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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNK5dYGn3Fg.
Quick Facts: Firefighters
2020 Median Pay $52,500 per year
$25.24 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, 2019 335,500
Job Outlook, 2019-29 6% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 20,300

What Firefighters Do

Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies involving life, property, or the environment.

Work Environment

On the scene of a fire or other emergency, firefighters’ work may be dangerous. On call at fire stations, firefighters sleep, eat, and perform other duties during shifts that often last 24 hours. Most paid firefighters work full time.

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. Other credential requirements, such as emergency medical technician (EMT) certification, vary by state or locality.

Pay

The median annual wage for firefighters was $52,500 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Applicants who have additional training or experience should 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 involving life, property, or the environment.

Duties

Firefighters typically do the following:

  • Respond to emergencies
  • Drive firetrucks and other emergency vehicles
  • Put out fires using water hoses, fire extinguishers, and water pumps
  • Find and rescue occupants of burning buildings or other emergency situations
  • Treat sick or injured people
  • Prepare written reports about emergency incidents
  • Clean and maintain equipment
  • Conduct and participate in drills related to rescue tactics, equipment use, and treatment of victims in emergency medical situations

When responding to a fire, 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, rescue any occupants inside, and give medical treatment as needed. 

Firefighters provide medical attention in a variety of situations. In fact, most calls to firefighters are for medical emergencies, not fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Other types of emergency calls that firefighters respond to include disaster aid, search-and-rescue operations, and traffic accidents.

Some firefighters also work in hazardous materials (hazmat) units and are specially trained in controlling and cleaning up oil spills, chemical accidents, and other potentially harmful substances. They work with hazardous materials removal workers in these cases.

When firefighters are not responding to an emergency, they often participate in other activities related to their work. For example, they must maintain a high level of physical fitness. On call at a fire station, firefighters regularly inspect equipment and practice drills. They also eat and sleep at the station, as their shifts usually last 24 hours. Some firefighters make presentations about fire safety to educate the public, such as at a school.

Wildland firefighters are specially trained to control forest fires. Wildland firefighters 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 335,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of firefighters were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 88%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 3
Federal government, excluding postal service 2

These employment numbers exclude volunteer firefighters, who share the same duties as paid firefighters.

Volunteer firefighters account for the largest share of firefighters nationwide, especially in communities of fewer than 25,000, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When responding to an emergency, firefighters often wear protective gear, which can be very heavy and hot. On call at fire stations, firefighters sleep, eat, and do other nonemergency tasks, such as work on equipment. 

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 and overexposure to flames and smoke. Workers must wear protective gear to help lower these risks.

Work Schedules

Firefighters typically work long periods; overtime is common, and their hours vary. For example, firefighters may work 24-hour shifts on duty, followed by 48 or 72 hours off duty.

When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, wildland firefighters may have to stay in a fire camp, a temporary site set up to provide shelter and support for days or weeks when a wildland fire breaks out.

Work for wildland firefighters may be seasonal. During certain times of the year, wildland firefighters might not work or might have limited hours.

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 interviews, and train at a fire academy. Additionally, fire departments may require firefighters to have other credentials, such as emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Firefighters must complete continuing education to obtain or maintain these credentials.

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 also need to complete routine physical fitness assessments.

Education

The entry-level education typically required to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some postsecondary instruction, such as 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. Recruits learn 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 usually must 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 sessions cover topics including anti-arson techniques, disaster preparedness, hazardous materials control, and public fire safety and education.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Requirements for licensure or certification vary by state or locality. Check with your local state licensing agency or local fire department for more information.

Firefighters may need certain credentials, such as emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic certifications. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies EMTs and paramedics who have completed a formal program and passed the national exam. More information about EMTs and paramedics is available in a separate profile.

Continuing education is required to maintain these credentials.

Depending on the state or locality, some firefighters are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or driver’s license with firefighter endorsement to operate a firetruck.

Other Experience

Working as a volunteer firefighter may be helpful in getting a job as a career firefighter.

Advancement

Firefighters may be promoted to engineer, then to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and chief. For promotion to positions beyond battalion chief, many fire departments require candidates 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 explain conditions at an emergency scene to other firefighters and to emergency-response crews.

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

Decision-making skills. Firefighters must be able to make difficult choices quickly, sometimes in life-or-death situations.

Mental preparedness. Firefighters must be able to handle the stressfulness of their work, which may involve entering a burning building or treating medical emergencies.

Physical stamina. Firefighters may have to stay at disaster scenes for long periods of time to rescue and treat victims.

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

Pay About this section

Firefighters

Median annual wages, May 2020

Firefighting and prevention workers

$53,060

Firefighters

$52,500

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for firefighters was $52,500 in May 2020. 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 $26,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,790.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for firefighters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $56,340
Federal government, excluding postal service 54,770
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 53,360

Firefighters typically work long periods; overtime is common, and their hours vary. For example, firefighters may work 24-hour shifts on duty, followed by 48 or 72 hours off duty.

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.

Job Outlook About this section

Firefighters

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Firefighting and prevention workers

6%

Firefighters

6%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

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. 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

About 24,200 openings for firefighters are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Applicants with postsecondary firefighter education, volunteer firefighting experience, or paramedic training should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for firefighters, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Firefighters

33-2011 335,500 355,800 6 20,300 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 OEWS 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 on Entry-Level Education 2020 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
EMTs and paramedics EMTs and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities.

Postsecondary nondegree award $36,650
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.

See How to Become One $62,120
Forest and conservation workers Forest and Conservation Workers

Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests.

High school diploma or equivalent $30,640
Hazardous materials removal workers Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of harmful substances such as asbestos, lead, and radioactive waste.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,270
Police and detectives Police and Detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

See How to Become One $67,290

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 a career as a wildland firefighter, visit

National Wildfire Coordinating Group

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

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Firefighters,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm (visited July 16, 2021).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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 and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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).

2020 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2020, the median annual wage for all workers was $41,950.

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, 2019

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2019, which is the base year of the 2019-29 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2019-29

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029. The average growth rate for all occupations is 4 percent.

Employment Change, 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

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 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

2020 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2020, the median annual wage for all workers was $41,950.