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Fire Fighter Career Information and Employment Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a fire fighter. Get a quick view of the requirements, including job duties and education programs, to discover if this is the right career for you.

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Fire fighters need to possess a high school diploma, but can also earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. They must also meet physical fitness standards, pass a medical exam and background check and earn EMT certification. Here you will learn more about the requirements needed to become a fire fighter, as well as job duties and employment information.

Essential Information

Fire fighters are generally the first to respond in emergency situations where property, life or the environment are in danger due to fires, floods, natural disasters, accidents or terrorism. A high school diploma is the minimum education needed to become a fire fighter, but many people in this profession go on to receive some postsecondary education - or even a degree - in fire science or a related field. Since many emergency calls involve medical situations, nearly all fire departments require fire fighters to receive some form of emergency medical training. Departments may send employees for emergency medical technician (EMT) training to become EMT-Basic certified.

Required Education High school diploma at minimum; postsecondary education is becoming increasingly common
Other Requirements Fitness test, medical exam, on-the-job training
Certification EMT-Basic certification may be required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5%
Median Salary (2015)* $46,870

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Fire Fighter Career Information

Career Preparation

Generally, a high school diploma or a fire science postsecondary non-degree award in addition to physical fitness testing, a medical exam and a background check are necessary when applying for a fire fighter position. Fire houses often train candidates during a probationary period. Emergency medical services training may be required before starting work. Today, many fire fighters have earned college degrees, such as an Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science or a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science.

Career Tasks

Fire fighters perform various duties, some more strenuous than others. Their tasks may include operating the pump, connecting hose lines to hydrants and positioning ladders. Fire fighters rescue survivors and victims, perform medical aid, salvage contents of buildings and ventilate areas to remove smoke. Between calls, fire fighters sharpen their skills; clean, maintain and repair equipment; exercise; and perform practice drills.

Many firefighters work irregular hours and live at the fire station much of the time. Fire stations are generally equipped with kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms. Hours may vary but generally include a 50-hour work week. Firefighters may work 10-14 hour shifts for 3-4 days in a row; a shift pattern could include three days on shift, three nights on shift and three days off. Sometimes, fire fighters work 24-hour shifts, followed by a couple of days off.

Specialty Careers

Smoke jumpers or forest fire fighters generally fight fires by being parachuted into remote areas. They fight fire from the ground through a variety of containment measures and by directing aircraft to hot spots and good places to eject water and foam from above. With continued schooling, fire fighters may be promoted to fire inspectors or fire marshals. These positions involve responsibility for performing inspections, enforcing fire safety codes and laws, and collaborating with builders and city planners.

Employment Outlook

Per the U.S. Fire Administration, about 69% of fire fighters were volunteer fire fighters, including part-time volunteers, in 2013. Most volunteer fire fighters served towns of 25,000 or fewer people. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of paid fire fighters is expected to grow 5%, as fast as the average for all occupations, between the years 2014 and 2024. Continuous growth in the population will influence the number of emergency calls that require fire fighters. Also attributed to the job outlook was the growth in urban populations.

Salaries

According to the BLS, (www.bls.gov), full-time firefighters earned a median annual salary of $46,870 as of May 2015. Some fire fighters are volunteers who made little or no money; BLS salary figures included only paid career fire fighters.

Fire fighters respond to a number of emergency situations, ranging from fires to accidents. They work irregular shifts and may specialize in different areas. While many are volunteers, some are full-time, and the number of job opportunities for firefighters is expected to increase by 5% from 2014 to 2024.

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