Firefighter vs Nurse: Which Job Is Better?


With firefighters currently responding to more and more medical emergencies, it’s very natural for people to wonder whether or not they might not be better off going into nursing rather than taking up firefighting. After all, if you’re going to treat patients, why not treat them in a hospital? However, it’s not as simple a choice as you might think, and you should look carefully at both careers before making a decision on which to join. 

Being a firefighter or a nurse 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.

You want to make you choose the right career for you. While being a nurse or a firefighter both have some advantages and disadvantages, you need to pick which type of work you will enjoy the most. Lets take a look at what each job entails to help you decide. Keep reading for more information.

Also read: Firefighter or Cop: Which Is a Better Job?

What Is Being A Nurse Like?

firefighter vs nurse

Nurses are concerned with treating patients in fixed locations. So, they work in hospitals, residential homes or may visit homes if a patient is housebound.

A nurse, in the United States, must be a registered nurse or RN to work in these locations. Many jobs even require a BSN license (Bachelor of Science Degree) to apply.

They also offer support to individuals around the patient (such as family or friends) and may be responsible for patient education when it comes to taking care of their own medical needs when nursing staff are not available.

They may also be called upon to provide emotional support for the patient and occasionally, the patient’s family.

Rather like doctors, many nurses will opt to specialize in a specific field of work. So, you may meet a nurse who is a specialist in radiology treatment or oncology or even mental health care. Obviously, there are a huge number of options within medicine for nurses to specialize in.

A nurse will be expected to:

  • Build rapport with the patient and those around them in order to make them feel comfortable and to build confidence in the treatment they are receiving
  • Act as a component of a bigger medical group that will include surgeons, doctors, paramedics, etc.
  • They will monitor an individual patient’s well-being and may be expected to monitor and even record vital sign readings 
  • Nurses will also be able to request specific types of testing for their patients when they deem it necessary
  • They are fully trained to conduct and deliver most forms of medical intervention apart from specialist surgery and are as comfortable giving an injection as they are inserting a catheter
  • They will also spend much of their day writing and compiling documentation including reports on patient well being 

A nurse studies for around 5 years to become registered.

While the specific qualifications for nurses vary from state to state. Most will have, at a minimum, an associate’s degree and they will have passed the nursing registration examination. 

To get a better idea of what it’s like to be a nurse, watch this video following a Emergency Department nurse in Nebraska:

Nurses earn on average around $71,000 a year according to Salary.com, but we would warn you to take this figure with a pinch of salt. Salaries vary hugely based on geography, specialism, and the type of care (private or public) that the nurse works in.

The overall salary range is much larger than the average figure suggests, with many earning far more or less than the national average. 

Also read: Do Paramedics Make More Money Than Nurses? [Salaries]

What Is Being A Firefighter Like?

Firefighters in the modern fire service, essentially carry out two different jobs, though they may find that the skills for each overlap slightly.

They act as a traditional firefighter whose job it is to tackle and extinguish fires and minimize the risks to themselves, their team, the public, and property.

They also act as an emergency medical technician and more commonly now, they may also be a fully qualified paramedic.

Due to a decline in the number of fires in American cities (thanks to better building codes, better alarm and preventative systems, and better, less-flammable materials), firefighters have been tasked with more areas to be of service.

The biggest of those is Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

So, it was decided that a firefighter when not involved in firefighting could be trained to respond to emergency medical interventions. Thus, firefighting and nursing have more in common than they may appear to have at first glance.

A firefighter will be expected to:

  • Respond to calls to fight fires and work as part of an effective team to reduce the risks as much as possible in order to protect themselves, others, and the properties that the fires occur in
  • Work with other firefighters and the general public in a way that builds respect and rapport
  • Deliver emergency first aid when attending an emergency medical call
  • Assess scenes of fires and of medical calls for environmental risks and prioritize the way that services will be provided
  • Be able to monitor a patient’s overall level of health and respond to changes in their vital signs
  • Look to stabilize a patient so that they can be moved to a treatment center
  • Drive a variety of vehicles in emergency situations 
  • Communicate effectively in both written and spoken form with a variety of different individuals and agencies
  • Clean, maintain and sometimes repair equipment and tools
  • Complete reports of incidents they respond to for medical and legal records
  • Respond to a variety of other calls such as hazardous materials leaks or spills, vehicle accidents, specialty rescues (water, elevator, confined space, high and low angle rescue, trench rescue), service calls, fire or medical alarm activations, gas leaks, or unknown odor investigations, power lines down or damaged, and variety of others.

Qualifying as a firefighter is a very different business to qualifying as a nurse. Each firefighter will have to meet the requirements of their chosen fire department.

The basic qualifications required to be hired are a high school diploma and a basic EMT certificate, but many firefighters will have an associate’s degree in fire science as well as a full paramedic qualification.

Firefighters must also complete full fire training (fire academy) after being hired and a probationary period. 

Thus, it can take from 2 years to 5 years (or more) to become a fully qualified firefighter. 

To better understand what a firefighters job is like, watch this video following a firefighter in Colorado:

The average firefighter earns about $51,000 a year according to Salary.com. However, once again this is not a very useful figure and this will vary dramatically based on your geographical location, seniority and overall skillset. 

For example, in California, a mid-rank firefighter can earn $80,000 a year plus paid overtime. This means, depending on where you work, firefighters may not always make less in salary than nurses, even though the national average is considerably lower.

Can I Change From Firefighter To Nurse Or Vice-Versa?

One thing you should be aware of is that you can often convert from firefighter into nursing in a fairly straightforward manner later on in life. And it’s also fairly straightforward for a nurse to qualify as a paramedic later in life.

However, would-be nurses should be aware that it is harder to join the fire service after the age of 35 than it is for a 35-year-old firefighter to become a nurse. This is due to the highly demanding physical nature of firefighting, it’s not impossible, it’s just harder. 

In fact, many older firefighters do become nurses when the demands of the fire service become too much for them as they grow older. 

Here is a video about someone who works as both a firefighter and a nurse:

Which Job Is Better For You?

As you may have realized by now, firefighter and nurse are very different professions, indeed and while they may have some similar skills – the overlap isn’t so great either. 

Nursing will usually attract people looking for a lower risk position that allows them to spend all their lives working on patient care and related activities. They are often happy to be based in one place and to focus on a specific area of practice.

Firefighters, on the other hand, relish the wealth of different challenges their jobs pose. They enjoy the roaming nature of their work and thrive on advanced teamwork.

Both groups can earn similar salaries, etc. so the decision to become a firefighter or a nurse boils down to what would you prefer to do?

Conclusion

Firefighter vs Nurse: Which job is better? From a salary perspective, at first glance, it looks like nurses have a big advantage. However, while the initial salary may not be as high as a nurse’s over a period of time, some firefighters will earn more than their nursing counterparts.

So, it really boils down to which role are you better suited to? Firefighters thrive on the physical as well as mental challenges of their jobs and they like the dynamic nature of their work too. Nurses tend to spend more time in one place and are able to focus on longer-term patient care. Both can be very rewarding careers and they are both respected professions. 

Related Articles:

How Long Does It Take To Go From EMT To Paramedic?

Paramedic vs Firefighter: What’s The Difference?

Do Firefighters Have to Be Paramedics or EMTs?

Chase

I have been a Firefighter in Northern California since 2012 and a Paramedic since 2008. My site is dedicated to helping answer questions people have about the fire service. I am passionate about helping to share what I have learned and assisting those who are pursuing a career as a firefighter. Thanks for coming to my site!

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