Firefighter or Cop: Which Is a Better Job?

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When choosing a career path, many individuals consider working as a firefighter or a police officer. It may be hard to tell what each job actually entails, as it is usually very different from what you might see in movies or on TV. So you may be wondering, which job is better?

Being a firefighter or a cop (police officer) can both be great career choices, however, neither job is better than the other. They are both very necessary professions and which is better suited to you will depend on your personality and the type of work you enjoy.

In this article, we will compare firefighting and police work as career choices. We will talk about the types of tasks you will be responsible for. We will also look at some pros and cons of each.

Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.

Also read: Fire Academy vs. Police Academy: Which is Harder?

What Is More Dangerous Firefighter or Policeman?

One of the factors affecting your decision to become either a firefighter or a cop is a risk. It is important that you are aware of the dangers that come along with the job so that you can be informed. This way you can make a better career choice for yourself and what you are comfortable with.

Firefighters are put into risky situations in their line of work. This can include the dangers of going into burning buildings, working a car accident on a busy freeway, or other situations that have the potential for traumatic accidents.

The less obvious risks are the exposure-related dangers. Firefighters are exposed to smoke, exhaust, chemicals, and other toxins from various sources. Though there have been great improvements in reducing these exposures over the years (with SCBAs, fire rehab, diesel exhaust cleaning/collection), it is still a very real risk.

It has been shown in various studies that firefighters don’t have a shorter life expectancy than the average population, however, they do have a higher risk of getting cancer (9%) and a greater chance of dying from cancer (14%) than the average person.

This article goes into more detail about firefighter risks and life expectancy: Do Firefighters Have a Shorter Life Expectancy? Firefighter Risk

Here are some links to studies and articles relating to firefighter life expectancy and cancer risks:

Being a cop always comes with certain risks. While you may not have to worry about fires, you are expected to handle situations involving weapons and violence.

Also read: Can Firefighters Carry Guns? Should They?

Unlike being a firefighter, when you are a cop, people aren’t always happy to see you. They may be hostile, aggressive, and even violent towards you. You are expected to maintain your composure while handling whatever situation you encounter.

It may not happen often (hopefully not ever) but people shoot at police officers and that is a very real risk. You will most likely wear a bulletproof vest, but that only offers a certain amount of protection.

In addition to the violence, you can still be exposed to certain chemicals (though probably not as much of a risk as it is to firefighters). Imagine going to a call that turns out to be a drug lab, filled with dangerous chemicals.

A study of 2500 police officers from 1950-1990 found that police officers had a significantly shorter life expectancy than the general population. Although not all sources agree on this.

“For each five year age category, from 25-85 years of age, police officers had a lower life expectancy than the U.S. population…”

Life Expectancy in Police Officers: A Comparison with the U.S. General Population

Numbers show that being a cop has become less dangerous over the years. See this article for a graph that depicts the decrease in police deaths over the years.

So, let’s compare the statistics. In 2013, there were roughly 627,000 police officers in the united states and 135 officers died in the line of duty. Compare that to 1.1 million firefighters in the US that same year and 97 firefighters died in the line of duty.

These numbers vary by year, but that means that cops have about a 1-in-4644 chance of dying, while firefighters have about a 1-in-11,340 chance of dying.

Based on these numbers, being a police officer is definitely more dangerous, though neither are the safest profession. The studies also show that cops have a shorter life expectancy compared to firefighters.

Also read: What Is The Role Of A First Responder?

Who Is Better Firefighter or Police Officer?

“What’s do cops and firefighters have in common? They both want to be firefighters!”

Some firefighter

Jokes aside, neither job is better than the other. Both cops and firefighters are necessary and very important when they are needed. If there is a big fire or a serious medical emergency, the firefighter is better trained and equipped to handle it. However, if there is someone shooting, the police are who you want.

As far as which one is right for you as a career choice, that depends on who you are and what you like to do.

Note: This information is coming from the perspective of a career firefighter (me), however, I work alongside police officers daily, so I have a basic idea of what their job is like.

Wildland Firefighter

Firefighters respond to fires, medical calls, car accidents, hazardous materials leaks, service calls, as well as many others. Basically, whenever someone has an emergency or just needs help, but they aren’t sure who else to call, they send the firefighters.

Also read:

Firefighters usually work 24 or 48-hour shifts (though not always) based at a fire station. The average week is 56 hours per week. They work on a crew of 3-5 people and respond on their apparatus (engine or truck). When not on an emergency, they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the station, apparatus, and equipment, completing reports, inspecting businesses, frequent training, and drills.

Also read:

New York police officer

Police officers respond to disturbances (violence, threats), car accidents, drug-related incidents, intoxicated people, and other law violations. They also can self dispatch a call if they see an issue or crime being committed. They also give traffic and other tickets.

Police usually work day or night shifts (10-12 hour shifts), usually 3-4 days a week. The average week is 40 hours. They spend most of their shift patrolling in their car, by themselves or with a partner. They are also responsible for reports.

Police officers get to / have to be the bad guys to stop and prevent crime. Most people aren’t usually happy to see them. Firefighters get to be the heroes. Though not everyone is happy when they arrive, they usually are and they are overall more well-liked.

Deciding which is right for you will depend on what you like to do and how you like to help people.

Here is a quiz that may help you determine if your personality is better suited to be a firefighter or police officer: Personality Quiz- Firefighter or Police Officer?

Firefighter vs. Police Officer Salary

While it shouldn’t be the primary decision maker for your career choice, salary always comes into play. You have to be able to support your family and know what kind of lifestyle you can expect based on the job path you choose.

The salary for a firefighter will vary by location, but the average is between $35,000 – $48,000 per year. Here is a list of averages by state. But this is just the average, in the high cost of living areas, it can be significantly higher. For example, in San Francisco, California, the average salary for firefighters is $86,000 per year and some firefighters make up to $208,000 or more!

Here is a video talking about firefighter salaries:

Police officers make a similar salary, but on average, it is a little bit higher than firefighters. Police officers make, on average, $38,000 – $53,000 per year. Here is a list of state averages. Police can also make much more than the average. San Jose, California (another very expensive place to live) pays police officers an average of $91,000!

Here is a video that goes over salaries for different police positions:

In general, there is much more competition to become a firefighter than to become a police officer. This shouldn’t affect which profession you choose, but it is something to be aware of.


Deciding on a career path is a big decision and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whether you would be a better fit and happy working as a cop or firefighter depends on what you are looking for and the type of work that you find most rewarding.

You can check with your local departments about doing a ride-along with both a police officer and firefighters, to help determine what the job is actually like and which is better for you.

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