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How to Become a Firefighter

By Quillan Inkwell

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Are you someone who thrives on physical challenges, possesses unwavering bravery, and shows resilience in the face of adversity? Do you have strong communication skills and a deep well of compassion for others? If so, becoming a firefighter might just be the perfect fit for you.

In this article, we’ll explore the firefighter job description, the educational and physical requirements that pave the way to this noble profession, the job outlook, and much more.

Career Summary

Firefighter Salary

Firefighter Salary

The firefighter salary can vary depending on factors such as experience, rank, and location. However, here is a general overview:

  • Entry Salary (US$44k)
  • Median Salary (US$69k)
  • Executive Salary (US$107k)

In comparison, in 2022, the average income per year in the USA was $61,900.

What does a Firefighter do?

The primary objective of a firefighter is to respond to, control, and put out fires, with the main goal of preventing and minimizing damage, as well as preventing the loss of life. The firefighter job description includes:

  • Fire Suppression: To put out fires once they have been started.
  • Search and Rescue: To search for and rescue people who are affected by fires or other emergencies.
  • Emergency Medical Services: To provide emergency medical support to people in need.
  • Hazardous Materials Response: To safely and effectively control and clean up hazardous materials.
  • Fire Prevention and Inspection: To inspect properties with the purpose of preventing fires.

Firefighter Career Progression

  • Basic Firefighter: Regular fire response and first aid responsibilities.
  • Firefighter Engineer: One of the main roles of the engineer is to ensure that all firefighters have access to working equipment and tools.
  • Lieutenant: Lieutenants directly engage in firefighting, hazardous materials, fire prevention, and emergency care.
  • Captain: This is usually the highest-ranking officer in an emergency and will direct operations.
  • Battalion Chief: The Battalion Chief commands a firefighting battalion.
  • Assistant Chief: The assistant chief has critical leadership roles and is a part of the management team.
  • Deputy Chief: The deputy chief serves directly under the chief, with the main goal being to assist the chief in whatever way necessary, particularly as far as administrative duties are concerned.
  • Chief: The chief is responsible for carrying out all of the day-to-day tasks that are involved in running a firefighting organization.
Firefighter Career Progression

Pros:

  • Saving lives
  • Preventing damage
  • Job stability and benefits
  • Sense of camaraderie
  • Opportunities for personal growth

Cons:

  • High-stress environment
  • Exposure to danger and risk
  • Irregular work schedule
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Long hours away from home

Useful Skills to Have as a Firefighter

  • Problem-Solving
  • Spatial Awareness
  • Social Competence
  • Physical Fitness
  • Mechanical Aptitude

Popular Firefighter Specialties

  • Fire Captain
  • Public Information Officer
  • Fire Investigator
  • Heavy Rescue
  • Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF)

How to Become a Firefighter

Firefighter 5 Steps to Career

In order to become a firefighter, you’ll need to go through the proper procedures, which starts with getting the right education, followed by practical experience. Let’s take a closer look at all of the education and other requirements you will need to become a firefighter.

Education

Becoming a firefighter starts with the right type of education. Although it may not seem as such, firefighting is highly scientific and technical in nature. It takes a great deal of training to become a certified firefighter with all of the skills required to perform all of the duties of the profession.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Firefighter?

The educational requirements to become a firefighter can vary depending on the jurisdiction and fire department you are interested in. In many places, having a high school diploma or equivalent is more than enough to start training as a firefighter. Although some firehouses or institutions may require a college education to become a firefighter, this is usually not necessary.

With that being said, as far as education is concerned, you will have to complete fire academy training.

All fire academies will provide trainees with comprehensive training in firefighting techniques, hazardous materials response, equipment operation, medical training, and other essential skills. Exactly how long fire academy training lasts can vary, and it can range anywhere from several weeks to several months, often ranging from four to six months.

Although not exactly a degree per se, most firehouses and institutions will also require you to obtain licensing and certification. The exact requirements vary based on jurisdiction but usually include various certifications such as Firefighter I and Firefighter II, as well as specialized certifications for certain skills or roles. Some institutions and firehouses may also have additional requirements.

Why Is it Important to Get a Degree in Fire Science?

Many firefighters are trained and have associate’s degrees or even bachelor’s degrees in fire science, fire engineering, and related fields. Although these degrees are generally not necessary to start training as a firefighter or to become licensed as one, having such an education can be beneficial.

Here are a few key considerations:

  • Better Results on the Job: Fighting fires is a highly technical profession, and knowing all of the most relevant facts in regard to fire engineering and fire science can help improve results on the job, which ends up with more lives being saved.
  • Increased Chances of Being Hired: Those with higher levels of education are likely to get a job faster. Also, having a degree in fire science or fire engineering can go a long way in helping you find a high-paying position.
  • Better Chances of Moving Up the Ranks: If you expect to progress in the world of firefighting and move up higher in the ranks, having an education is beneficial. As you get older, as you continue being a part of the firefighter profession, it is likely that you will move further away from the field and more towards the office side or educational side of things. Finding a position that does not involve you physically fighting fires in the field is much easier when you have a higher education.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree?

First and foremost, the training process from a firehouse, a firehouse academy, may take anywhere from several weeks to several months. They generally last anywhere between 12 weeks and 14 weeks. Courses generally require a minimum of 40 hours of commitment per week.

In case you’re required to complete the EMT certification, this may take up to another 120 hours at the least. This can usually be accomplished in one or two weeks.

Furthermore, there are college and university courses that you can take which are related. For instance, you may take an associate’s degree in fire science or a related field. This typically takes about two years of full-time study to complete. The fire science degree provides people with a foundational understanding of various firefighting techniques, fire behavior, emergency management, and related subjects.

You may also attempt to obtain a bachelor’s degree in fire engineering or fire science, as well as a related discipline, which can take up to four years of full-time study. A bachelor’s degree in fire science or fire education offers a comprehensive education that covers topics such as fire investigation, fire prevention, hazardous materials, leadership, management, and more.

Beyond the completion of a four-year bachelor’s degree, it is also an option to attempt to achieve a master’s degree in fire science, fire administration, or a similar field, which will usually take an additional two years. This is an advanced type of degree that is generally pursued by individuals who want to specialize in a specific area of firefighting, such as fire investigation, emergency management, or fire service leadership.

The duration mentioned above is an estimate for full-time study and can vary based on factors such as course load, program structure, and individual progress. Part-time study or online programs may have different timeframes. Consider reaching out to academic advisors or representatives from the institutions to get more accurate and up-to-date information about the specific duration of their programs.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Firefighting?

Due to the varying types of training and degrees that are available to aspiring firefighters, determining how much it will cost is extremely difficult. A broad ballpark range is that you could expect to spend anywhere between $5000 and $25,000, or even more.

For instance, if you are only taking a basic fire Academy training program, this may cost anywhere between $5000 and $7000. However, the costs quickly rise if you are considering taking a college or university program, such as in fire science or fire engineering.

The average tuition of colleges that offer a fire science program is roughly $21,000 for undergraduate programs and $20,000 for graduate programs. However, depending on the institution in question, this can cost many times more. You can also expect to spend between $1,000 and $6,000, to get your EMT certification.

To get accurate and up-to-date information about the cost of studying firefighting, contact the specific educational institutions you are considering. Additionally, exploring online resources and contacting local fire departments or firefighter associations may provide insights into potential financial assistance programs or tuition reimbursement opportunities specifically available to aspiring firefighters.

Can I Become a Firefighter Through Online Education?

You cannot complete a firefighter training program through online education. Being able to attend the Firehouse Academy in person is essential to learn the skills required to become a firefighter.

A lot of the training required is very hands-on in nature and requires you to physically be there in person. There are many physical tests and evaluations that take place throughout the many weeks that these programs last, and you need to be able to be there in person.

The bottom line is that for firehouse training, you need to be there in person. However, the story is not necessarily the same for getting an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in fire science or fire engineering. There are many institutions nowadays that offer totally online courses that do not require you to leave your home, with some even offering online exams.

What Are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Firefighter?

There are several web resources available that can help you learn skills and gain knowledge related to becoming a firefighter.

Here are a few examples:

  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): The NFPA is a leading organization in the field of fire safety and firefighting. Their website provides valuable information, codes, standards, and resources related to firefighting. You can find educational materials, training programs, and publications that cover various aspects of firefighting and fire prevention.
  • Firefighter Nation: Firefighter Nation is an online community and resource platform for firefighters. It offers a wealth of articles, forums, training videos, and resources covering a wide range of firefighting topics. The platform allows you to connect with other firefighters, ask questions, and access valuable educational content.
  • FireRescue1: FireRescue1 is a comprehensive online resource for firefighters and fire service professionals. It provides news, articles, training resources, videos, and product information related to firefighting and emergency response. The website covers various topics, including fire tactics, equipment, leadership, and firefighter safety.
  • FEMA Emergency Management Institute: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers free online training courses through its Emergency Management Institute (EMI). While these courses are primarily focused on emergency management, they include valuable training modules on topics such as incident command systems, hazardous materials, and emergency response procedures, which are relevant to firefighting.

Additionally, there are several YouTube channels dedicated to firefighting and providing instructional videos on firefighting techniques, equipment usage, and emergency response. Some popular channels include Firefighter Toolbox and Fire Engineering.

Practical Experience

You’ll need plenty of practical experience to become a firefighter, much of which will come through the training program. However, internships are also a great way to gain experience in the field.

What Are Internship Opportunities for a Firefighter?

Internship opportunities for aspiring firefighters can provide valuable hands-on experience and exposure to the firefighting profession.

While internships specifically tailored for firefighting may vary in availability depending on the location and fire department, here are some potential internship opportunities to consider.

  • Fire Department Internship: Some fire departments offer internship programs that allow individuals to gain firsthand experience within the fire service. These internships may involve shadowing firefighters, participating in training exercises, observing emergency responses, and assisting with various tasks under supervision.
  • Fire Academy Internship: Fire academies or training centers may provide internship opportunities for individuals pursuing firefighter training. These internships typically involve working alongside instructors and trainees, assisting with training drills, and participating in academy activities.
  • Emergency Services Internship: Some internships focus on broader emergency services, encompassing firefighting, emergency medical services, and other emergency response functions. These internships may be available through government agencies, hospitals, or emergency management organizations. They provide exposure to a range of emergency response operations and allow interns to gain insight into the interconnectedness of different emergency services.
  • Wildland Firefighting Internship: If you are interested in wildland firefighting, internships may be available through agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or state firefighting agencies. These internships can provide opportunities to work on wildland fire crews, gain experience in fire suppression and prevention in natural settings, and learn about the specific challenges and tactics employed in wildland firefighting.
  • Research or Development Internships: Some organizations or research institutions may offer internships focused on fire science, fire safety research, or the development of firefighting equipment and technologies. These internships can involve assisting with research projects, testing equipment, analyzing data, or participating in innovation and development efforts within the fire service.

Researching local fire departments, government agencies, training academies, and emergency management organizations can help identify potential internship programs. Networking with professionals in the firefighting field, attending job fairs or career events, and reaching out to academic advisors or career counselors may also provide information and leads regarding internship opportunities in firefighting.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Firefighter?

As a firefighter, you will acquire a wide range of skills to effectively carry out your duties and respond to emergencies.

Here are some key skills that firefighters typically learn:

  • Fire Suppression Techniques: Firefighters learn various strategies and techniques to suppress and extinguish fires. This includes understanding fire behavior, operating fire hoses and nozzles, using fire fighting equipment, and employing different firefighting tactics based on the type and location of the fire.
  • Emergency Medical Skills: Many firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics. They learn life-saving skills such as CPR, first aid, patient assessment, and basic medical procedures to provide immediate care to individuals in medical emergencies.
  • Search and Rescue Techniques: Firefighters are trained in search and rescue operations to locate and evacuate individuals in hazardous situations. They learn how to navigate through smoke-filled environments, conduct systematic searches, and safely extricate people from entangled or collapsed structures.
  • Hazardous Materials Response: Firefighters receive training in handling hazardous materials incidents. They learn about different types of hazardous materials, how to identify and assess their risks, and how to implement proper containment and mitigation strategies to protect themselves, others, and the environment.
  • Rope and High-Angle Rescue: Firefighters often receive training in rope and high-angle rescue techniques. These skills enable them to perform rescues in challenging environments such as tall buildings, cliffs, or confined spaces. They learn how to use ropes, harnesses, and specialized equipment to safely access and extricate individuals in precarious situations.
  • Vehicle Extrication: Firefighters learn techniques for safely extricating individuals who are trapped in vehicles following accidents or collisions. They acquire knowledge of vehicle anatomy, cutting tools, and stabilization techniques to remove victims while minimizing further injury.
  • Incident Command System: Firefighters are trained in the incident command system (ICS), a standardized management framework used in emergency response. They learn how to establish command structures, coordinate resources, communicate effectively, and make strategic decisions during incidents of varying scale and complexity.
  • Fire Prevention and Education: Firefighters develop skills in fire prevention and public education. They learn how to conduct fire inspections, identify potential hazards, educate the public on fire safety measures, and implement community outreach programs to promote fire prevention awareness.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Firefighter?

The work-life balance of a firefighter can vary depending on several factors, including the fire department’s schedule, shift structure, and the specific demands of the job.

Here are some key considerations regarding the work-life balance of firefighters:

  • Shift Schedule: Firefighters typically work in shifts that often follow a rotating schedule, which can vary among departments. Common shift schedules include 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty, or 10- to 12-hour shifts for several consecutive days. This shift work can provide extended periods of time off between shifts, allowing for more flexibility in personal life and other activities.
  • Work Hours: Due to the nature of the emergency response, firefighters are often required to work beyond their scheduled hours. They may need to respond to emergencies or remain on duty until a situation is resolved. This can lead to longer work hours during emergencies or incidents, potentially affecting work-life balance during those times.
  • On-Call or Standby Duties: Some fire departments require firefighters to be on-call or placed on standby, especially in areas with volunteer or part-time firefighters. This means that even during scheduled days off, firefighters may need to be available to respond to emergencies if called upon. These on-call duties can impact personal plans and activities.
  • Personal Life During Shifts: Firefighters often spend extended periods of time at the fire station during their shifts, which can range from 24 to 48 hours or longer. During these times, they live at the station, sleep in designated sleeping quarters, and are available for immediate response to emergencies. This arrangement can affect personal routines and family or social commitments during the time spent at the station.

However, the extended periods of time off between shifts can provide opportunities for firefighters to pursue personal interests, spend time with family, engage in hobbies, or pursue additional education or training. The frequency and duration of these breaks depend on the specific shift schedule and department policies.

What’s the Career Outlook for Firefighter?

At this time, the career outlook for firefighters in the USA is positive. The employment of firefighters is expected to increase by approximately 4% between 2021 and 2031, which is around the same rate as the average for all occupations. Over the course of the decade, there is an estimated average of 28,000 job openings for firefighters each year.

Firefighter Popular Career Specialties

What Are the Job Opportunities of a Firefighter?

Firefighters have a range of job opportunities within the firefighting profession.

Here are some common career paths and job opportunities for firefighters:

  • Municipal Firefighter: Municipal firefighters are employed by local fire departments and respond to fires, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, and other emergencies within their jurisdiction. They typically work in urban or suburban areas and provide fire suppression, rescue services, and emergency medical care.
  • Wildland Firefighter: Wildland firefighters specialize in combating wildfires in rural and wilderness areas. They may work for federal or state agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or state firefighting agencies. Wildland firefighters may be involved in fire suppression, prescribed burns, vegetation management, and fire prevention activities.
  • Airport Firefighter: Airport firefighters work at airports and are responsible for responding to aircraft emergencies, such as fires, accidents, or hazardous material incidents. They receive specialized training to handle aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) operations and work closely with other airport personnel to ensure the safety of passengers, crew, and property.
  • Industrial Firefighter: Industrial firefighters are employed by private companies or industries that have their own fire departments. They are responsible for fire protection and emergency response within the industrial facility, which may include manufacturing plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, or power generation facilities.
  • Fire Inspector: Fire inspectors conduct inspections of buildings, structures, and properties to ensure compliance with fire codes and regulations. They assess fire hazards, review building plans, investigate fire incidents, and educate the public on fire safety measures. Fire inspectors may work for fire departments, government agencies, or private organizations.
  • Fire Investigator: Fire investigators specialize in determining the cause and origin of fires. They examine fire scenes, collect evidence, conduct interviews, and work closely with law enforcement agencies. Fire investigators play a crucial role in determining if a fire was accidental, incendiary, or caused by other factors.
  • Fire Officer/Chief: Firefighters can advance to leadership positions within fire departments, such as fire officer or fire chief. Fire officers supervise and manage personnel, oversee operations, develop training programs, and ensure the effective functioning of the fire department. Fire chiefs are responsible for the overall administration, strategic planning, and management of the fire department.
  • Fire Instructor/Trainer: Experienced firefighters may choose to become fire instructors or trainers. They provide training to new recruits, conduct continuing education programs for current firefighters, and deliver specialized training in areas such as hazardous materials, technical rescue, or incident management.
  • Emergency Management: Firefighters with expertise in emergency response and incident management can transition to roles within emergency management agencies. They may be involved in disaster preparedness, response coordination, and recovery efforts during natural disasters or large-scale emergencies.

What Types of Companies Hire a Firefighter?

While the primary employers of firefighters are municipal fire departments and government agencies, there are several other types of companies and organizations that may hire firefighters for various purposes.

Here are some examples:

  • Industrial Companies: Many industrial facilities, such as manufacturing plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, and power generation facilities, maintain their own fire departments. These companies hire firefighters to provide fire protection services, emergency response capabilities, and on-site fire safety management.
  • Airport Authorities: Airports employ firefighters to staff their airport fire departments. These firefighters specialize in aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) operations and are responsible for responding to aircraft emergencies, ensuring the safety of passengers and crew, and protecting airport property.
  • Private Security Firms: Private security firms or companies that offer specialized fire protection services may hire firefighters. These companies provide fire watch services, fire suppression systems maintenance, fire safety consulting, or fire prevention services to clients such as construction sites, high-rise buildings, or large events.
  • Industrial Safety and Consulting Firms: Some companies specialize in providing industrial safety and consulting services, including fire safety assessments, emergency response planning, and training programs. These firms may hire firefighters with expertise in fire prevention, hazard analysis, and emergency management to support their clients’ needs.
  • Emergency Management Agencies: Firefighters may find employment in emergency management agencies at the local, state, or federal levels. These agencies are responsible for disaster preparedness, response coordination, and recovery efforts during emergencies or natural disasters. Firefighters with incident management expertise can contribute to these agencies’ operations.

Should I become a Firefighter?

If you are looking for a profession where you get to help people and save lives, you want a profession with decent pay, and you are physically fit, then becoming a firefighter might be right for you. In many cases, it only requires a high school education, but also allows for further learning and great career advancement. There are more than a dozen different firefighter specialties that you can train in and work towards.

Ultimately, the decision to become a firefighter should be based on careful consideration of the points outlined in this article, as well as your interests, values, and goals.

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