Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies where life, property, or the environment is at risk.
What they do
Firefighters typically do the following:
- Drive firetrucks and other emergency vehicles
- Put out fires using water hoses, fire extinguishers, and water pumps
- Find and rescue victims in burning buildings or in other emergency situations
- Treat sick or injured people
- Prepare written reports on emergency incidents
- Clean and maintain equipment
- Conduct drills and physical fitness training
When responding to an emergency, firefighters are responsible for connecting hoses to hydrants, operating the pumps that power the hoses, climbing ladders, and using other tools to break through debris. Firefighters also enter burning buildings to extinguish fires and rescue individuals. Many firefighters are responsible for providing medical attention. Two out of three calls to firefighters are for medical emergencies, not fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When firefighters are not responding to an emergency, they are on call at a fire station. During this time, they regularly inspect equipment and perform practice drills. They also eat and sleep and remain on call, as their shifts usually last 24 hours. Some firefighters may provide public education about fire safety, such as presenting about fire safety at a school.
Some firefighters also work in hazardous materials units and are specially trained to control and clean up hazardous materials, such as oil spills and chemical accidents. They work with hazardous materials removal workers in these cases.
Wildland firefighters are specially trained firefighters. They use heavy equipment and water hoses to control forest fires. Wildland firefighters also frequently create fire lines—a swath of cut-down trees and dug-up grass in the path of a fire—to deprive a fire of fuel. They also use prescribed fires to burn potential fire fuel under controlled conditions. Some wildland firefighters, known as smoke jumpers, parachute from airplanes to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Volunteer firefighters share the same duties as paid firefighters and account for the majority of firefighters in many areas. According to the National Fire Protection Association, about two thirds of firefighters were volunteer firefighters in 2015.
When responding to an emergency, these workers often wear protective gear, which can be very heavy and hot. When not on the scene of an emergency, firefighters work at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, work on equipment, and remain on call. Whenever an alarm sounds, firefighters respond, regardless of the weather or time of day.
How to become a Firefighter
Firefighters typically need a high school diploma and training in emergency medical services. Prospective firefighters must pass written and physical tests, complete a series of interviews, go through training at a fire academy, and hold an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.
Applicants for firefighter jobs typically must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. They must also pass a medical exam and drug screening to be hired. After being hired, firefighters may be subject to random drug tests and will also need to complete routine physical fitness assessments.
The entry-level education needed to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some classwork beyond high school, such as instruction in assessing patients’ conditions, dealing with trauma, and clearing obstructed airways, is usually needed to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. EMT requirements vary by city and state.
Entry-level firefighters receive a few months of training at fire academies run by the fire department or by the state. Through classroom instruction and practical training, recruits study 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. After attending a fire academy, firefighters must usually complete a probationary period.
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.
Usually, firefighters must be certified as emergency medical technicians. In addition, 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. EMTs and paramedics may work with firefighters at the scenes of accidents.
The median annual wage for firefighters was $50,850 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,020.
Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
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. Fires can spread rapidly, so controlling them quickly is very important. 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.
Similar Job Titles
Apparatus Operator, Fire Captain, Fire Chief, Fire Engineer, Fire Equipment Operator, Fire Fighter, Firefighter, Fireman, Safety Officer, Volunteer Firefighter, Fire Fighter, Fire Management Specialist, Fire Rescue Technician, Fire Technician, Firefighter, Forest Fire Suppression Specialist, Forestry Fire Technician, Hot Shot, On-Scene Supporter, Wildland Firefighter
Municipal Fire Fighting and Prevention Supervisor, Forest Fire Fighting and Prevention Supervisor, Municipal Firefighter, Explosive Worker/Ordnance Handling Expert/Blaster, Ship and Boat Captain, Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic, Electrical Power-Line Installer and Repairer, Ship Engineer
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- IAFF FireFighters
- International Association of Black Professional Firefighters
- Society of Fire Protection Engineers
- International Association of Wildland Fire
- National Wildfire Suppression Association
- Society of American Foresters
Magazines and Publications
Courage, strength, and a cool head under pressure are some of the most important qualities needed by firefighters. Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to crisis situations where life and the environment are at risk. Firefighters enter burning buildings to extinguish fires and rescue people, sometimes carrying them. They connect hoses to hydrants, operate pumps, climb ladders, and use other tools to break through debris. The majority of calls they receive are for medical emergencies, so many firefighters also provide medical attention. Some firefighters clean up hazardous materials, such as oil spills and chemical accidents, while others are specially trained to control forest fires. Most firefighters work for local governments. Some work for federal and state governments, or at airports, chemical plants, and other industrial sites. Volunteer firefighters serve the same roles as paid firefighters and account for a large portion of the workforce in this field. Firefighters’ schedules are typically on duty at the fire station for 24 hours at a time, then off for 48 to 72 hours. Wildland firefighters may work for extended periods to get a forest fire under control. Firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They must wear heavy, hot protective gear. Firefighters typically need a high school diploma, valid driver’s license, and an emergency medical technician certification. Candidates must successfully complete interviews, written and physical fitness tests, fire academy training, and once hired, they must pass random drug tests.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org