Firefighter Career Profile

A firefighter career is among the most honorable and most dangerous of all professional careers. Firefighters work with a regular level of danger that few other professions can claim to equal.

The Work Environment of a Firefighter Career

Firefighters work in a well-organized team environment, with other highly trained professionals. Firefighters don’t take unnecessary risks. They repeatedly practice each firefighting operation to ensure safety during an actual fire. Personal protective gear and firefighting equipment is maintained in good operational condition at all times to further reduce risk.

Actual firefighting is situation-based. The working conditions for firefighters in action are often extremely demanding. Heat, smoke, flames and low visibility all pose direct risks to firefighters. Firefighting teams work under tactical direction from commanders, who use drill techniques and applicable safety procedures. Firefighting operations are coordinated to bring fires under control with minimum risk to firefighters. Aerial hoses, foams, flame retardants and other forms of equipment are used to deal with major fires.

The method of firefighting is decided by

  • The location and type of fire
  • Access issues
  • The presence of dangerous or explosive materials
  • Risk factors from burning buildings, trees or other hazards
  • The need to rescue people in the area of the fire.

Even with all the training and safety precautions, fires are dangerous. They can create new hazards while the firefighters are busy dealing with the existing situations. Collapsing areas of buildings, toxic materials, radiant heat, smoke inhalation and industrial chemicals commonly present hazards.

Rescue operations can also be extremely risky, requiring firefighters to gain access to people in danger from a fire. Fire ladders, safety nets and mats are useful, but in some cases immobilized people have to be rescued from positions from which they can’t escape by themselves. This is the most dangerous part of firefighting, and firefighters are justly awarded medals for bravery for their work in this area.

Training for a Firefighter Career

Firefighters receive ongoing training which involves the following:

  • Technical upgrades
  • Equipment upgrades
  • System training
  • Procedural drills 
  • Physical fitness.

Firefighters are trained to assess risks when they fight a fire.

Hours for a Firefighter Career

The working hours of firefighters are usually rotating shifts. These hours can vary considerably. In extreme emergencies, off-duty firefighters are summoned back on duty to meet the needs of the situation. The hours may be very long, particularly for those engaged in fighting major wildfires, which may require firefighters to be on duty for days, with breaks where possible.

Firefighter Salary

Wages depend upon rank. Median rates for regular firefighters at local, state and federal levels have been calculated as $38,000 to $46,000 plus overtime based on a number of threshold hours. Extra shifts are sometimes worked during periods of low staff or emergencies.

For senior firefighters (sworn full-time officeholders, wages depend on rank and years of service, with rates of payment variable across employers.

The Career Path

Firefighters are career professionals, often specialists in particular areas of firefighting. Many remain within the service for their whole careers, progressing up through the ranks to senior positions.

The career path, however, isn’t necessarily confined entirely to the basic firefighting role. Many firefighters become educators, fire inspectors, safety consultants and trainers. Some become researchers in their fields of specialty, and they advise commercial fire safety firms and also help develop new firefighting equipment and methodologies.

Senior fire department managers are also the technical advisers to local and state governments regarding firefighting policies, logistics and equipment purchasing.