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Fire Fighters

Fire fighters protect the public and property from the dangers of fire. Typically, fire fighters deal with other types of emergencies more often than fires. Firefighters are often the first emergency workers at the scene of a medical emergency or traffic accident. They treat injuries and perform other vital tasks. The vast majority of fire fighters are employed by local governments.

While on duty, fire fighters need to be prepared to immediately respond to a fire or other types of emergencies. At emergency scenes, fire fighters perform specific tasks assigned to them by a superior officer. A firefighter's duties can change several times while the crew is at a scene. Sometimes they stay at a disaster location for days assisting with medical treatments and rescuing people that are trapped.

When firefighters are not dealing with emergency situations they clean and maintain their equipment and sometimes learn additional job related skills. They also participate in physical fitness activities and conduct practice drills.

Firefighters work in various environments including rural areas, metropolitan areas, chemical plants, industrial sites and airports. Some fire fighters are part of hazard material units that are trained for the cleanup and prevention of hazardous materials.

Those that specialize in forest fires use different equipment and methods than other fire fighters. When a forest fire occurs, these workers attempt to suppress the fire with heavy equipment and water hoses. They construct fire lines which involves cutting down trees and removing combustible types of vegetation that are in the path of a fire in order to deprive the fire of fuel. Smoke Jumpers are elite firefighters that parachute from airplanes in order to get to fire areas that are very hard to reach.


  • Find and rescue occupants of buildings and homes
  • Provide emergency medical attention
  • Connect hose lines to hydrants and operate a pump to transport water to high-pressure hoses
  • Ventilate smoke filled areas
  • Use systematic and careful procedures in order to extinguish fires
  • Use tools to get through walls, doors and debris
  • Read fire science literature in order to stay current with technological developments and changes in administrative practices and policies
  • Salvage items from buildings
  • Create written reports on fire incidents

Job Characteristics

They spend a lot of time at fire stations which are typically similar to dormitories. Fire fighting has a high risk of injury or death. They may also come into contact with radioactive materials and flammable, poisonous or explosive gases and chemicals which can have immediate or long-term negative effects on their health.

Fire fighters should have courage, mental alertness, strength, endurance and mechanical aptitude. They should also have a desire to serve the public. Since members of fire fighting crews live and work closely together they need to be able to get along well with others.

Many firefighters work about 50 hours per week or more. In some agencies, firefighters are on duty for 24 hours which is followed by being off duty for 48 hours and they get an additional day off at intervals. Other fire fighters have different types of work schedules. Fire captains and lieutenants often work the same hours as the firefighters they oversee.

Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 19 percent employment growth for fire fighters between 2008 and 2018 which is faster than average for all occupations. Keen competition is expected for fire fighting jobs. Those that score the highest on mechanical aptitude and physical-conditioning exams have the best opportunities. Individuals that have also completed some fire fighter education at a community college and have paramedic or EMT certification have an additional advantage.

The median annual earnings for fire fighters in 2008 was $44,260. The highest paid 10 percent earned more than $72,210. Fire fighters typically have pension plans.

Education, Certification, and Licensing

Applicants for fire fighter positions are usually required to have a high school diploma. Completing some secondary education or achieving an associate degree in fire science may improve a candidates chances for getting a job. Numerous colleges and universities offer two-year and four-year degrees in fire engineering or fire science.

Entry-level firefighters in large fire departments are trained for several weeks at the department's academy or training center. Practical training and classroom teaching are provided. After they complete their training they undergo a period of probation at a fire company. Many fire departments provide accredited apprenticeship programs which last up to four years, including programs in fighting forest fires. These programs combine on-the-job training with formal instruction.

Fire fighters in almost all departments need to be certified as emergency medical technicians. Most fire departments require the lowest level of certification which is Emergency Medical Technician-Basic (EMT-Basic). However, large departments in major metropolitan areas are increasingly requiring fire fighters to have paramedic certification. Some fire departments provide this type of training in a fire academy, however some fire departments prefer candidates acquire EMT certification on their own, but they are usually given up to one year to achieve EMT certification.

Candidates for municipal firefighter positions typically are required to pass a written exam and tests of physical stamina, strength, coordination and agility as well as a medical examination that includes drug screening. Candidates that achieve the highest scores in all areas of testing have the best chances for getting a job.


Major Employers

The top employers are local governments.

Schools for Fire Fighters are listed in the Browse Schools Section.

Fire Fighters Skills

Below are the skills needed to be fire fighters according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening3.753.25
Critical Thinking3.753.88
Operation Monitoring3.753.12
Operation and Control3.753.12

Fire Fighters Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be fire fighters according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Static Strength4.124.25
Problem Sensitivity44
Arm-Hand Steadiness3.883.62
Multilimb Coordination3.883.88
Oral Comprehension3.884

Fire Fighters Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be fire fighters according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Public Safety and Security4.645.33
Customer and Personal Service4.346.05
Education and Training4.224.87
Building and Construction4.054.16
English Language4.023.97

Fire Fighters Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being fire fighters according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material4.644.72
Assisting and Caring for Others4.575.7
Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment4.554.33
Performing General Physical Activities4.455.65
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.424.81

Fire Fighters Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being fire fighters according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Stress Tolerance4.73
Self Control4.68
Attention to Detail4.58

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Fire Fighters

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Fire Fighters jobs , as of 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim9,850$97,450
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington7,950$60,560
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell6,300$42,710
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land5,950$53,010
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach4,640$67,700
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward4,280$98,680

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Fire Fighters

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to fire fighters

Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,; O*NET® 24.3 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Fire Fighters.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.