Firefighters

Summary

firefighters image
Firefighters control fires and respond to other emergencies.
Quick Facts: Firefighters
2014 Median Pay $45,970 per year
$22.10 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 327,300
Job Outlook, 2014-24 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 17,400

What Firefighters Do

Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Work Environment

When on the scenes of fires and other emergencies, the work can be very dangerous. When not on the scene of an emergency, firefighters spend their time at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, and remain on call during shifts that often last 24 hours. Many work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Firefighter

Firefighters typically need a high school diploma and training in emergency medical services. Most firefighters receive training at a fire academy, must pass written and physical tests, complete a series of interviews, and hold an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for firefighters was $45,970 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will likely be strong. Physically fit applicants with high test scores and paramedic training will have the best job prospects.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for firefighters.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of firefighters with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about firefighters by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Firefighters Do

Firefighters
Firefighters use high-pressure hoses to suppress structural fires.

Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Duties

Firefighters typically do the following:

  • Drive fire trucks 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
  • Provide public education on fire safety

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.

Firefighters’ duties may change several times while they are at the scene of an emergency. In some cases they remain at disaster scenes for days, for example, rescuing trapped survivors and assisting with medical treatment.

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 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. They 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 will 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.

Work Environment

Firefighters
Firefighters respond to emergencies such as car accidents.

Firefighters held about 327,300 jobs in 2014. The vast majority—about 91 percent— worked for local governments. Most of the remainder worked for federal and state governments. A few worked at airports, chemical plants, and other industrial sites.

These employment numbers exclude volunteer firefighters. There are approximately twice as many volunteer firefighters as there are paid career firefighters.

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 69 percent of fire departments were staffed entirely by volunteer firefighters in 2013.

When not on the scene of an emergency, firefighters work at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, and remain on call. When an alarm sounds, firefighters respond, regardless of the weather or time of day.

Injuries and Illnesses

Firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They often encounter dangerous situations, including collapsing floors and walls, traffic accidents, and overexposure to flames and smoke. As a result, workers must wear protective gear to help lower these risks. Often, the protective gear can be very heavy and hot.

Work Schedules

Firefighters typically work long and varied hours. Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters work 10/14 shifts, which means 10 hours working and 14 hours off. When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, the 2003 California Fire Siege took weeks of constant effort by California wildland firefighters to stop.

How to Become a Firefighter

Firefighters
Firefighters begin their careers by attending fire academy training.

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.

Education

The entry-level education needed to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some class work beyond high school, such as airway management and trauma care, is usually needed to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) basic certification. EMT requirements vary by city and state.

Training

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 fire-fighting 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.

Some fire departments have accredited apprenticeship programs that last up to 4 years. These programs combine technical 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Usually, firefighters must be certified as emergency medical technicians at the EMT-Basic level. In addition, some fire departments require firefighters to be certified as an EMT-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 both a written part and a practical part. EMTs and paramedics may work with firefighters at the scenes of accidents.

Some states have mandatory or voluntary firefighter training and certification programs. 

The National Fire Academy also offers an Executive Fire Officer certification. To be eligible, firefighters must have a bachelor's degree.

Other Experience

Working as a volunteer firefighter may help in getting a job as a career firefighter. 

Advancement

Firefighters can be promoted to engineer, then to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and, finally, chief. For promotion to positions beyond battalion chief, many fire departments now require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, preferably in fire science, public administration, or a related field. Some firefighters eventually become fire inspectors or investigators after gaining enough experience.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Firefighters must be able to communicate conditions at an emergency scene to other firefighters and to emergency-response crews.

Courage. Firefighters’ daily job duties involve dangerous situations, such as entering a burning building. 

Decisionmaking skills. Firefighters must be able to make quick and smart decisions in an emergency. The ability to make good decisions under pressure could potentially save someone’s life.

Physical stamina. Firefighters may have to stay at disaster scenes for long periods of time to rescue and treat victims. Fighting fires requires prolonged use of strength and endurance.

Physical strength. Firefighters must be strong enough to carry heavy equipment and move debris at an emergency site. They must also be able to carry victims who are injured or cannot walk.

Pay

Firefighters

Median annual wages, May 2014

Fire fighting and prevention workers

$46,320

Firefighters

$45,970

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for firefighters was $45,970 in May 2014. 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 $22,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,450.

Firefighters typically work long periods and varied hours. Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters work 10/14 shifts, which means 10 hours working and 14 hours off. When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, the 2003 California Fire Siege took weeks of constant effort by California wildland firefighters to stop.

Union Membership

Most firefighters belonged to a union in 2014. The largest organizer of firefighters is the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Job Outlook

Firefighters

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Fire fighting and prevention workers

5%

Firefighters

5%

 

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Improved building materials and building codes have resulted in a long-term decrease in fires and fire fatalities, but 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.

Job Prospects

Prospective firefighters will likely face strong competition for jobs. Many people are attracted to the job’s challenges and the opportunity for public service. Additionally, many people are attracted to the career because its education requirement is a high school diploma. As a result, a department may receive hundreds of applicants for a single position.

Physically fit applicants with high test scores, some post-secondary firefighter education, and paramedic training should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for firefighters, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Firefighters

33-2011 327,300 344,700 5 17,400 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of firefighters.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Correctional officers

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. Bailiffs are law enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in courtrooms.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,700
EMTs and paramedics

EMTs and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings. People’s lives often depend on the quick reaction and competent care provided by these workers. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities.

Postsecondary nondegree award $31,700
Fire inspectors and investigators

Fire Inspectors

Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess fire hazards in both public and residential areas.

See How to Become One $54,020
Police and detectives

Police and Detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

See How to Become One $58,630
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers patrol and protect property against theft, vandalism, terrorism, and illegal activity.

High school diploma or equivalent $24,470

Contacts for More Information

For information about a career as a firefighter, contact your local fire department or visit

International Association of Fire Fighters

International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services

U.S. Fire Administration

National Fire Protection Association

For information about professional qualifications and a list of colleges and universities offering 2- or 4-year degree programs in fire science and fire prevention, visit

National Fire Academy, U.S. Fire Administration

O*NET

Firefighters

Forest Firefighters

Municipal Firefighters

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Firefighters,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm (visited February 13, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015