First Responder Salary and Career Information

Working as a first responder requires little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

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First responders are usually the first healthcare specialists to treat sick or injured individuals in emergency situations. They must work carefully and quickly to stabilize their patients and prepare them for further care at a hospital.

Essential Information

First responders are healthcare workers who specialize in providing stabilizing medical care to patients needing urgent care. They are part of the emergency medical services (EMS) career field, which also includes emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. First responders must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and complete a training program. Upon program completion, they must take a test to earn licensing from the state in which they work. A clean background check and drug screening may be required for program admission or unrestricted licensing.

Required Education High school diploma or GED; completion of a training program for first responders
Other Requirements State licensing achieved by passing an exam administered by the state or the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 24% for all EMTs and paramedics*
Median Salary (2015) $31,980 for all EMTs and paramedics*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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First Responder Career Information

First responders are healthcare workers who respond to emergency situations, often prompted by 911 emergency phone calls. They provide immediate care to victims and sufferers of violence, accidents and serious illness. They also often function as part of a team responsible for transporting the victim to a nearby healthcare facility, such as a hospital. First responders need to know how to administer lifesaving techniques, which may involve loading victims into ambulances and working with other healthcare workers to perform procedures like CPR.

First Responder Requirements

According to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), becoming a first responder requires a high school diploma. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that all first responders and other EMTs must be licensed by their state ( Gaining licensure usually involves taking either the state examination or the NREMT test, and a state may restrict licensure based on a potential first responder's criminal history.

Many community colleges and vocational schools offer training programs for first responders. In these programs, students learn about the urgent care scenarios they'll likely encounter while on the job, including airway obstruction, emergency childbirth, bleeding and fractures.

First Responder Cognitive Examination

This test, which qualifies one to work as a first responder, is administered by the NREMT and is taken on a computer. There will likely be 80-110 questions on the test, which the student has one hour and 45 minutes to complete. Topics covered on the exam include cardiac issues, trauma, pediatrics and other forms of medical care associated with emergency medical response.

First Responder Salary

According to the BLS, first responders are the first of four levels of emergency medical response worker as defined by the NREMT. The highest level of EMT worker is a paramedic, and according to, they tend to be the highest earners. The BLS reported that great majority of EMTs and paramedics earned between $20,860 and $55,110 in 2015. BLS figures also show that earnings can vary based on location. For example, in May 2015, EMTs and paramedics in the District of Columbia earned an average of $59,010 annually, while those in West Virginia earned an average of $27,790 annually.

Although little formal education is required to become a first responder, such as a paramedic, a person pursuing this career must be able to work in a stressful and often fast-paced environment. First responders are often the first individuals encountered by injured patients, so these healthcare professionals must set the tone for stabilizing the patient and keeping them as calm and comfortable as possible.

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