There are strict standards to become a firefighter, which makes sense because the safety of the public, as well as the other firefighters, depends on it. This leads individuals who are interested in pursuing a fire service career to wonder just what these standards are and whether or not they have what it takes. Many wonder about the vision requirements and whether or not they need to have perfect vision to be a firefighter.
You do not need to have perfect vision to be a firefighter. You simply need to pass an eye exam and meet the vision standards set by the fire department. (These are usually set based on NFPA 1582 guidelines.)
This post will discuss what NFPA 1582 is, what the vision standards for firefighters are, and how things like glasses, contacts, and Lasik surgery can affect your chances of being a firefighter.
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Note: None of the information in this article is medical advice, I am just breaking down the information found in NFPA 1582 for reader convenience.
Table of Contents
Firefighter Vision Standards – NFPA 1582
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve safety related to fire and other hazards. One of the ways they do this is to set codes and standards for fire departments to follow.
These standards are not mandatory for every department, but they are usually considered “industry best practices” and are adopted by the vast majority of fire departments.
NFPA Standard 1582 is the Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments. This document outlines all the criteria that they recommend to be required for new and current firefighters. Most fire departments will use these guidelines to determine who is fit and able to work as a firefighter.
However, remember, these standards are not mandated and each fire department gets the final say on the requirements they have for new firefighters.
In NFPA 1582, they set forth the required vision standards for firefighters as Category A or Category B. Category A conditions are recommended as not fit to be a firefighter. Category B conditions mean that you can be a firefighter as long as you can perform all 14 essential job tasks of a firefighter (as dictated in the policy).
Category A – Eyes (Disqualifying):
- Far visual acuity worse than 20/40 binocular, corrected with contacts or glasses or far visual acuity worse than 20/100 binocular for wearers of hard contacts or glasses or new soft contact wearers, uncorrected
- Color perception – monochromatic vision resulting in the inability to use imaging devices, such as a thermal imaging camera (TIC)
- Far visual acuity worse than 20/100 in the worse eye, corrected or uncorrected
- Monocular vision, stereopsis without functional capacity, night blindness or loss of peripheral vision
- Peripheral vision in the horizontal medium of less than 110 degrees in the better eye or any condition that significantly affects peripheral vision in both eyes
- Any eye condition that results in the candidate not being able to perform one or more of the essential job tasks
- Near visual acuity less than 20/100 binocular, corrected or uncorrected
Category B – Eyes (May be disqualifying)
- Diseases of the eye, such as retinal detachment, progressive retinopathy, or optic neuritis
- Ophthalmological procedures, radial keratotomy, Lasik procedure, or repair of retinal detachment
- Peripheral vision in the horizontal medium of less than 110 degrees in the better eye or any condition that affects peripheral vision in both eyes
So, if your vision testing shows you don’t meet the standards for near and far vision standards, with one eye and both eyes, or if you have any of the other conditions listed under Category A, you will most likely not be allowed to become a firefighter.
However, if your vision exceeds these standards you should not have an issue. Even if you have a Category B condition, you will just need to prove to the fire department and their doctors that you can perform all 14 essential job tasks of a firefighter.
For a list of all 14 essential job tasks, per NFPA 1582, read: Can You Be a Firefighter with a Disability?
Can You Be a Firefighter with Bad Vision?
Whether or not you can be a firefighter with bad vision will really depend on how bad your eyesight is. You will have vision testing as part of your pre-hiring medical exam and you will be evaluated based on the vision requirements in NFPA 1582.
It seems obvious that firefighters need to be able to see well. They are put in dangerous situations where they may rely on their senses to make good decisions that can affect the safety of the public, as well as their own safety. But as we said, they don’t necessarily need perfect vision.
As we talked about above, any Category A eye conditions, which include strict eyesight standards can cause automatic disqualification, whereas Category B eye conditions will not necessarily prevent you from being a firefighter.
Firefighters need to have good vision to be safe in their work, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. So depending on what you define as bad eyesight, it may keep you from becoming a firefighter.
Can Firefighters Get Lasik?
Lasik is a refractive eye surgery performed using lasers to reshape the cornea. Lasik stands for “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis”. This is a common procedure used to treat nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism.
So, can you be a firefighter with Lasik? Yes, you can most likely be a firefighter with Lasik. NFPA 1582 lists Lasik as a Category B procedure. This means that if you can perform all 14 essential job tasks of a firefighter, and meet the other vision standards, you can be a firefighter.
Lasik is widely used and I personally know a few firefighters who have had the procedure with good results. It seems to have had only a positive effect on their ability to do their job. Lasik should not hinder your ability to get hired as a firefighter.
Here is a story about a firefighter who got Lasik surgery and his experience:
Can You Be a Firefighter if You Wear Glasses/Contact Lenses?
We talked about all the vision standards required of firefighters, but what about glasses. Do they allow firefighters to wear glasses or do they get in the way of them doing their job effectively?
So, can you be a firefighter if you wear glasses or contact lenses? Yes, you can be a firefighter with glasses or contact lenses. You will be subject to the vision standards of NFPA 1582, both while wearing vision correction and without.
Some of the vision standards apply specifically to corrected vision. Read the Category A and Category B vision standards listed above. You will need to exceed all the Category A standards to become a firefighter.
That being said, there are plenty of firefighters who wear glasses. It is very common, so don’t let that stop you.
One concern with wearing glasses is that the frames won’t allow the SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) mask to get the necessary seal on your face and that this will prevent you from breathing clean air in a fire.
This can be addressed with contacts, Lasik, or even special prescription spectacle insert kits that are designed to fit in your SCBA mask. You can find these inserts here.
There are some jobs where your having good eyesight isn’t as much of a concern. Firefighting is not one of those jobs. Firefighting requires quick decisions and good judgment in a dynamic, changing environment. This puts eyesight and other senses at a premium, because these decision can have a real affect on peoples safety and lives.
However, that doesn’t mean that all firefighters need 20/20 vision. So, I hope this information can help all prospective firefighters in their journey to getting hired.