Firefighters risk their lives to protect individuals and property from fires. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fires destroy billions of dollars' worth of public and private property annually. Firefighters actually do more than fight fires. They also provide emergency medical care and are often the first responders to car accidents and other potentially harmful situations. Firefighters are required to be physically strong, agile and able to excel under pressure, and those interested in becoming firefighters must also fulfill the education, examination and training requirements of the position,
Firefighters are required to be at least 18 years old with a minimum of a high school diploma or GED equivalency certificate. High school students interested in becoming firefighters should take classes in chemistry, biology, physics, geometry, algebra, English and health. Students intending to become emergency personnel should also learn as many foreign languages as possible, as they are often required to assist people of various nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
Post-Secondary Degree in Fire Science
Working as a firefighter previously required only a high school diploma, but employers are increasingly requiring firefighter applicants to have a post-secondary degree in fire science. Firefighter candidates most commonly earn an associate's degree. According to Education-Portal.com, curriculum may include firefighting tactics and strategy, fire prevention, fire protection, fire suppression, fire hydraulics, firefighting safety, hazardous materials and basic chemistry. There also are four-year bachelor's degree programs in fire science that combine a liberal arts education with firefighter training. Coursework may include fire administration, principles of fire behavior, management of fire incidents, fire personnel management, fire prevention management and organization, management of hazardous materials and arson investigation.
Applicants who hope to qualify for a firefighter position are required to pass a firefighter examination. The test includes a written portion, as well as a test of physical strength, agility and stamina. Examinees must also undergo a health exam, including a drug screening.
Candidates who pass the exam are required to undergo an intense two- to four-month program at a firefighter academy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, academy students receive classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Skills learned include fire prevention, firefighting techniques, how to control hazardous materials, emergency medical procedures, building codes, first aid and CPR. Students also learn how to use common firefighting equipment including axes, fire extinguishers, chain saws, ladders and hoses.
In addition to putting out fires, firefighters are often required to provide emergency medical assistance on the scene until paramedics arrive. For this reason, firefighters are typically required to have a current EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Certification prerequisites include being 18 years of age, passing an EMT-Basic training course, having current CPR certification and passing the EMT-Basic competency exam.
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.