Firefighters, the dream job for most kids in Kindergarten, is one of the most difficult yet fulfilling jobs one could have. Apart from fighting fires (as the name implies), firefighters work to save lives and protect property, in that order of preference. They attend to a variety of emergencies be it accidental or natural disasters. Hence, firefighters receive expert training to do their job in any place or situation. Some of the duties of a firefighter include handling medical emergencies, rescuing the injured and educating the public.
Typically a firefighter would be expected to have a long list of responsibilities. They attend to emergency calls which may be for fires, rescuing trapped people or animals, working with local and federal government in the event of floods, civil threats or air crashes. They are also expected to know how to take care of people in distress and administer first aid before the medical services arrive. They clean up the site of the incident after the emergency procedures are completed and are expected to provide full report of the incident and complete all relevant paperwork that may be required, including, in the event of a fire, results of investigations as to how the fire started. This is also an occupation that involves the highest risk rate of injuries and illnesses compared to all other occupations. Hence, firefighters are specially trained to take care of personal safety at all times, make quick assessments of situations and take the best action without losing time.
When they are not attending to any emergencies, they would be checking, cleaning and performing maintenance of their equipment or conducting drills. During an emergency situation, there is less time to think hence firefighters are trained to think quickly and the continuous drills ensure that they are able to carry out the procedure in the most efficient manner without wasting time. They maintain a fleet of emergency vehicles that need to be ready for emergency at any time. And so they need to check to ensure they are in working order and keep them upgraded at all times.
Firefighters maintain very good relations with the general public and are often seen educating the public about safety rules, regulations and actions to be taken during emergencies. They are constantly undergoing education and training themselves and working on improving or maintaining their physical strength and stamina.
They work very long hours with overtime, typically 24 hours and have the next 48 – 72 hours off. Or they may choose to work for 10/14 hour shifts where they work for 10 hours and have the next 14 hours off. They are usually on call even when they eat and sleep!
Those who work to put out wildland and forest fires are specially trained for the job and they may have to work for extended periods of time.
Education and Training
There is no one way to become a firefighter. However, one of the best ways is to start volunteering for the local fire department. This can prove to be very beneficial in getting into a training program. An additional requirement by most states is an EMT certification. This varies state by state so one should ensure that they check their state’s requirement and obtain the appropriate certification. However, having this qualification is a step closer to getting into the training program.
The most common requirements to become a firefighter are a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license. One must be at least 18 years of age and be physically fit with a 20/20 vision. Limited on-job training can begin at a younger age.
Whilst the academic requirement for entering a Fire Science training program is quite stringent, there are levels and degrees of training available, from certificate, Associate to Bachelors and Masters.
Each state may have their own training requirement. A post-secondary firefighting technology training program along with voluntary practical experience in the fire house can equip candidates to work as firefighters. However, those that go through the Fire Science Degree program have a better chance of landing a higher ranked job in this competitive field.
The shortlisted candidates go through the training program of their choice, which consists of classroom hours and practical training.
To Work as a Firefighter
Initially, applicants would need to pass some drug screening tests, criminal background check and physical fitness tests. Upon passing this initial round of tests, the candidates would go through interviews and evaluations before being shortlisted and asked to do a written test and a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). The written test, which is often a set of multiple choice questions, is aimed to test the reading, comprehension, logic, mathematical reasoning, observation and memory.
Salary and Career growth
There are plenty of opportunities for growth in this field. Once one has become a firefighter, additional training, coupled with years of experience in the field, can be obtained to further one’s level of education. This can enable one to move up the ladder from a firefighter to fire engineer, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief. Upon completion of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree one can move up to become a deputy chief or a chief.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 firefighters held 327,300 jobs with a median pay of USD 49,080 per year which is approximately USD 23.6 per hour. The highest 10% earned up to USD 83,570.
Despite the improvement in building materials, the BLS predicts 350,900 jobs, an approximate growth of 7% between 2016 and 2026. The candidates with the best prospects would be the ones who are physically fit with post-secondary firefighting training and paramedic qualifications.