By Diane Turner
Firefighters are one of the most essential positions in a community. In many secluded communities or areas that are suffering financial difficulties, these individuals work on a volunteer basis, but there is also an opportunity to make a good living working in this career path. Individuals that plan to work as firefighters will need to take part in a great deal of training due to the intense nature of the job. These individuals will need to work in a very high-paced environment to manage emergency situations and assist citizens dealing with these circumstances.
Supportive Roles for Firefighter
Firefighters do not have supportive roles in the traditional sense. In this case, individuals with more experience or training will be able to take on more responsibilities while out on the job. These individuals will also get a higher firefighter salary than those working in lower areas of the field. All firefighters will be expected to be proficient in the skills necessary to put out fires as well as providing life-saving care to victims on the scene. In most cases, firefighters will actually be called out to manage health care issues, providing care on the scene and transporting victims to the hospital when necessary.
Working as a Firefighter
Firefighters will be expected to take on a variety of tasks in the station and out in the field. They will be called on to drive emergency vehicles such as ambulances or fire trucks and maintaining these trucks and any associated equipment. They may need to use hoses or pumps to put out a fire. Firefighters may need to enter these burning buildings to rescue victims trapped inside and then provide medical care to these individuals. In many communities, firefighters will also act as EMTs or paramedics, responding to emergency calls where a person is experiencing a medical emergency such as a heart attack or drug overdose. The firefighter salary for these individuals will be closely tied to the amount of training and certification they have been through.
In some cases firefighters will earn a specialization in working with a specific type of incident such as chemical fires or forest fires. The firefighter salary for these types of positions will vary based on the jurisdiction where these individuals are employed. Those that work as part of an incident prevention unit for a private organization will typically earn more competitive salaries than those working in public service.
A great deal of training is necessary to become a firefighter. At a very basic level, firefighters will need to participate in a fire academy training program to ensure that they have the physical abilities to perform the demanding tasks they will need to take on while on the job. Fire academies will be run by the individual state where the individual plans to work. Each will have its own testing program, but these will typically revolve around learning how to manage emergency equipment like ladders, chain saws, axes or fire extinguishers. In some cases communities will substitute a four year apprenticeship with a firefighting department in the area for these accredited programs.
Many firefighters that are hoping to move up in their field or earn a more competitive firefighter salary often earn postsecondary degrees in fire science or other similar disciplines. They may also attend additional training programs that are sponsored through the National Fire Academy. These will provide more advanced training in techniques like containing hazardous materials or investigating arson cases.
Most communities expect their firefighters to train as EMTs as well. These individuals will be expected to learn the basic life saving techniques to stabilize individuals suffering from a medical emergency. Individuals can further this training, moving up to the ranks to paramedic, haz-mat control or other more established ranks. The requirements to meet these ranks will vary based on the jurisdiction and protocols in the particular jurisdiction where the individual works.
Salaries and Employment Compared to Other Industries
Compared to other service industries, firefighters typically earn a lower salary. In many communities, firefighters work on a volunteer basis because communities are lacking in the resources to employ a staff for their firehouse. There is a great deal of variation amongst communities, making it difficult to calculate the average salary for a firefighter.
Nationwide, the average firefighter salary is $45,250. This is slightly higher than those that work exclusively as EMTs or paramedics, but lower than police officers. Approximately 67 percent of firefighter’s wages are secured by a union contract, helping them to keep the wages standard. Many firefighters are also offered plenty of overtime pay. They are often expected to work 24 hour on-call shifts. Some may be expected to remain in the station for 48-72 hours at a time to address any calls that may come in. Others may work 10 hour shifts for 3-4 days in a row while maintaining on-call status at home.