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Fire Fighter

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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 317,200 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of firefighters were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 89%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 3
Federal government, excluding postal service 3

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 2021

Firefighting and prevention workers

$50,930

Firefighters

$50,700

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for firefighters was $50,700 in May 2021. 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 $29,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,640.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for firefighters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $55,330
State government, excluding education and hospitals 53,800
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 51,220

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 2020-30

Firefighting and prevention workers

9%

Firefighters

8%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 27,000 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.

Employment

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.

Employment projections data for firefighters, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Firefighters

33-2011 317,200 344,100 8 26,900 Get data

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

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Firefighters

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