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The question as to what does a Firefighter do might, at least at first, seem to have an obvious answer: Fight fires. However, there is much more to the occupation in the way of job responsibilities and necessary skills. In this article, the reader will be able to explore the job description, required skills, and salary associated with a Firefighter position. When the reader is through with reading the piece, he will know exactly what job responsibilities fall under the duty of Firefighter as well as how to become a Firefighter.

What does a Firefighter do?

So, what is a Firefighter? The role of Firefighter falls under a number of different job titles. Some titles for the Firefighter include Fireman, Fire Engineer, Fire Chief, and Fire Captain. Sometimes the role of Firefighter is one that is coupled with other job descriptions such as Firefighter/emergency paramedic, Firefighter/EMT, or Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician. The position requires that one work for private organizations, government organizations, airports, counties, and/or municipalities. The main goal of the Firefighter is to keep the community and all of its members safe and therefore, the Firefighter might be called to deal with any number of dangerous situations, crises, and disastrous conditions. While putting out fires stemming from burning vehicles, forests, homes, businesses, and/or abandoned properties is the primary goal of the candidate in this position, the individual typically trains so he can behave as an EMT or first responder when an emergency arises. Firefighters may be called to respond to a medical emergency, and in some situations, they are called on to rescue animals as well.

Who is a Firefighter?

A professional Firefighter is a person who is employed by government agencies, or who may work with industrial organizations and for fire services made available through local authorities. The Firefighter may find work in ports and airports, and some work along with the armed forces when necessary. The competition for this particular job is intense, and the position is mostly male driven with as many as 97 percent of all Firefighters being men.

Along with extinguishing fires, the Firefighter may work as a paramedic or EMT, and will serve as a source of protection for members of a specific community or locality. The Firefighter is one that not only protects people and animals but the environment as well, and the trained professional responds to emergency situations and accidents. Firefighters are also educators who serve to educate the public about fire control, safety, and accident prevention.

A Firefighter will maintain an ongoing education that includes hands-on training, drills, practice runs, exercises and lectures: All of the latter is in an effort to keep the Firefighter’s knowledge current, up to date, and sharp. There are two general types of Firefighters including those who are retained and those who are considered whole time or full-time employees. The whole time Firefighter is one that often works in an urban area. The retained individual is one that will respond to calls and emergencies when they arise: This is the most common set up in rural regions. Firefighters may live within a close proximity to the firehouse and might respond to pagers when a situation arises. Firefighters that are retained usually work in different jobs and the Firefighting is done during free time or when a boss allows the Firefighter to leave the workplace to handle an emergency.

The dangers one faces as a Firefighter are great and the job is physically demanding. There is a considerable risk of death, especially when putting out burning buildings where floors and walls can collapse with ease. A Firefighter will be required to don on heavy equipment and gear when dealing with a fire: This gear will help them prevent burns and some gear aids in breathing in a smoke filled environment. Some Firefighters might also come into contact with chemicals and poisons when putting out fires or respond to emergency situations. The work week for a Firefighter can reach upward of 50 hours a week.

Firefighter Job Description

Firefighter job description

Part of the Firefighter job description includes response to a number of emergency services, not just fires. A Firefighter might deal with accident scenes, vehicular accidents, sudden and serious injuries or illnesses, and other emergency situations requiring some kind of medical intervention in order to stabilize the victim. What’s more, when fighting fires, the individual will have to plan and strategize every move for the safety of others as well as self-preservation. A Firefighter might be in a situation where he has to help trapped people escape a burning structure: To that end, the Firefighter must be able to assess what part of the building might pose an issue in terms of dangerous or excessively damaged structure and what parts of the building might be salvaged. Assessing the building’s condition ensures a greater level of safety for all the Firefighters working the scene as well as the individuals the Firefighter is attempting to help.

Firefighters work with a wide range of equipment including heavy hoses, chainsaws, axes, fire hydrants, ladders, and other equipment used for cleaning up the scene of a fire once the fire is put out. As per information made available by the National Fire Protection Association, for every three phone calls made into Firefighters, two are actually medical emergency situations. The responsibilities and duties the Firefighter deals with daily will change constantly and sometimes several times throughout the work day. If working in an urban area and not on a call, the Firefighter is at the fire house: During the time there, equipment is examined and the Firefighter takes part in practice drills. Some Firefighters will sleep and eat at the station while on call, especially when working a long shift.

Firefighter Duties and Tasks

  • Maintain continued contact with emergency dispatch
  • Becoming familiar with the locality so emergency responses are efficient and expeditious
  • Collaborative efforts and teamwork with other Firefighting professionals
  • Fire extinguishing, control, and prevention
  • Public education about fire safety, control, and prevention
  • Drive emergency vehicles and fire trucks
  • Use water pumps, fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, water hoses, and chemical means for extinguishing fires
  • Victim rescue from a burning structure
  • Emergency medical and first responder care
  • Write ups and reports about emergency events
  • Test and clean Firefighting equipment
  • Training for physical endurance
  • Conduct and participate in fire drills
  • Protect people during emergency conditions
  • Respond to a variety of emergency calls including vehicular accidents, floods, water rescue, chemical spills, and rescue in general
  • Administering first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Skills Required

  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Use of tools like core cutters, electric saws, crowbars, chisels, axes, chainsaws, shovels, ladders, and fire hydrants
  • The use of blocks, pulleys, fire extinguishers, nozzles and hoses, aerial fire trucks, pumper truckers, and bomb responsive vehicles
  • The use of scientific or analytical software programs such as (ACS) Affiliated Computer Services FIREHOUSE; Microsoft Access Hot technology, and Fire Incident Reporting platforms. Mapping and GIS software knowledge is also a must

Working Conditions

Firefighter Working Conditions

The hours a Firefighter might be on call or have to work are extensive and often go beyond the 40 hour work week. The Firefighter might have a shift pattern with two-night shifts, two-day shifts and the remaining four days off for the week. Others might work a 10/14 shift, with 10 hours on the job followed by 14 hours off. Large fires like wildfires may have the individual working for an extended period of time. Part-time work as a Firefighter as well as job sharing is sometimes possible. As a Firefighter, one can expect to have to work closely with other members of a team or crew so the individual needs to be comfortable with collaborative work.

Firefighting is a high-stress job so the ideal candidate will be able to handle stressful and even risky or dangerous situations. The ideal candidate will need to have remarkable communication and interpersonal skills in order to make every task as safe as possible for all involved. In some instances, a Firefighter may be required to travel to nearby counties or states to assist other fire departments or to attend activities.

The work environment a Firefighter will deal with is not always pleasant, particularly when dealing with extremes of hot and cold, fire and outdoor environments, buildings filled with smoke, burning structures, enclosed areas, heights, and a variety of weather settings. The job is dangerous because of the risk of injury when inside a burning structure and the risk of smoke inhalation, fumes, or exposure to potential explosive elements.

At this time the field is mostly male, but many fire departments are now looking to recruit women as well as ethnic and black minority Firefighters. Many Firefighters are volunteer workers. As per information released by the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 70 percent of all fire departments have the staff covered by volunteer workers. It is important to note that out of many occupations, being a Firefighter comes with the greatest risk of illnesses and injuries.

Firefighter Salary

Firefighter Salary

The Firefighter salary on average is about $42,000 a year. The latter number is influenced by one’s time on the job, one’s residence, and the firefighter’s education. The entry level position of firefighter has a yearly salary of about $38,000. The mid-career level is when firefighters begin seeing the national average salary as there is an increase from $38K to $43,000. The experienced firefighter makes about $51,000 a year. The advanced career, with some 20 years on the job or more, can increase the firefighter salary to about $62,000.

How Much do Firefighter Make?

The firefighter’s salary us influenced by skill and location. How much does a Firefighter make is, therefore, dependent on a number of factors. Those working in New York make the largest salaries per year with a median pay of $76,471.00, which is a pay rate that proves to be some $34,179 greater than the national average. Chicago and Los Angeles are also two cities that offer lucrative salaries to firemen, which could be due to the need for more manpower as all three cities are among the largest in the United States. If working in Savannah, Georgia, the firefighter makes about 31 percent less than the national average. Those who are employed in areas like Denver and Atlanta are working at jobs that pay below median salary to firefighters: As much as 8 percent and 14 percent lower respectively.


There’s room for growth in the field for a firefighter who wants to move on and become a Fire Lieutenant, Fire Inspector, or a Fire Captain. The firefighter who pursues the position of Deputy Fire Chief will find a considerable boost in pay whereas the annual median salary is $79,000. A firefighter can then move into a Manager of Firefighting position or work as a First Line Supervisor, with the jobs offering $10,000 or $16,000 more on an annual basis respectively.

In terms of insurance, 90 percent of those surveyed have medical insurance when working as a firefighter. About 72 percent of people in this occupation have dental insurance. About 56 percent of people have vision coverage. Finally, about 9 percent have no insurance whatsoever. Many firefighters belong to a union.

Firefighter Employment


Of those individuals currently working in a Firefighter career, 7 percent of firefighters have been on the job less than a year. About 35 percent of existing firefighters have been on the job from one to four years, and 25 percent of those working in the position have 5 to 9 years of on the job experience. Around 23 percent of working firefighters have 10 to 19 years of experience, and about 10 percent have been working in the sector for 20 years or greater.     


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, There were 302,400 firefighter jobs in 2010 and, for most years, this number increased. From 2010 to 2011, there was an increase of 1680 jobs resulting in 304,080 total jobs in 2011. From 2012 to 2011 is the only identifiable decrease in jobs in the field: The number of 2011 jobs dropped down to 297,700 positions, but then increased once more in the year 2013 to 302,870. Finally, in 2014, firefighter jobs increased up to 308,790.

Gender Distribution

The gender distribution in the firefighting sector is incredibly uneven with the majority of firefighters being male. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that the job is so physically demanding, although today’s women are certainly stepping up and matching the strength and endurance of their male counterparts. There have been women in the United States fire departments since the 1800s, but the number remains few even to this day.


At one point the uneven gender distribution in this sector was explained, in least in part, by the absence of adequate facilities; in urban areas where firefighters sleep and bath in the same quarters, the facilities were bunk halls and communal showers accessible only to men. Currently, many of the urban stations have been updated to accommodate women firefighters. Another explanation put forth for the discrepancy in gender is based on the fact that the firefighting gear is primarily designed for men and, as such, would not properly fit and adequately cover women when protection from fire was required.

A third explanation for the uneven gender distribution among firefighter occupations is the rigorous nature of the job: Some females may be deterred by the physical nature of the job, while others may not be hired because it is assumed, erroneously or otherwise, that they cannot meet the physical requirements of the job.

How to Become a Firefighter?

How to Become a firefighter

Much is expected of the professional firefighter physically and mentally. Thus, candidates for the position undergo a good deal of training. In addition, those who do become professional and volunteer firefighters continue to train throughout the course of the work: Exercises, lectures, and drills help the firefighters keep their knowledge current and sharp. Due to the fact that firefighters are responsible for the safety of others in high-risk situations as well as the safety of their crew members, much responsibility is heaped on the shoulders of the candidate for this position. One can expect random drug testing to ensure the sobriety of the candidate, and a regular medical examination must be conducted to assess the physical fitness of the firefighter candidate.

The candidate interested in becoming a firefighter will have to undergo training and there are also written exams the individual has to pass. In addition to written tests, the candidate can expect physical tests. The individual will have to be at least 18 years of age and because the job requirements call for the ability to drive fire trucks and handle additional equipment, the individual will need to have a valid driver’s license issued by the state where he resides. Firefighter candidates have to go to a fire academy for proper training and they also get certified as an emergency medical technician.

The firefighter candidate must have specific qualities in order to fulfill the obligations of the job satisfactorily. Communication skills are absolutely necessary, especially when dealing with emergency situations and conditions: Excellent communication is required in order to ensure the fastest solutions are implemented in an emergency. Bravery is another attribute a firefighter requires as the individual will be expected to walk directly into dangerous situations, like burning buildings, in order to regain control, extinguish fires, and to protect people and the community. At the same time, impeccable decision-making skills are necessary when filling this job position and the individual needs to be able to think fast under pressure in emergency conditions.

Physical strength and stamina are required of the firefighter; stamina is needed for fires and rescue scenes that take a long time to get under control, and one will need endurance when fighting off fires for prolonged periods. Physical strength is needed in order to handle the necessary equipment for fire control and for rescue situations.

Firefighter Education Requirements

Firefighter education requirements demand the firefighter have, at minimum, a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma. The candidate will need to take additional classes beyond the high school level, in order to learn things like trauma care, airway management, and other rescue and safety measures. The firefighter will usually get a certification as an emergency medical technician, and the requirements for certification will differ from city to city and state to state. In some cases, the hiring entity might demand the candidate have an associate’s degree.

New candidates often attend fire academies to get a couple months training: These academies are state or fire department operated. The candidate will go through practical training, instruction in a classroom environment, and will learn about firefighting and fire prevention methods. The candidate will also learn about safety and building codes, medical procedures for emergency situations, and the proper use for all of the standard firefighting equipment including ladders, fire extinguishers, chain saws, and axes. Once training is complete, the candidate will work as a firefighter, some with a period of probation in place. Still other fire departments might offer apprenticeship programs and other special programs that can last up to four years. Finally, the firefighter might also get involved in special training programs that are conducted by the state, local, and fire departments, especially those covering disaster preparedness, safety, handling of hazardous materials, anti-arson techniques, and public education and safety: Such programs are made available by the National Fire Academy.

Firefighter Colleges

In regard to firefighter colleges, there are both public and private schools. If interested in participating as a student in four-year program, the choices available are myriad. Eight out of the following schools about Public programs, while two schools are privately operated. The schools offering firefighting programs include:

  1. Private Program – University of New Haven
  2. Private Program – Utah Valley University
  3. Public – Eastern Kentucky University
  4. Public -Oklahoma State University
  5. Public -University of Akron
  6. Public -University of Florida
  7. Public -The CUNY John Jay College for Criminal Justice
  8. Public -University of North Carolina-Charlotte
  9. Public -Idaho State University
  10. Public -University of Cincinnati

Major Subjects

The firefighter will need the basic high school diploma. If pursuing an associate degree, coursework will involve studies that include wild land fire management, fire prevention and investigation; the role of fire officer, fire technology, and fire science. Some students might opt for the bachelor’s degree programs with a focus on fire protection systems of fire science technology. Additional coursework might include emergency medical services, community disaster management, catastrophic rescue, and multi-agency command. Meanwhile, those who go on to undertake a master’s degree of study, fire scene reconstruction, building codes, terrorism, arson analysis, public and private protection from fire, explosions and fire setting controls.

Firefighter Specializations

Firefighter Specializations

EMT certification is needed for the firefighter who would act as and EMT/Paramedic. To that end, The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians has programs where a candidate can be certified as a paramedic or EMT. The latter offering includes coursework and passing the national exam consisting of a practical and written portion. There is some room for growth in this sector and such positions include the Chief, deputy chief, assistant chief, battalion chief, captain, and lieutenant positions, with the position of chief being the highest position within the department. Several of the latter mentioned positions require a bachelor’s degree with a focus on public administration or fire science. Positions for investigators and inspectors are also an employment option. Finally, positions in wildland firefighting are another option, as people are needed to manage forest fires and the impact they have on the environment.

Professional Associations of Firefighter

One of the popular associations of Firefighter options is the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). The organization has been behind many of the advances in the emergency and fire services available in the 21st century. The organization has two headquarters, with one in Ottawa, Ontario and the other in Washington, D.C. The IAFF has over 300,000 professional members including paramedics and firefighters as well as 3100 plus affiliations. The members of this prestigious organization help keep nearly 85 percent of all US and Canadian communities and populace safe

The IAFF is also one of the most active lobbying organizations in Washington, DC. The IAFF Political Action Committee, FIREPAC, is among the top 25 federal PACs among the more than 4,000 in the country. The IAFF helps would be firefighters find employment by posting job openings in the field and there are also myriad openings in the organization, labor unions, federal agencies, state agencies, and municipalities. The IAFF offers wellness initiatives for members and survival training.

Famous Firefighters

Among famous firefighters is the native Texan, Paul Neal Adair. Paul was born in Houston in June 1915, and he became a famous oil well firefighter in his adulthood. He specialized in capping and extinguishing oil well blowouts, both offshore and land-based. He started in the field why working for Myron Kinley, the “original oil blowout pioneer.”  In the late 1950s, Adair established Red Adair Company Inc, and as a firefighter dealt with over 2000 offshore and land-based natural gas and oil fires. In the early 1960s, he became very famous when dealing with the Gassi Touil gas field fire located in the Algerian Sahara, which had the moniker of the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter because it was a pillar of fire some 450 foot that burned from November 1961 until April 1962. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 89.

Firefighters FAQ

What are the advantages and disadvantages of firefighting?

One of the main advantages a firefighter derives from working in the field is from having a sense of purpose while working in a rewarding career helping others. There is pleasure derived in the challenging nature of the position as well as one’s ability to serve the public. The primary disadvantages of the job include the low salary, which in no way equals or balances out the risk to one’s life when working in this type of job. Another disadvantage is that completion is tight when it comes to filling available positions and there can be as many as a hundred applicants for a single job.

What is the job outlook for firefighters?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the employment options in the field of firefighting is expected to grow by about 5 percent between 2014 and 2024: This is about equal to the rate of expected growth in similar occupations. All occupations are expected to have a growth rate of around 7 percent compared to the 5 percent growth in the field currently in question. Those individuals with the competitive edge in the industry will be those that have paramedic training, a firefighter education, prove of physical fitness.

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