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Burn Hearts Not Homes: Firefighter Pay in the USA

Updated on November 2, 2012
Firefighters can handle forest fires.
Firefighters can handle forest fires. | Source

No matter where they work, American firefighters, sometimes called firemen, face one of the most hazardous positions in the country. Their primary responsibility is to put out fires. However, most of their time is spent responding to emergency situations such as traffic accidents or heart attacks. They are often the first responders at scenes of trauma, and can stabilize victims for transport to more advanced treatment.

Fire departments typically demand a minimum high school diploma from applicants, though more advanced two- and four-year degrees are available at junior colleges and universities. If accepted, recruits must then undergo several weeks of training at the fire department’s academy. There, they learn fire fighting techniques, emergency medical procedures, local building codes, hazardous materials and fire prevention.

Job prospects are excellent, with employment expected to grow by 19 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than average. This is primarily due to population growth, and the conversion of volunteer fire departments to paid positions. Salaries for firefighters depend on their type of employer and location. All information is from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Averages and Employers

The country’s 302,400 firefighters make a mean wage of $22.95 per hour or $47,730 per year. Over 91 percent work for local government, such as cities and counties, where average annual salaries run $23.25 per hour or $48,370 per year. Their highest salaries are in computer systems design, where 110 firefighters make a mean $32.65 per hour or $67,920 per year. This is followed by colleges, universities, and professionals schools, where 100 earn $28.03 per hour or $58,300.

Annual mean wages of firefighters.
Annual mean wages of firefighters. | Source


Firefighter salaries differ by area as follows:

  • California contains the most employment for firefighters at 33,100 jobs, with mean pay at $33.59 per hour or $69,880 per year. Florida follows with 23,460 positions paying $24.04 per hour or $50,010 per year. Texas ranks third with wages at $21.60 per hour or $44,930 per year for 23,280 firefighters.
  • The state with the highest pay for firefighters is New Jersey at a mean $34.29 per hour or $71,310 per year for 5,500 jobs. California is next, and then Washington State ranks third at $29.77 per hour or $61,920 per year for 8,380 jobs.
  • The city with the greatest number of firefighters is Chicago, where 11,190 positions get a mean $27.58 per hour or $57,360 per year. Los Angeles is next with 7,450 jobs receiving $45.68 per hour or $95,000 per year, followed by Cleveland, where 5,830 firefighters make a mean $23.32 per hour or $48,510 per year.
  • As for wages, Los Angeles tops the list, followed by Vallejo, California, with pay at $42.77 per hour or $88,970 per year for 160 jobs. Newark, New Jersey, is third at $38.16 per hour or $79,370 per year for 1,730 positions.


Though always hailed as local heroes by the locals, New York City’s fire department gained worldwide fame for their efforts during 9/11. The firefighters here start with a base salary of $43,074 per year, which includes the base plus fringe benefits such as overtime and holiday pay. Wages rise to $59,629 after three years and then to $99,104 after five years.

Pay also goes up according to rank, with lieutenants makes $125,848, captains earning $149,163 and battalion chiefs receiving $161,281. Additional benefits include medical coverage, flexible work schedules, up to four weeks of vacation per year and retirement benefits after 20 years of service.


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    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      My favorite television show right now is Chicago Fire. Your hub gives me a more rounded view of a firefighter's position and how much they are paid for putting their life on the line to put out fires. Battalion chiefs are really raking it in!

    • Marlin 55 profile image

      Marlin 55 6 years ago from USA

      Great hub. Those guys did ab awesome job during the 911 crisis and are worth every penny.