Firefighters specialize in saving lives and property, in that order. Firefighters are trained to do a lot more than just fight fires, in fact, medical emergencies make up the majority of the calls that most fire departments respond to.
Not all firefighters are required to be paramedics, but most departments do require you to be an EMT. However, many fire departments, particularly in the US, are giving priority to recruiting firefighters who are licensed paramedics and some departments do require it.
It ought to be obvious but, of course, a firefighter is expected to help when they can with sick or injured people, thus, there is a distinct career advantage to be a paramedic or EMT. There are some departments that will only hire paramedics. Keep reading for more information about the requirements and training for firefighters.
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Firefighter Minimum Requirements
There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to end up dealing with medical emergencies when you work as a firefighter. It was estimated that in 2012, about 68% of all calls that were received by fire departments across America involved some kind of medical emergency.
As first responders, firefighters are going to need to be able to give first aid treatment and CPR (that is cardiopulmonary resuscitation – sometimes thought of as “mouth to mouth” but which is, in fact, a bit more involved than that) to sick or injured people.
And because EMS (emergency medical service) calls make up the majority of what firefighters do these days, the more medical aid you are trained to perform on your patients, the more valuable employee you are.
That means that most fire departments are looking for you to have at least some basic first aid training and the majority will require you to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) because that means you are far more likely to be able to save lives when you reach the scene of the incident.
EMT Basic Training
According to EMS.gov there are four expected outcomes of EMT Basic Training and they are:
- You should be able to assess the nature and potential seriousness of the individual’s injuries or condition so that you can estimate the requirements for their emergency medical care.
- You should be able to administer emergency medical care based on that assessment.
- You should be able to move, lift, position and otherwise handle the individual being treated in such a way as to minimize any further pain or discomfort and prevent any further injuries from taking place.
- To do this safely and effectively at all times.
To enroll in this kind of training you are expected to have a high school diploma (or GED) which ideally includes some courses in physiology and anatomy. You also have to be certified in CPR.
You can take an EMT basic certification course at many technical schools or community colleges throughout the United States. The whole course requires at least 120 hours and usually over one semester or 4-6 months.
You are expected to do coursework, reading, and skills practice and will be expected to undertake written and manipulative examinations in the classroom, as well as some experience in an ambulance or in a hospital.
Also read: Can EMTs Start IVs/Intubate/Give Stitches?
Intermediate/Advanced EMT Training
Note: Some states, have another level of EMT certification above EMT basic, but less training then a Paramedic. This is referred to as an EMT-Intermediate or Advanced EMT. However, some states only recognize EMT basic and Paramedic certifications.
Becoming a paramedic is no small task. You need to begin with studying CPR and then the EMT basics course that we’ve outlined above.
The next phase of your training is the advanced EMT course – this is a much deeper level of study than the basics course and this is reflected in the fact that it takes nearly 1,000 hours of additional training to achieve.
You will learn, among other things, how to operate artificial airway devices, how to give an IV drip and how to dispense certain medications.
This doesn’t make you a paramedic when you complete the EMT advanced course. It does, however, open the door for you to gain practical certification as a paramedic which is earned with approximately 1,300 hours more training.
This certification teaches, among many other things, how to administer medication via an IV drip. It can take up 2 years to complete. You would expect to receive an associate degree on completion. Though this varies by state.
Are Firefighters Paramedics in the USA?
While there is no official position on whether firefighters in the USA need to be paramedics, the truth is that the hiring practices of many fire departments are placing more and more emphasis on firefighters being qualified paramedics.
This means that it will be easier to find a job as a firefighter if you are certified paramedic, it also means that you are more likely to be promoted and retained in the future. You should consider the impact of this certification on your career and if you can manage it – we’d strongly recommend that you do become a certified paramedic.
We would note, however, that if you haven’t achieved this certification and don’t feel, for whatever reason, that it is possible to obtain it in your current circumstances, this shouldn’t deter you from applying to be a firefighter. It is something that you can learn at a later stage of your career if necessary but be warned, it may be harder to find a job in the first place without it.
It’s important to recognize that firefighters are highly skilled individuals and that while medical qualifications are becoming increasingly essential to a firefighter’s career they are not the only qualifications that a firefighter will need to hold.
An entry-level firefighter will be expected to attend a bunch of courses run either by the state or their fire department which teach both firefighting techniques and information about building codes (which is essential to understanding the nature of fires in buildings).
They may be expected to conduct an apprenticeship program, that involves continuous assessment of their skills and learning too. This ensures that they achieve a basic level of competence before assuming the role of a full-fledged firefighter.
Most firefighters will have some form of post-secondary qualification in fire science (or some clearly related field) and many will also spend some time at the National Fire Academy acquiring specialist knowledge that aids them in their ability to fight fires and to manage themselves and others as firefighters.
Academic qualifications are not the only thing that matters to your firefighting career, either. In addition to learning skills – you must meet some basic physical, medical and background qualification standards to be a firefighter.
- You’ve got to be able to climb stairs with equipment
- You’ve got to able to use and move extension ladders
- You need to be able to drag a hose from A to B and do so quickly and safely
- You need to pass a medical test (including sight and hearing tests)
- You need to pass a written assessment
- You may also need to pass a drug test and background check
In short, firefighting is a career for committed individuals who can hold themselves to the highest standards. It is this level of discipline and effectiveness that the public counts on to feel secure that when they call for a firefighter, they get the best possible service.
For more information on the requirements to become a firefighter read:
- How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide
- Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT
- Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained
- Firefighter Written Test: What to Expect and How to Prepare
- Can You Be a Firefighter with a Disability? What You Should Know?
- Can You Be a Firefighter with Hearing Loss/Hearing Aids?
- Can You Be a Firefighter with Past Drug Use?
Why This Matters to Firefighters
There is an ever-growing demand for firefighters in the United States. There is expected to be 5% year-on-year growth in the profession between 2018 and 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor.
However, given the aging population curve in the United States there is likely to be more and more competition for work as a firefighter too.
The more qualifications that you have, particularly in medical fields and fire fighting fields, the more likely you are to make it through ever tougher recruitment processes.
The best opportunities of them all are going to be reserved for firefighters that are licensed and experienced as paramedics because this means that they bring the highest level of medical skills to the job and can offer a level of competence that allows for a higher level of medical care for the patients.
Also read: EMS vs EMT: What’s The Difference?
Do firefighters have to be paramedics or EMTs? Some departments will only hire paramedics for firefighter positions, but many more will only require you to be an EMT.
In many parts of the world and certainly across the US, more and more fire departments are looking to up their game and if a qualified paramedic applies to become a firefighter, they are more likely to get the job than someone without these qualifications.
When you’re in the business of saving lives – you want to do so in the most efficient way possible. Firefighters that can double as paramedics when they’re the first people to arrive on the scene are better placed to save lives. It’s really that simple.