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, such as car accidents.

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 clean and maintain equipment, write incident reports, exercise, and train for emergency drills. 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.

Firefighters must be in peak physical condition to 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. Each call is a potentially dangerous situation and could include collapsing roofs, an out-of-control wildfire or smoke exposure.


Firefighters must need a high school diploma and postsecondary education, such as an associate degree in fire science. Competition is stiff in many jurisdictions so some departments may require a higher degree for promotions or more field experience. Many 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.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a career firefighter is $45,000, higher than the $36,000 average of other protective service occupations. The top 10 percent earned more than $79,150, especially firefighters in high-risk states such as California or Colorado. Local government employers pay for uniforms and offer substantial full retirement options. Firefighters often have a few days off in a row after working a 24-hour shift, and have opportunities for overtime pay.


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. Employment is projected to grow seven percent until 2022.  However 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.

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