Firefighters work in forested, rural and urban areas to protect lives and property. While there are several pathways into the profession, students need to know the kind of fire organization — federal, state, regional, rural or city — that best matches their career goals. For some students, earning a high school diploma and emergency medical technician (EMT) certification is enough to start a satisfying career. Which path is right for you?
This comprehensive guide provides detailed information and data to help you become a firefighter, along with a break down of the training necessary to gain employment and promotion. From the required skill sets and licenses to a projected salary range, here are key details to help you make an informed choice about the career.
On the most basic level, firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies. Due to the wide range of duties involved in the job, firefighters must receive expert training to handle talks such as driving fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, connecting hoses and pumps, rescuing and treat the injured, writing reports on incidents and potential causes, educating the public about safety, conducting routine drills, and maintaining fire equipment. Firefighters that are employed or who volunteer in forested areas perform preventative maintenance and create fire breaks and service roads, or they may respond to forest and open-space emergencies within their region.
Fighting fires can be physically demanding and emotional. Firefighters often carry heavy equipment and have to be ready to carry victims to safety. Emergencies happen at all hours of the day and night, and firefighters must be ready to work at any time and for long periods without rest. When responding to emergencies, firefighters need to communicate with other emergency responders to make critical decisions quickly. The most common attributes among all firefighters include physical fitness, decision-making aptitude, and a thorough understanding of fire causes, fire prevention and fire suppression techniques.
The mean annual salary for firefighters is $45,250, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with top earners bringing home nearly $80,000. The service industry, which includes firefighters, offers job stability and the opportunity to promote both within a department and across departments.
The map below shows details of the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earners for each state.
Education requirements for entry-level firefighters include the completion of a high school diploma or equivalent and possession of a current driver’s license. You’ll need to be at least 18 years of age. Once hired, firefighters typically receive training from the fire department where the firefighter is employed or from a state fire school. College-level coursework in fire science can boost your chances of gaining entry-level jobs in urban or forest firefighting.
Requirements for EMT certification vary by state. Make sure the EMT program you select leads to a credential that passes the requirements of the fire district where you plan to work. Prospective firefighters can take classes toward EMT certification through a local community college or trade school. Upon completion of the courses, you need to pass a national exam offered through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians to earn your certification. Some fire departments may allow you to complete your certification after you are hired.
For those who want to go on to careers in fire science, paramedics, or advance to leadership roles within firefighting agencies, there are associate and bachelor’s degree programs at colleges, universities and trade schools. If your prospective fire organization requires it, you may need to complete your EMT-Paramedic training and pass those certification exams before applying for work. Some fire organizations host accredited apprenticeship programs that combine classroom training with field internships that can take up to four years to complete. Degrees in forestry with a firefighting/environmental focus are available at the bachelor and master’s degree levels.
Typically, fire departments participate in recruitment fairs when they are looking to hire new recruits. They host screening events where prospective firefighters take written and physical tests. You’ll need patience, since the hiring process is usually lengthy. Qualified applicants who pass the first round of tests are interviewed and often go through an additional series of evaluations and testing. To enter a training program, applicants take at least two exams: a written test and a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) test. The written exam typically consists of around 100 multiple choice questions and covers spatial awareness, reading comprehension, mechanical reasoning, logic, observation and memory.
Once hired, your training really begins. Fire organizations host fire academies run by a city fire department, rural organization, the state, or a course sponsored by the National Fire Academy. Academy coursework includes both classroom instruction and practical training about fire prevention techniques, fighting fires, building codes, anti-arson techniques, hazmat control and emergency procedures. Your potential employer can tell you the exact length of the academy. After graduation from the academy you can become a working firefighter.
Once you’re a working firefighter you can advance in the field by completing additional training at formal EMT programs or complete a paramedic certification program (up to two years). Promotions are based on time served and educational attainments at regular intervals, climbing up to fire engineer, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief. You may need at least a bachelor degree in fire science or public administration to advance to a role as assistant chief, deputy chief or chief.
To better your chances of becoming a firefighter, you need to get fire science and emergency medical technician coursework under your belt. Our search tool below will help you explore these degree programs in the geographic area you desire.
|SCHOOL NAME||CITY, STATE||DEGREE LEVEL||SUBJECT|
|Aims Community College||Greeley, CO||Associate||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Aims Community College||Greeley, CO||Award (<1 year)||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Albany Technical College||Albany, GA||Associate||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Albany Technical College||Albany, GA||Award (<2 years)||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Albany Technical College||Albany, GA||Award (<1 year)||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Amarillo College||Amarillo, TX||Associate||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Amarillo College||Amarillo, TX||Award (<2 years)||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Angelina College||Lufkin, TX||Award (<2 years)||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Anna Maria College||Paxton, MA||Master's||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
|Anna Maria College||Paxton, MA||Bachelor's||Fire Science/Fire-fighting|
If your schedule doesn’t allow for in-person classes, you can often find what you’re looking for online, offering you a flexible option. The schools below offer online fire science programs.
|SCHOOL NAME||DEGREE LEVEL GRANTED||DEGREE PROGRAM|
|Albany State University||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Applied Science In Fire Service Administration|
|Anna Maria College||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Fire Science|
|Anna Maria College||Master's||Master Of Public Administration - Fire/Rescue Services|
|Bowling Green State University-Main Campus||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science - Fire Administration|
|Broward College||Associate||Associate Of Science In Fire Science Technology|
|California State University-Sacramento||Bachelor's||Fire Service Management Degree Completion|
|Colorado State University-Fort Collins||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Fire And Emergency Services Administration|
|Colorado State University-Fort Collins||Certificate||Fire And Emergency Services Administration Certificate|
|Eastern Kentucky University||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Fire|
|Eastern Kentucky University||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Fire Protection Administration|
Those who become firefighters are interested in serving others. Graduates of fire science programs might also go on to a career as a correctional officer, emergency medical technician, paramedic, police officer, or security guard.
Like any career, salaries can vary greatly depending on the state you live in, and even the city. Use our salary comparison tool to learn more about salaries of firefighting jobs in your city.
Firefighters will always be necessary, and the job market is stable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the field to grow by about 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, indicating that there is strong competition for jobs. Urban areas will see the most growth, where full-time firefighters are more likely to be employed. The more physically fit and educated applicants are, the better the job outlook.
Select a state to see more specific information on employment and job growth for firefighters.
The NREMT is the national EMS certification organization.
IAFF represents more than 300,000 firefighters and paramedics and serves as the driving force in the advancement of fire and emergency services.
The NFPA touts itself as the authority on building and fire safety.National Fire Academy
The USFA provides national leadership to develop and maintain a foundation for fire and emergency services stakeholders.