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What To Know About Becoming A Firefighter

Updated on August 30, 2011

Ask any 5 year old what he wants to be when he "grows up" and many of them will tell you a Firefighter. Granted most firefighters are men, but even a good number of girls would tell you they would like to fight fires, and as the field has become more open to females, they very well could be.

Aside from childhood dreams and adolescent ambitions, the firefighting field is a great field to get into. For the most part, firefighting jobs are government jobs that offer great benefits and decent pay. They also are steeped in tradition and involve a great amount of camaraderie with coworkers. More than anything else, this field offers an excellent way to be a part of a field that is there to help others.

What Do Firefighters Do?

In many places, firefighters do just that, they fight fire.  That fire can come in the form of forest fires, industrial fires, airport related fires, or mainly structural fire.  Many firefighters will do a large combination of all of these during their career.

In most places, firefighters doo much more than just fight fire.  They have to respond to motor vehicle crashes and often will perform extrication with specialized tools.  They also respond to medical emergencies, and in some departments are actually responsible for the ambulance services.

Besides these emergency duties, firefighters also have to perform some nonemergency duties as well.  In some areas they are responsible for maintenance of the area's hydrant system.  In other areas they also work as public safety or police officers.  And in most places they have duties such as public education, fire inspections, replacement of smoke detectors and more.

What Are Average Firefighter Salaries?

Firefighters salaries range a good bit depending on the geographic location.  For instance, I work in the North Florida area and firefighters here start at about $35,000 a year.  About an hour away, in the state of Georgia, firefighters start at about $23,000 a year.  However about 3 hours south, toward Orlando, Florida, they start at about $45,000 a year.  In some metropolitan areas, firefighters start at upwards of $70,000 a year, but those are in areas where cost of living is extremely high.  For the most part, if you are looking to work in a state where firefighters are for the most part unionized, you can expect decent salaries and good benefits.

There is, however, a correlation between the amount of training or certifications needed and the average pay in a given state.  As I stated above, I work in Florida, and the starting firefighter has had a minimum of 500 or so hours of training plus must be EMT certified for most departments.  In Georgia, many departments do not require EMT certification and the minimum firefighter training prior to employment is around 100-140 hours.

What Training And Certifications Are Needed?

Although minimum standards are different in every state, you can plan on having to do between 200 and 600 hours of training, depending on the state.  Some departments will hire you while you are still in the academy and give you a year to pass your state tests.  Other departments, such as FDNY and other large metro departments have their own academy.  During fire school you will learn the basics of firefighting, tools, ropes, ladders, and what to expect on the job.

Although this, along with EMT certification, will allow you to apply for most firefighter jobs, further training is needed to progress in the field.  This training includes Fire Officer 1 classes such as Fire Origins, Building Construction, and even Course Delivery.  These courses are provided by some departments, but many require you to achieve these certifications on your own.

Many departments will also give extra compensation for those who have 2 or 4 year degrees.  In fact, most departments require degrees to be considered for promotion to the upper levels of the department, such as Battalion Chief and higher.


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