Summary

firefighters image
Firefighters control fires and respond to other emergencies.
Quick Facts: Firefighters
2016 Median Pay $48,030 per year
$23.09 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, 2016 327,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 23,600

What Firefighters Do

Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies 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 remain on call at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, and perform other duties 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 $48,030 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Physically fit applicants with 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 About this section

Firefighters
Many firefighters are responsible for providing medical attention.

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

Duties

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.

Work Environment About this section

Firefighters
Firefighters respond to emergencies such as car accidents.

Firefighters held about 327,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of firefighters were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 90%
Administrative and support services 4
Federal government, excluding postal service 3
State government, excluding education and hospitals 2

These employment numbers exclude volunteer 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 two thirds of firefighters were volunteer firefighters in 2015.

When not on the scene of an emergency, firefighters work at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, work on equipment, 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 periods and varied hours. Overtime is common. Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters may 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, wildland firefighters may have to stay for days or weeks when a wildland fire breaks out.

How to Become a Firefighter About this section

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 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.

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 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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.

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 communicate conditions at an emergency scene to other firefighters and to emergency-response crews.

Compassion. Firefighters, like EMT's and paramedics, need to provide emotional support to those in emergency situations.

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

Decisionmaking skills. Firefighters must be able to make quick and difficult 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.

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

Pay About this section

Firefighters

Median annual wages, May 2016

Fire fighting and prevention workers

$48,290

Firefighters

$48,030

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for firefighters was $48,030 in May 2016. 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 $23,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,110.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for firefighters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $49,520
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 48,790
State government, excluding education and hospitals 48,230
Administrative and support services 29,130

Firefighters typically work long periods and varied hours. Overtime is common. Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters may 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, wildland firefighters may have to stay for days or weeks when a wildland fire breaks out.

Union Membership

Most firefighters belonged to a union in 2016. The largest organizer of firefighters is the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Job Outlook About this section

Firefighters

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Total, all occupations

7%

Fire fighting and prevention workers

7%

Firefighters

7%

 

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as 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.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for firefighters will be good despite the number of volunteer firefighters that qualify for career firefighter jobs. There will be positions open from those leaving the occupation.

Physically fit applicants with some postsecondary firefighter education and paramedic training should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for firefighters, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Firefighters

33-2011 327,300 351,000 7 23,600 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 About this section

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
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 $32,670
Fire inspectors and investigators

Fire Inspectors

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

See How to Become One $56,130
Forest and conservation workers

Forest and Conservation Workers

Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests. Under the supervision of foresters and forest and conservation technicians, they develop, maintain, and protect forests.

High school diploma or equivalent $26,940
Hazardous materials removal workers

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,640
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 $61,600

Contacts for More Information About this section

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

For more information about emergency medical technicians and paramedics, visit

National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians

O*NET

Firefighters

Forest Firefighters

Municipal Firefighters

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Firefighters,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm (visited November 10, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.