A firefighter or fireman is a professional who is extensively trained in suppressing and extinguishing fires, rescuing people from dangerous fires and providing them basic first aid. They are the rescuers who arrive first on the scene of the fire and respond to medical, environmental, and public safety emergencies.
If you want to make firefighting your career, you might be having many questions in your mind like what do firefighters do, how to apply to be a firefighter, what are the necessary certifications needed to become a firefighter, what firefighter qualifications are required, etc. This article covers various aspects of a firefighter career and will help you get answers to most of your questions.
Becoming a firefighter is indeed not a piece of cake; it requires immense hard work and a lot of efforts, dedication, willingness to serve the community and work under pressure, along with long hours of training to join this thrilling career. The job of a firefighter is both rewarding and challenging. These professionals deal with the life-threatening scenarios. Apart from extinguishing the blazes, firefighters also respond to medical emergencies.
Firefighters may take jobs with the construction trades, state fire organizations, public or private firefighting agencies, airports, municipalities, fire equipment manufacturers and suppliers, local fire departments, the armed forces, firefighter academy, etc. They typically need to be available 24/7. Occasionally, they may require traveling in other states or counties to help fire departments.
Like other professions, the job of a firefighter also comes with downsides and upsides. Evaluate both sides of this career before arriving at any decision.
Advantages of Choosing Firefighting Career
- As a firefighter, you get immense respect from civilians
- Firefighters help people in emergencies, and it fulfills them with a sense of accomplishment
- One of the rewarding aspects of this career is teamwork
- These professionals make a pretty decent salary
- Some organizations provide attractive retirement packages as well.
Disadvantages of Choosing Firefighting Career
- Firefighters have to deal with smoke containing abrasive particles, which may pose health risks
- Firemen have no fixed working hours; they may be called any time of the day
- They not only have to deal with stress, but also have to witness injuries, deaths, and property destruction.
Steps to Become a Firefighter
Aspirants need to complete extensive studies and training to become a firefighter. Below is the stepwise procedure to get into your dream career.
Step 1 – Graduate from a High School
The aspirants must have a high school diploma or GED or equivalent to be eligible to enroll in firefighter training program. Aspirants also need to clear a drug screening and criminal background test.
Step 2 – Volunteer Firefighter Training
Work as a volunteer or paid firefighter to gain on-job experience. It will not only help you to get familiar with the local firefighting community but will also let you build professional contacts that may be a stepping stone for you to enter this competitive field.
Step 3 – Earn a Fire Science Degree
You may obtain associate’s (2 years) or bachelor’s (4 years) degree from a community or technology college. The classroom lectures give you knowledge about fire control, hazardous materials management, fire prevention, etc. The hands-on training lets you work in real scenarios, using fire equipment. The hands-on training is conducted under the supervision of an experienced professional.
Step 4 – Obtain the Required Certificates
Some institutes expect students to have EMT or paramedic certifications, while some other want applicants to complete CPR training.
EMT certification is available in 3 levels – EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate, and EMT-Advanced. Candidates pursuing EMT-Basic certification are supposed to complete 100 hours of training for appearing in the certification exam. The curriculum covers how to give oxygen and immobilize injured patients, clear blocked airways, handle trauma, etc.
EMT-Intermediate and Advanced certifications require students to complete an additional 1,000 hours of education. The coursework teaches you how to administer medications and use complex airway devices.
You can earn a paramedic certification only if you have EMT-Basic and Advanced level certifications. A minimum of 1,300 hours of training is required to obtain this certification. You are trained to take blood samples, monitor blood pressure, insert breathing tubes, defibrillate patients, give intravenous medications, stitch wounds, etc.
CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training combines hands-on firefighter classes and classroom studies to train students to respond to breathing or cardiac emergencies. You can complete online CPR classes from the American Red Cross, which provides short-term courses and is easy to access.
Step 5 – Clear the Exam and Apply for the Job
You are supposed to pass a written exam and a physical test conducted by your state, for receiving firefighter license. The written examination consists of 100-150 multiple-choice questions and covers various categories, such as mechanical aptitude, reading comprehension, human relations, etc.
Apart from the written test, candidates have to qualify a physical examination called Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). In this test, they may be asked to lift and carry objects up to 200 pounds, perform a distance run or climb flights of stairs in allocated time.
Once you obtain the certificate, start applying for the job and prepare yourself for the interviews.
How Much Time will it Take to Become a Certified Firefighter?
You have to go rigorous training to become a firefighter. It may take four to six years to enter this profession. Here we have provided an approximate duration of every step to become a fireman.
- EMT Training (1-3 years, depends on the level of certification you choose)
- Fire Science Education (2-4 years, depends on the degree program you pursue)
- Work as a Volunteer (1 year maximum)
- Application and Hiring Process (0-2 years)
- Recruit Training (6 months)
- Probation (6 months – 1 year)
Firefighter Education Requirements
The aspirants are expected to complete relevant certification/degree to become a firefighter. But, they must meet the following general requirements for enrolling in any educational program:
- The minimum age must be 18 years
- A diploma in high school, GED or education equivalent to it is mandatory
- Must possess a valid driver’s license
- Strong physical stamina is a must
- The candidate is supposed to have a clean criminal record
- Must have corrected 20/20 eyesight
- Complete the Paramedic or EMT certification program.
Certifications are short courses and can be completed in less than a year. You can take up any of the following certification courses:
1. Rescue Technician Certifications
This certification has three levels – Rescue Technician, Rescue Technician I, and Rescue Technician II. The coursework of these certification courses completely complies with the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Standard 1006. After completing the certification, you will be knowing the techniques for trench and structural collapse rescues, machinery and vehicle rescues, confined space and rope rescues.
2. Firefighter I and II Certifications
The coursework of Firefighter I and II certifications are designed to meet the NFPA Standard 1001. Both the programs cover the essential topics such as personal protective equipment, basic rescue operations, fire service history, fire behavior, and combustion, fire control operations, etc. Firefighter II certification includes some advanced topics fire and life safety initiatives, structural fire control, etc.
Fire Science degrees are tailored for both entry-level and experienced firefighters. These programs may be general or offer specialization in fire services leadership, fire suppression, or fire prevention. The degree courses take 2 to 4 years to complete and are divided into two parts – hands-on training and classroom study.
1. Associate’s Degree
Associate’s degree prepares aspirants for the entry-level firefighting jobs and is offered by community colleges. This degree program completes in two years.
The coursework comprises topics on EMT basics, rescue procedures, fire codes and laws, fire behavior and combustion, the chemistry of Fire Science, and fire extinguishment basics.
2. Bachelor’s Degree
For the sake of improving the competence level and increasing the chances of getting hired, most of the aspirants prefer to pursue bachelor’s degree in firefighting. It takes four years of full-time study to obtain this degree. Firefighters, who are working with some organization or fire station, can also take up this degree program to advance their career.
In this degree course, students study disaster and fire defense planning, hazardous materials management, fire chemistry and physics, fire control, fire investigation, emergency management, fire prevention, etc.
3. Master’s Degree
Master’s degree is the most advanced degree in the field of fire science. It takes two years of full-time study to earn this degree. However, you can also pursue this degree studying part-time. Firefighters, who want to attain leadership roles, can consider obtaining a master’s degree.
Aspiring firefighters must possess the following skills:
- Excellent communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills
- Resilience and confidence
- Keenness to learn and ability to follow instructions
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Integrity, sensitivity, and patience
- Ability to work in a team and as a team
- Quick decision-making skills
- Computer skills and knowledge of relevant program applications
- Time management skills
- Willingness to promote risk prevention and community safety.
Firefighter Job Description and Duties
Firefighters are responsible for responding to accidents, fires, and other incidents that are threatening to property and life. Some of the primary duties and responsibilities of these professionals are:
- Maintaining and checking water supplies, hydrants, fire equipment, and vehicles
- Responding to emergency calls
- Participating in programs designed for saving the life and property and prevention of fires
- Rescuing animals and people from collapsed or burning buildings
- Breaking through walls, climbing ladders, and carrying hoses.
How Much do Firefighters Make?
According to the statistics of the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), the mean annual salary of firefighters in May 2017 was $51,930, whereas the per hour pay was $24.97. Top five high paying states for this occupation were New Jersey, California, New York, Washington, and Nevada. These states paid $75,880, $73,860, $70,560, $70,300, and $66,670, respectively.
As per payscale.com, the average salary (as on September 2, 2018) of firefighters was $46,025, whereas the average hourly wage was $15.16. According to indeed.com (as on September 8, 2018), firefighters made $41,642 per annum.
A fireman gets paid depending on various factors, such as employer, certification, work experience, performance, working hours, geographical location, etc.
Online Firefighter Programs
Online firefighter programs are the best option for those who are already on the job and can’t pursue a full-time education program or have some family commitments. The online courses focus on providing theoretical knowledge to students. For practical hands-on training, you are required to enroll in a firefighter school near you. Online courses cover various aspects of fire services, such as environmental policy, rescue procedures, fire extinguishment, fire behavior, etc.
Online firefighter programs offer specific benefits to the aspirants, such as the flexibility to schedule the classes according to their convenience, strike a balance between your work and family commitments, and opportunity to increase your work experience while gaining additional skills. As you need not commute to the campus and purchase the course material (online programs offer online course material), it saves you a considerable amount of money. The only requirements to take up online courses are a smartphone, desktop computer, laptop or tablet, and an internet connection.
Note: Before registering with any online firefighter program, assure that the authenticated board recognizes it.
Firefighter Career Path
Firefighters are supposed to handle emergency situations caused due to fire. When it comes to the career advancement of these professionals, they have several growth opportunities. After acquiring the relevant work experience and acquiring higher education degrees, firefighters may assume management or leadership roles. They can work as:
- Fire Inspector/Investigator
- Firefighting Supervisor
- Fire Safety Engineers
- Fire Safety Instructor
- Estimation Engineer Fire Protection
- Design Engineer Fire Protection
- Fire Chief
- Deputy Fire Chief
- Fire Captain
Top Firefighter Schools and Degree Programs in the US
Below is the list of some of the best firefighter schools that offer degree programs to the aspiring candidates in the USA.
- Antelope Valley College
Address: 3041 West Avenue K, Lancaster, California 93536
Contact Number: 661-722-6300
Official Website: https://www.avc.edu
- Lake Tahoe Community College
Address: One College Drive, South Lake Tahoe, California 96150
Contact Number: 530-541-4660
Official Website: http://www.ltcc.edu
- East Los Angeles College
Address: 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, California 91754
Contact Number: 323-265-8650
Official Website: http://www.elac.edu
- Luna Community College
Address: 366 Luna Drive Las Vegas, New Mexico 87701
Contact Number: 800-588-7232
Official Website: https://www.luna.edu
- Shasta College
Address: 11555 Old Oregon Trail, P.O. Box 496006, Redding, California 96049-6006
Contact Number: 530-242-7500
Official Website: http://www.shastacollege.edu
- El Camino Community College
Address: 16007 Crenshaw Boulevard, Torrance, California 90506
Contact Number: 1-866-EL CAMINO
Official Website: http://www.elcamino.edu
- Compton College
Address: 1111 East Artesia Boulevard, Compton, California 90221
Contact Number: 310-900-1600
Official Website: http://www.compton.edu
- Fresno City College
Address: 1101 East University Avenue, Fresno, California 93741
Contact Number: 559-442-4600
Official Website: https://www.fresnocitycollege.edu
- Crafton Hills College
Address: 11711 Sand Canyon Road, Yucaipa, California 92399
Contact Number: 909-794-2161
Official Website: https://www.craftonhills.edu
- Yuba College
Address: 2088 North Beale Road, Marysville, California 95901
Contact Number: 530-741-6700
Official Website: https://yc.yccd.edu
- Central Arizona College
Address: 8470 North Overfield Road, Coolidge, Arizona 85128
Contact Number: 800-237-9814
Official Website: https://centralaz.edu
- Arizona Western College
Address: 2020 S Avenue 8 East, Yuma, Arizona 85365
Contact Number: 928-317-6000
Official Website: https://www.azwestern.edu
- University of Alaska Anchorage
Address: 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99508
Contact Number: 907-786-1800
Official Website: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu
- Ilisagvik College
Address: 100 Stevenson Street, PO Box 749, Barrow, Alaska 99723
Contact Number: 907-852-333/800-478-7337
Official Website: https://www.ilisagvik.edu
- Calhoun Community College
Address: 6250 Highway 31, North Tanner, Alabama 35671
Contact Number: 256-306-2500
Official Website: https://calhoun.edu
- Jefferson State Community College
Address: 2601 Carson Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35215
Contact Number: 205-853-1200/800-239-5900
Official Website: http://www.jeffersonstate.edu
- Columbia Southern University
Address: P.O. Box 3110, Orange Beach, Alabama 36561
Contact Number: 800-977-8449/251-981-3771
Official Website: https://www.columbiasouthern.edu
- Houston Community College
Address: 3100 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002
Contact Number: 713-718-2000
Official Website: http://www.hccs.edu
- Southern Arkansas University Tech
Address: 6415 Spellman Road, PO Box 3499, Camden, Arkansas 71711
Contact Number: 870-574-4500
Official Website: https://www.sautech.edu
- Hillsborough Community College
Address: 10451 Nancy Watkins Drive, Tampa, Florida 33619-7850
Contact Number: 813-253-7802/813-253-7858
Official Website: https://www.hccfl.edu
- McFatter Technical College
Address: 6500 Nova Drive, Davie, Florida 33317
Contact Number: 754-321-5700
Official Website: https://www.mcfattertechnicalcollege.edu
- Red Rocks Community College
Address: 133300 West 6th Avenue, Lakewood, Colorado 80228
Contact Number: 303-914-6600
Official Website: https://www.rrcc.edu
- Kilgore College
Address: 1100 Broadway, Kilgore, Texas 75662
Contact Number: 903-753-2642
Official Website: https://www.kilgore.edu
- Southwestern Illinois College
Address: 2500 Carlyle Avenue, Belleville, Illinois 62221
Contact Number: 618-235-2700
Official Website: https://www.swic.edu
- Utah Valley University
Address: 800 West University Parkway, Orem, Utah 84058
Contact Number: 801-863-8888
Official Website: https://www.uvu.edu
- Butte College
Address: 3536 Butte Campus Drive, Oroville, California 95965
Contact Number: 530-895-2511
Official Website: http://www.butte.edu