How to Become a Firefighter:
The Definitive Guide


Firefighters are the bravest heroes, the type of people that will risk their lives to save others.

You can find Firefighters running into burning buildings, rescuing people from accidents, and many other lifesaving activities.

If you are the type of person who always puts others first, then you may be just the type of person that would make a great Firefighter.

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What is a Firefighter?

It’s probable that you already know what a Firefighter does, after all, it’s in the name.

However, Firefighters do much more than just fight fires, they also find and rescue victims, help in emergency situations, treat sick people, help with chemical spills, and teach citizens about fire safety.

Some Firefighters can be found teaching classes to youth, new Firefighters, and communities as well.

Firefighters are an important part of our society; they help keep us safe and are always there when there is an emergency.

Duties

There are many things that are required of a Firefighter.

Some of the job duties you can expect with this career include:

  • Find and rescue victims
  • Put out fires
  • Treat injured people
  • Prevent fire damage
  • Respond to alarms
  • Handle minor medical care and emergency issues
  • Take education workshops
  • Maintain educational knowledge
  • Enforce codes

Salary

The averages salary for a Firefighter in the United States is around $54,000 a year.

When just starting out as a Firefighter, or for those that work in smaller towns, the average salary can look more like $32,000 a year.

Firefighters that work in large cities or for longer spans of time, the pay can be much greater.

Some Firefighters can even make up to $100,000 a year in some areas.

Earning certifications and specializations can help Firefighters can higher promotions and raises.

As a Firefighter, you will likely work long hours and for long periods of time, and overtime is very common.

This means that your salary could vary weekly, even yearly.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $54,650

$25K
$34K
$54K
$69K
$92K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$41,870
Alaska$54,380
Arizona$46,870
Arkansas$36,730
California$84,370
Colorado$63,050
Connecticut$65,700
Delaware$46,390
Florida$51,300
Georgia$38,900
Hawaii$64,110
Idaho$39,260
Illinois$58,170
Indiana$51,050
Iowa$46,640
Kansas$37,250
Kentucky$34,030
Louisiana$31,150
Maine$39,430
Maryland$62,750
Massachusetts$62,680
Michigan$46,010
Minnesota$39,390
Mississippi$30,180
Missouri$51,110
Montana$51,880
Nebraska$50,150
Nevada$69,310
New Hampshire$47,120
New Jersey$80,890
New Mexico$36,620
New York$75,160
North Carolina$34,110
North Dakota$46,080
Ohio$47,820
Oklahoma$44,860
Oregon$68,540
Pennsylvania$58,720
Rhode Island$56,150
South Carolina$36,360
South Dakota$45,820
Tennessee$44,400
Texas$54,760
Utah$38,360
Vermont$39,970
Virginia$53,470
Washington$76,970
West Virginia$36,890
Wisconsin$40,360
Wyoming$46,180
Puerto Rico$25,240

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $84,370.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $84,370
New Jersey - $80,890
Washington - $76,970
New York - $75,160
Nevada - $69,310
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Firefighter

Step 1Earn a High School Diploma

The first step that you are going to want to take on your quest to become a Firefighter is to earn a High School diploma.

Many people think that this is not an important part of life, but it is.

A diploma can be your stepping stone to a great future.

You’ll also need to have a valid driver’s license in order to work as a Firefighter.

Even though you will need to be 18 years old to work as a Firefighter, you can start training as young as 16 years old!

You’ll need to be physically fit before entering a recruitment program.

Step 2Take the Tests

You don’t need to earn a degree to become a Firefighter, although having a degree in fire science can be very helpful, you will have to take some tests.

You’ll need to take both physical and written tests in order to show mental and physical strength.

If you pass the first round of tests, you will likely be called in for more interviews.

Then, you’ll need to do even more tests to be considered for a Firefighter training program.

One of the tests that you can expect to take is:

  • Candidate Physical Ability Test- where you’ll be expected to perform a distance run in a certain amount of time, and climb flights of stairs at a rapid pace, as well as lifting over 200 lbs.

For the written test, you can expect around 100 questions testing you on things like:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Spatial awareness
  • Mechanical reasoning
  • Logic

Some jurisdictions require that you become an EMT before pursuing a career as a Firefighter.

Since this is different in every state, you will need to check your local government requirements.

Step 3Attend Fire Academy

Fire Academy can be difficult to get into, but once you are accepted, it’s time to learn the ropes of fire safety.

There are online training options, but we suggest doing in-person training if available.

Some of the things that you can expect to learn in a Fire Academy are:

  • Application in the Exercise of Leadership
  • Challenge of the Future
  • Decision Making
  • Effective Communications for Fire and EMTs
  • Fire Investigation

One of the cool things about Fire Academy is that it is typically free for people who are in the medical field or want to become first responders.

You won’t just get time in the classroom either, with this type of training, you can expect to do things like:

  • Basic rope rescue
  • Live fire training
  • Search and rescue
  • Vehicle extractions
  • Victim recovery
  • Water rescue
  • Car fires
  • Emergency egress

Most Fire Academy programs last several weeks to a couple of months, depending on the area where you earn your education.

Step 4Continue Learning

This could mean earning a degree in fire science, which can take around four years to complete, or gaining experience through working as a Firefighter.

Depending on your fire captain and which path you take as a firefighter, there may be some certifications or specializations that interest you or are required.

They may not be legally necessary, but many Firefighters have certifications or specializations as a/n:

  • EMT
  • Paramedic

Some states do require some type of formal education or licensing.

For example, in Florida, Firefighters have to complete the Firefighter Minimum Standards Course and pass exams.

Check with your local jurisdiction to learn about what is required of you before you become a Firefighter.


Education

The education of a Firefighter depends on the jurisdiction in which they work.

Often times, going to Fire Academy is enough to become a Firefighter.

This can take several weeks or up to a couple of months to complete.

In Fire Academy, you will focus on classroom work as well as hands-on skills.

Throughout the course, you will be tested on several things including how logical you are, time-sensitive matters, how strong you are, and much more.

You will also take written tests and exams in order to make sure you completely understand the logistics of fire safety.

In many cases, you will need to be a member of a fire station in order to enter Fire Academy.

Some of the classes you will take during this time include:

  • Fire Department Organization
  • Fire Service History
  • Emergency Procedure
  • Tools and Equipment
  • Ground Ladder skills
  • Fire Fighter Mayday
  • Building Construction
  • Search and Rescue

You can also expect to gain experience with hands-on training in:

  • Rescuing in water and on land
  • Victim retrieval
  • Timed trials

If you are the type of person that wants a more formal education, you can earn a degree in Fire Studies.

There are Associates and Bachelors degrees available for people who are interested.

These degrees can take form two years to four years to complete.

Within this type of degree program, you can expect to take classes such as:

  • Disaster Planning and Control
  • Emergency Services, Leadership, and Administration
  • Legal Aspects of Emergency Services
  • Fire Related Human Behavior
  • Fire Investigation and Analysis

With an Associates or Bachelors degree in fire science, you can expect to have better career opportunities in your future, including:

  • Fire captain
  • Fire marshal
  • Fire prevention manager
  • Fire officer
  • Fire prevention educator
  • Fire/Arson investigator
  • Insurance Investigator

There are so many opportunities for people who are interested in a career as a Firefighter.

Video About The Career


Certification

There are no special licenses or certifications needed to become a Firefighter.

However, you will be required to take a couple of tests in order to be accepted into Fire Academy.

The first test will be to uncover your physical ability.

This test will help show how physically capable you are of doing the rigorous activities that a Firefighter must face.

Typically, fire stations require aspiring Firefighters to take the Candidate Physical Ability Test.

This test is broken up into several parts.

First, you will need to climb several flights of stairs.

Usually, you will have to wear heavy equipment while running up and down the stairs as well.

Next, you will be tested on your hose dragging ability.

Even if this sounds like an easy task, it’s not.

Surprisingly, there are several steps that need to be taken in order to work a fire hose the correct way.

Making one mistake could cost someone their life.

After that, you will work on your ability to handle equipment and work the ladder.

Once you have figured out how to work with all of your equipment, it’s time to rescue victims from a fire.

Not for real, this is just a test.

You’ll be required to break down a door, and evaluate a situation in order to rescue pretend victims.

For each specific drill, you will be required to work precisely.

Every mistake counts against you, and after so many, you will fail the test.

It’s important to know what you are doing before trying to take this test.

Each trial is timed as well, to ensure that the Firefighter can get the rescue done on time.

Different fire stations’ requirements may vary, so talk to your local fire chief to find out what you need to do in order to gain employment as a Firefighter.

Certification Example:

firefighter certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months

The average training program for a Firefighter is anywhere between 4 weeks and several months.

Some training programs can even be done online, which can make it an even speedier process.

Though, if you are expecting to gain a lot of information from your training, opt for the longer versions.

These will give you real-life experiences that a short program may not provide.

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Job Outlook

Even though the career of a Firefighter is slow-moving, it’s only projected to rise around 5 percent in the next decade, there is still a need for more Firefighters.

With the use of more durable materials, buildings are not catching fire as much as they did previously.

Of course, this is great news, it just makes it hard for Firefighters to find jobs.

Those with more education and certifications will likely find employment faster than those who are not as qualified.

Learning about fire safety and teaching classes on safety techniques can be a great way to earn a living as a Firefighter.

Employment Growth Projection: 5%

332,400
2018
350,000
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 17,600 jobs.

Firefighter: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Firefighter?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Studies have shown that most Firefighters are happy with their careers.

Some jurisdictions may produce more satisfied employees, depending on how many hours they are required to work and how busy the day is.

Most Firefighters are up for the challenge of taking on other people’s emergencies and find it rewarding to help citizens of their towns.

Protecting and serving is a major part of being a Firefighter, so if you are the type of person who loves to help, you may just the right candidate.

Average Salary

Average Salary: Medium

In the United States, the average salary for a Firefighter is around $54,000 a year.

In smaller towns, a Firefighter will likely make less, at around $25,000 a year.

But those that work in larger cities can expect to make upwards of $92,000 a year.

Depending on how much education you have, your experience in the field, and any special qualification, you can make quite a bit of money working as a Firefighter.

Firefighters that work in New York typically make around $75,000 a year.

While Firefighters that work in Kansas make around $34,000 a year.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: Low

Within the next decade, it seems that the career of Firefighter will rise by about 5 percent.

This means that there will be more Firefighter jobs, however, this career isn’t as booming as many other careers in the field.

Improved building materials and building codes have resulted in safer conditions, which means fewer fires to put out.

While this is great for citizens, it can be hard for Firefighters to look for jobs.

Even with the improvements, Firefighters will always be necessary for society.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

In order to work as a Firefighter, you need to have at least a High School diploma and be 18 years old.

As competition intensifies, some Firefighters are earning an Associates or Bachelor’s degree in fire science.

This can take from 2-4 years, depending on which type of degree you decide to get.

Often, Firefighters attend Fire Academy, which can take several weeks to a few months to complete.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

It takes a strong person, both mentally and physically, to work as a Firefighter.

Some of the personal skills that you will need for this career are:

  • Physical fitness
  • Ability to lift heavy objects
  • Work well under pressure
  • Decision-making skills
  • Integrity
  • Safety management skills
  • Emotional control
  • Dependability
  • Good judgment skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Ability to be objective

Firefighters typically work long hours, which means you’ll need a lot of stamina and stability as well.

Take care of your body and mind, and you can do wonderful things as a Firefighter.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What does a Firefighter do?

You can expect to see Firefighter racing to the nearest accident or emergency.

Most Firefighters also help rescue animals and people from dangerous situations.

They also put out fires and help victims who may be sick or hurting due to the fire.

Often, you will see that a Firefighter is helping with caring for people, taking temperatures, or hosing down flames.

There are many things that a Firefighter does on a workday.

Q. How long does it take to become a Firefighter?

Even though this is a very dangerous job, it doesn’t take that long to become a Firefighter.

Most Fire Academies require only a few months of training before you are able to work as a firefighter.

Some people do decide to work toward an Associates or Bachelor’s degree, which can take a couple of years to complete.

It all depends on the requirements of the fire station.

Q. Is there a demand for Firefighters?

There will always be a demand for Firefighters throughout the country.

However, it seems that the demand has slowed down since the existence of fire-resistant building materials.

Even though the need for as many Firefighters is going down, there are still many Firefighters who are retiring or leaving the workforce.

This career doesn’t have as much growth as many other careers in the same field, but being a Firefighter is still very important.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Firefighter?

That depends on how much education you want to receive.

Some people earn an Associates are Bachelors degree in fire science, which can cost around $15,000 to $30,000.

Often times, though, you can get into Fire Academy for free.

However, if you can’t, this can run you around $10,000 as well.

Q. What is the average salary for a Firefighter?

As a Firefighter, you can expect to make a decent living in the United States.

Most Firefighters make around $54,000 a year.

However, when you are just starting out in the career, you can expect to make less.

New Firefighters make around $35,000 a year.

It’s possible to make up to $100,000 as a Firefighter with experience and education.


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