When trying to decide on a career path, salary is always going to come into play. If you are looking at becoming a firefighter strictly for the pay, then you will be disappointed. However, everyone needs to support themselves. You need to know what lifestyle you can lead working as a firefighter before you decide if it is right for you.
Firefighters can (in some areas) make 100k or more per year in salary. However, this is well above the national average and the majority of firefighters will not make six figures. The pay rate will mostly depend on the area and the average cost of living.
Lets take a closer look at the kind of numbers you can expect to make as a firefighter. We will also compare the pay in different parts of the country. Keep reading to get a better understanding of the compensation firefighters get.
Also read: Can You Live Off an EMT/Paramedic Salary?
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First of all, let’s remember that 70% of all firefighters in the US are volunteers and don’t get paid at all.
If you are interested in making a career as a firefighter, you obviously need to know what kind of money they make.
The national average salary for firefighters is around $50,000 per year, depending on the source of the data.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – $50,850
- Payscale.com – $47,868
- Indeed.com – $42,615
- Careerexplorer.com – $50,272
However, this doesn’t tell the whole picture. This number is the base salary.
Most firefighters get paid more than the base pay when you include things like: EMT or Paramedic pay, bilingual pay, educational incentive pay, special assignment pay, overtime hour pay, etc.
Not every firefighter will receive all or any of these bonus stipends, but many do. These can add up to quite a bit more money in your pocket. Especially working overtime.
There is a certain level of staffing that must be maintained to provide the level of service that the administration needs.
This means that, in many departments, there are frequent opportunities to work extra hours. It’s not free money, as you have to work more hours on top of the average 56 hour week, but it is a normal part of being a firefighter.
Sometimes you are even forced to work overtime hours. That means when you are about to get off a long, busy shift, you are told that you can’t leave. They can keep you at work to maintain a certain level of staffing. Depending on the department, this may never happen or it may happen a few times a month.
The other factor to consider is area. While the average pay in some areas is well below the $50,000 per year average, there are many other places that are well above this number.
This is probably where you hear about firefighters that make 100k or more per year. Lets see some examples:
- San Francisco, California – Average $87,035
- Fremont, California – Average $99,620
- Ventura, California – $92,610
As you can see, California has some of the highest paying firefighters jobs, mostly because these are some of the most expensive cities to live in.
If you include extra pay and overtime, it’s very possible for many firefighters to make over six figures per year. If they are in a high paying area, 100k is fairly common after your first few years.
If you are in a more average paying area, you can still make more than 100 thousand dollars per year, depending on how much overtime hours are available and how much you are willing to work.
And these numbers are just for a basic firefighter. There are usually opportunities to promote to Driver, Lieutenant, Captain, etc. These promotions can come with pay increases.
Firefighting supervisors (Captains and Lieutenants) are the #5 highest paid position that does not require a college degree.
Here is a video that talks in more detail about firefighter salaries:
Can you Live Off a Firefighter’s Pay?
Yes, you can make a good living and live comfortably on a firefighter’s salary, however, your lifestyle will vary based on the area you work and the overall cost of living.
How comfortable you are financially and the kind of life you lead is impacted just as much by the cost of everything in your area as it is by how much money you earn.
Let’s take a look at a comparison-
So even if the firefighter in California makes $20,000 more than the firefighter in Mississippi, the money may not go as far when things like rent are more than 4 times as expensive!
I realize this is not a perfect example, as rent is not the only bill you have to pay, but it highlights my point that quality of life as a firefighter depends just as much on where you live as how much you are paid.
What Are the Highest Paying States?
Though it’s not all that matter, you probably want to know which states pay the most. Here is a graph with the average firefighter salaries in the top 10 highest paying states in 2017:
Remember, these are just the state averages and many departments will pay more or less than these numbers.
Who Makes More Money, Firefighters or Cops?
So, we learned that many firefighters can make over 100k per year in salary. You may also be thinking about a career as a police officer and are wondering how their salaries compare.
The average pay for a cop is similar, but usually a little higher than for a firefighter in the same area. The national average salary for police officers is $61,380, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a good $10,000 per year more than the average for a firefighter.
They are very different jobs and choosing between the two as career choices, really needs to be about much more than salary. It really comes down to personality type and the type of work you enjoy.
For more information to help you compare the job of a firefighter to that of a cop, read: Firefighter or Cop: Which Is a Better Job?
Firefighting can be a tough job, and in many areas, they are compensated well for the work they do. In some of these areas, as we saw, firefighters can indeed earn over 100k per year. However, depending on the cost of living, that amount of money may not go as far as you would think.
Also remember that being a firefighter is about service, teamwork and helping others. Everyone needs to make a living, but it should not be the driving factor on a career in the fire service.