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The Firefighter Life: How Much Do They Make and How to Become One?

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When you were young, were you one of those kids who would enthusiastically answer “Firefighter!” when an adult asked you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For a child, the occupation seems adventurous, especially when you see adults riding in big red trucks and courageously putting out big fires.

As an adult, becoming a firefighter is still an appealing job, but there are more factors to consider before you commit to this profession. Firefighting is a risky business that requires the ability to quickly evaluate the situation, courage and physical strength.

Also, you may want answers to: “How much do firefighters make?” “How can I become a firefighter?” and “Is it worth being a firefighter?”

Although the desire to help is a primary motivation to becoming a firefighter, it’s important to consider the responsibilities that come with the job, as well as the job outlook.

How Much Do Firefighters Make?

You might be wondering, “Do firefighters make good money?”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average firefighter makes an annual salary of $52,500. In an hour, a firefighter can make $25. The typical firefighter salary ranges between $36,000 and $60,000, which depends on different factors: education, number of years spent in the profession, certifications and additional skills.

The BLS adds that the job outlook of the firefighting profession will be from eight percent from 2020 to 2030, which is about as fast as most occupations. There are also about 27,000 job openings for firefighters each year. Most of these openings are meant to replace firefighters who exited the labor force (e.g. for retirement) or transferred to another occupation.

Another question is: how much do firefighters make in each state? Which state offers the most financial compensation for our hardworking firefighters?

According to Forbes, the following States offer the most money for firefighters:

  1. New Jersey ($75,000)
  2. California ($73,000)
  3. New York ($70,500)
  4. Washington ($70,300)
  5. Nevada ($66,600)
  6. Oregon ($64,000)
  7. Connecticut ($63,000)
  8. Alaska ($60,900)
  9. Massachusetts ($60,500)
  10. Maryland ($58,000)

On the other hand, firefighters earn the least money in the following States:

  1. Georgia ($36,830)
  2. North Carolina ($36,100)
  3. Minnesota ($35,700)
  4. Utah ($35,600)
  5. West Virginia ($34,600)
  6. South Carolina ($34,700)
  7. Maine ($33,500)
  8. Kentucky ($32,800)
  9. Louisiana ($32,710)
  10. Mississippi ($30,000)

The type of firefighter occupation you choose also makes a difference in your salary.

For instance, if you choose to become a firefighter paramedic, expect an average annual salary of $60,800. If you choose to be a firefighter/EMT, you’ll earn an average base pay of $49,000 per year. Meanwhile, a fire chief can make a yearly salary of $94,000.

Are There Advancement Opportunities in the Firefighting Industry?

firefighter next to a truck
Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

You can advance your position once you meet the requirements, which include training or experience. Also, promotions depend on the state or department.

Typically, firefighters can become:

  • Lieutenants
  • Engineers
  • Captains
  • Battalion chiefs

In some firefighting departments, they require a bachelor’s degree in public administration, fire science or any related field for a firefighter to qualify for the following positions:

  • Chief
  • Deputy chief
  • Assistant chief

What Perks Do Firefighters Get?

Firefighters often earn overtime wages, education or training reimbursements, sick leaves and paid vacation times. Also, firefighters often work 12 or 24-hour shifts, which lead to longer time-off intervals — a perk for most people in the industry.

Firefighters also have the option for early retirement since most firefighters are only required 20 years of service. However, the actual pension amount may vary due to the company, location and years of service.

What are the Educational Requirements to Be A Firefighter?

If you want to become a firefighter and earn a good salary, prepare yourself for a rigorous endeavor. You must achieve passing scores on physical and written tests that assess your readiness for the fire department’s standards.

Although a college degree isn’t a requirement for most firefighting positions, applicants with an associate degree in fire science have a competitive advantage.

Certification is also important since firefighters are also considered medical responders. Accreditation also ensures that your certificate or degree program has been properly vetted to meet the standards of academic quality. There are two types of accreditation: programming and institutional. Programming accreditation focuses on specific certificate programs and degrees while institutional accreditation validates the school as a whole.

If you want to set yourself apart from other applicants, enroll in an Emergency Medical Technician course (EMT). Since a big part of a firefighter’s workday is responding to medical emergencies, having an EMT certification increases your chances of scoring the job, although not all fire departments require EMT certifications.

Upon hiring, firefighters are also required to attend training courses. These courses will continuously hone your lifesaving and firefighting skills.

Is it Worth it to be a Firefighter?

firefighter spraying water
Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

In general, being a firefighter is a worthy and amazing profession. It offers many opportunities to help people in need in a more meaningful way, which involves saving lives.

In terms of happiness and job satisfaction, most firefighters are happy and content with their profession. According to a report from FOX Business, firefighters gave a job satisfaction rating of nine out of ten, which makes firefighting one of the higher-rated professions.

The pros that come with being a firefighter are:

  1. More opportunities to help people. This is what the occupation is all about — customer service. Firefighters are dedicated to helping and protecting citizens in the community, as well as mitigating emergencies. These opportunities make the job more rewarding. After all, there’s nothing better than helping people when they need help the most.
  2. Work in a dynamic environment. There’s no such thing as “dead hours” in a firefighter house. You’ll be working in a dynamic environment that forces you to use your training and tools, find solutions to challenging circumstances and give back to the community.
  3. Fellowship and discipline. Firefighters develop strong bonds with their colleagues as they work together to protect the people and each other. They always look out for each other while responding to emergencies. Your work will train you to follow procedures and protocol, as well as teamwork. Self-improvement is always a team effort in this profession.
  4. Build transferable skills. Working as a firefighter helps you develop transferable skills, which you can use in other fields of work. Apart from the injury prevention and life-saving skills, firefighters also hone the following skills:
    1. Empathy
    2. Time management
    3. Critical thinking
    4. Communication
  5. Operate powerful equipment. Firefighters handle and care for large, powerful equipment. They often operate pumps and drive around in large fire trucks. When they aren’t on call, firefighters perform routine maintenance to ensure the integrity of the equipment.

But like any job, there are also cons that come with being a firefighter. Before you pursue this career, consider the following:

  1. Long shifts. The firefighting occupation is infamous for its lengthy shifts and frequent overtimes — both of which are understandable since the job involves emergencies that happen day and night. Firefighters can work for 24 hours with up to 72 hours’ worth of off duties.
  2. Constant training. One of the reasons firefighters are often filing for overtime are the extensive and regular training throughout their careers. Firefighters must learn firefighting techniques, advanced first aid and equipment management.
  3. Mentally demanding. Due to the nature of their job, firefighters often witness devastating situations, some of which involve serious injuries or deaths. These situations can be mentally demanding and exhausting.
  4. Physically demanding. Also, the job requires much of your physical strength. A regular day at work may involve knocking down doors, breaking through walls or debris and rescuing people in dangerous situations.
  5. Dangerous job. Being a firefighter is a job that comes with risks. Every day, you deal with high ladders, heavy equipment, unsafe places and the potential dangers of collapsing walls. Some firefighters are also trained to respond to chemical spills, which increase their risk of exposure to harmful substances. Safety should always be a priority.

Firefighting is an honorable profession that comes with its unique set of pros and cons. Before you apply to become a firefighter, make sure you pass all the requirements, as well as have the discipline to be one.

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