Firefighters are most well known for saving a citizen from a burning building or protecting a community from a raging forest fire. But the majority of calls firefighters respond to are actually emergency medical situations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When not responding to an emergency, they are on-call at the fire station where they work, sleep and eat on a 24-hour shift. They also clean and maintain equipment, write incident reports, exercise, and train for emergency drills.
Many firefighters have backgrounds in the military, as paramedics or Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or have served as volunteer firefighters. After getting hired, a rookie attends the region’s fire academy and undergoes extensive training on the job. Nearly all firefighters work for a local city or county, although some are employed at airports and chemical plants.
SKILLS AND TRAITS OF A FIREFIGHTER
- Peak Physical Condition: Firefighters must carry and operate heavy machinery, hike miles to fight a forest fire and evacuate people from a building all while dressed in heavy, protective clothing.
- Excellent Communication: Emergency situations can be hectic and confusing environments. Firefighters must be able to take control of the situation and safeguard all people and property while communicating with other emergency response teams.
- Bravery: Each emergency call is a potentially dangerous situation and could include collapsing roofs, an out-of-control wildfire or smoke exposure. Firefighters must recognize the conditions and risk their own lives to save others.
- Physical Stamina: Firefighters often work overtime shifts, and in the event of large-scale wildfires can be gone for days or weeks in another county or state assisting local authorities.
A FIRE SCIENCE DEGREE
Higher education hasn’t been traditionally necessary to become a firefighter, but with today’s highly competitive hiring, applicants need at least an associate’s degree to stand out. An associate’s degree will take about two years to complete. It’s recommended that firefighters have a bachelor’s degree to be promoted, especially in a related field such as criminal justice or fire science. It will typically take four years to complete. Students will study fire department structure, the chemistry and behavior of fire and emergency medical response. Medical knowledge has increasingly become important in curriculum, as firefighters now respond to medical emergencies as much as fires.
FIRE SCIENCE ACCREDITATION
The U.S. Fire Administration works with the college administrative staff to shape a fire science program. It’s part of their Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education initiative. The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress is also a nonprofit that accredits certification programs and higher education degrees. A school must undergo a faculty and course review and then pass an exam issued by the National Fire Protection Association. Attending an accredited school ensures you’re getting the best quality education and necessary courses to prepare you for a successful career.
SALARY AND JOB OUTLOOK FOR A FIREFIGHTER
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 percent of firefighters earned more than $79,150. There were 307,000 career firefighters in 2012. Volunteer firefighters nearly double career firefighters with nearly 70 percent of the nation’s fire departments staffed by volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. As populations grow, so will the demand for more firefighters. Urban cities will increase their numbers, and smaller areas will need to switch from volunteers to career firefighters.