Firefighters live dangerously as they work protect lives and property in cities, small towns and forests. They typically remain on duty for 24 hours at a time, eating and sleeping at the fire station to be ready for any emergency. To prepare for the occupation, you must undergo emergency medical technician training, possess a valid driver's license and pass drug screening tests. Salaries for firefighters vary according to work setting, industry and location.
Most firefighters work for local, state or federal government agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that firefighters earned an average annual salary of $48,270 in 2013. Salaries ranged from a low of $21,960 a year to a high of $80,430 a year. Some firefighters suppress fires in forests and vacant public land, and remain at a base camp during the fire season. These firefighters, who may not work year-round, earned a median annual salary of $45,600 in 2013, according to ONet Online.
The Major Employers
Local governments employed 275,240 firefighters in 2013, according to the BLS. The average annual salary in that work setting was $48,940. Other support services was the next largest employer, with an average salary of $31,240 a year for the 11,290 firefighters employed. The federal executive branch employed 7,530 firefighters, at an average salary of $48,420 a year. State governments paid an average salary of $50,060 a year to the 5,490 firefighters employed in that setting. Although scientific research and development employed only 360 firefighters, it was the highest-paying work setting, with an average salary of $70,900 a year.
The State of the States
Salaries for firefighters might vary as much as $40,000 per year, according to the BLS. Firefighters in Mississippi earned the lowest average salary of all states at $30,700 a year. Of the top five high-paying states, Oregon paid firefighters an average of $57,250 a year. Firefighters in Washington earned $64,450 a year. In California, firefighters earned $71,630 annually. New York and New Jersey were the highest-paying states. The average annual salary for firefighters in New York was $72,480, and for firefighters in New Jersey, the average annual salary was $75,130.
Salaries for firefighters in top-paying metropolitan and rural areas were well above average in 2013, according to the BLS. The three top-paying metropolitan areas were all in California. San Jose-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale firefighters earned an average of $87,700 a year. Firefighters in the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward area earned $88,030 a year, and those in the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area earned almost double the average salary at $90,140. The top three rural areas were all on the west coast. Firefighters in southern Oregon and Linn County earned $55,290 a year, while those in southwestern Washington earned $55,540 a year. The north coast region of California was the top-paying rural area, at $57,850 a year.
2016 Salary Information for Firefighters
Firefighters earned a median annual salary of $48,030 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, firefighters earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,670, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $64,870, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 327,300 people were employed in the U.S. as firefighters.