Career Information: Firefighter
What is this job like?
Every year, fires take many lives and destroy billions of dollars worth of property. Firefighters help protect people and property. They are often the first at an accident or emergency.
Firefighters put out fires, which is not as simple as it may sound. Fighting fires is dangerous and complex, and it takes organization and teamwork.
Firefighters also save people who are trapped in burning buildings.
They treat people who are hurt or ill, both at fires and in other situations. In fact, most calls that firefighters respond to involve medical emergencies.
In between alarms, firefighters must clean and repair their equipment. They practice firefighting skills, and they may perform fire inspections. They exercise to keep fit.
Some firefighters work at airports or in factories. Others work in forests and rural areas. Special firefighters, called smoke jumpers, fight forest fires. They parachute from airplanes to remote areas.
Fire marshals and fire inspectors work to prevent fires. They conduct building inspections. They make sure that laws about fire safety are followed. They also work with builders and city planners. They often visit schools to teach fire safety.
Fire investigators study fires to see how they started. They collect evidence from the scene and talk to witnesses.
Firefighters live at fire stations much of the time. Most fire stations have living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. When the alarm sounds, firefighters must respond rapidly.
Firefighting is dangerous work. During a fire, floors can cave in and walls can topple. Flames and smoke can burn or kill. Firefighters may come in contact with poisonous gases or other hazardous materials. To protect themselves, firefighters wear protective gear. The gear can be heavy and hot.
Many firefighters work more than 50 hours a week. Some are on duty for 24 hours straight. Then, they get 48 hours off. They also get another day off on a regular basis. Others work a 10-hour day shift for 3 or 4 days. Then, they work a 14-hour night shift for 3 or 4 nights and have 3 or 4 days off.
How do you get ready?
Usually, firefighters take a written test and tests of strength, coordination, and agility. Firefighters have to be healthy.
Classes in fire science at a community college may help people get a job. Now, more firefighters go to college.
New firefighters often train at a special school. They learn to prevent fires. They study how to put out fires. They learn how to use axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, ladders, and other tools. They study local building codes and emergency medical procedures, such as first aid. After completing this training, they are assigned to a fire station.
Firefighters need to be alert and self-disciplined. Firefighters should be brave and strong. Being good with machines is important, too. A firefighter makes quick decisions, so good judgment is important. They must be able to get along well with others because they live and work closely together.
How much does this job pay?
In 2006, the middle half of all firefighters earned between $29,550 and $54,120 annually. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $20,660. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $66,140.
Firefighting supervisors and managers and fire inspectors earned more.
How many jobs are there?
Paid firefighters held about 293,000 jobs in 2006. This number does not include volunteer firefighters. In some areas, there are more volunteer firefighters than paid ones.
There were about 52,000 supervisors and managers of firefighters. Fire inspectors numbered about 14,000.
What about the future?
The number of firefighters is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. Most job growth will come from volunteer positions becoming paid jobs. A larger population will also need more firefighting and medical help.
But there will be strong competition for jobs. Many people want to become firefighters because it is challenging and it gives them a chance to help others.
Are there other jobs like this?
- Emergency medical technicians and paramedics
- Police officers
Where can you find more information?
More BLS information about firefighting occupations can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook also shows where to find out even more about this job.