must learn how to extinguish fires. They also train to mitigate disasters while preserving life and property and preventing further damage. Most students should expect to complete at least 600 hours of instruction.

Firefighters need continuing education to maintain their skills, including on-the-job training. Driving a fire truck or ambulance requires additional training for an operator license. Professionals who serve as paramedics must acquire the necessary credential based on state requirements. Firefighters who want to advance in their careers further might seek additional training or earn a bachelor's degree in fire science.

What Is the Career Outlook for Firefighters?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 317,200 firefighters worked in the United States in May 2020. The BLS projects an 8% growth rate for firefighter positions between 2020 and 2030. Communities will always need firefighters to put out fires and provide first-response medical services.

Firefighters seeking jobs in more populated areas typically have more employment opportunities. Individuals might also find open firefighter positions in areas near parks and woodlands where wildfires often emerge. Federal and state governments also provide many employment opportunities.

What Is a Firefighter's Salary Potential?

According to the BLS, firefighters made a median annual salary of $52,500 in May 2020. The top 10% of earners made a median yearly wage of $93,790 during the same period. Firefighters can earn more by progressing to fire inspector, fire chief, or another higher-level administrator position. Firefighters who work for the state or federal government can also sometimes earn more.

Many fire departments pay employees based on their work experience. The average firefighter salary does not necessarily correspond to training or education level. However, firefighters seeking higher pay might pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in fire science with a specialization, such as fire investigation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being a Firefighter

How do you know if being a firefighter is right for you?

People who care about their communities and want to help others might thrive as firefighters. Those with strong physical fitness and mental stamina possess the potential to do well in fulfilling a firefighter's responsibilities. Working in this occupation also requires adaptability, working in teams, performing under pressure, and occasionally witnessing human suffering. Being proficient with heavy equipment is also an asset.

Is being a firefighter a good career?

Even with improved fire codes, building materials, and public knowledge about fire prevention, firefighters enjoy relative job stability. Because of the essential services they provide, firefighters will see a persistent demand for their work. According to the BLS, these positions will grow 8% between 2020 and 2030, a rate on par with the average job growth for all occupations during the same period. Many fire departments do not require job applicants to possess a four-year degree for employment. However, earning a bachelor's degree in a fire science specialization can expand employment opportunities and increase earning potential.

How hard is fire academy?

Fire academies generally require classroom learning, practical skills acquisition, and physical training. Prospective firefighters must demonstrate that they can rescue victims and work with heavy equipment. They also need to go through "live fire" training, which involves physically demanding fire simulations in controlled settings. Students who do not possess the requisite strength, physical stamina, and skills will not complete their programs.

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