Is Firefighting a Good Job? Firefighter Career Advantages


If you’re looking to change your career path, you want to make sure that you’re choosing a career that meets all of your needs. You want a job that pays the bills, but also a job that you genuinely enjoy doing. Is Firefighting a good job to consider?

Firefighting is a good job to have! Most firefighters you ask will tell you how much they enjoy what they do, which cannot be said about many jobs. It can be extremely rewarding when you give back to your community, it is physically and mentally challenging, and generally decent.

We will discuss the pros and cons of being a career firefighter in this article. That can help you to figure out whether it’s a suitable career or better for you as a volunteer opportunity.

For more information, read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete GuideOpens in a new tab. and Is it Hard to Become a Firefighter?Opens in a new tab.

Here is a video that talks about the pros and cons of being a firefighter:

Giving Back to the Community

Being a firefighter can be a thankless job, but the work you’ll be doing will definitely be worth it. You get work with your friends (co-workers) in a dynamic environment that forces you to find solutions to challenging situations, using your tools and training, with potentially life-saving or changing outcomes. It can be stressful but it is like no other job.

Being firefighter means being able to give back to the community.Opens in a new tab. You’ll play a very important role in the protection of your neighbors and others in your town. It’s an incredible way to “pay it forward” and help those who really need it!

What You’ll Get Out of It

Here is a video showing a day in the life of a firefighter and why he thinks it’s the best job ever:

You’re probably not becoming a firefighter for you, but there are a lot of benefits that you might experience once you spend some time in the field.

For one, being a firefighter is incredibly rewarding. Not only do you get to save lives and rescue people from dangerous situations, but you also get to provide people with hope and courage.

Being a firefighter means preventing excess damage to a home when a fire occurs, performing life-saving medical techniques to help injured people and keeping families safe and healthy. And, you’re doing it all for other people.

The words I would use to describe being a firefighter are:

  • Challenging
  • Ever-changing
  • Making a difference
  • Rewarding
  • Exciting

Paying it Forward

We’ve all heard of paying it forward, but being a firefighter truly takes that phrase to a whole new level!

As a firefighter, you’re able to give back to the community in plenty of ways. In addition to saving lives and extinguishing fires, you’ll also be a fixture in the community. For a community that’s done so much for you as you were growing up or settling in with your new family, you might feel as if it’s your place to give a little bit back.

Pay & Salary

If you are looking for a job that will make you rich, firefighting is not the answer. That being said, you still need to pay the bills. With the number of hours you’ll be putting in over the course of a week and the month, you want to guarantee that the time and effort you’re putting in can allow you to take care of your family.

In addition to a base salary and salary increases as you spend more time with a department, there can be plenty of opportunities for overtime as well. That means you’ll have a little more control over what you’re bringing home at the end of every week.

Also read: Can Firefighters Make 100k Per Year?Opens in a new tab.

Average Pay

The average pay you’ll be earning as a firefighter really depends on which state you live in and how much experience you have.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average firefighter earned about $49,620 in 2018. That’s about $23.85 an hour.

For reference, the average pay for all Americans in 2018 was about $52,145, meaning being a firefighter will earn you a salary a little below average.

But these numbers are just the national average and salaries usually correspond with the cost of living in the area. Some firefighters will make significantly more or less than these numbers, so check the departments in the area you’d like to work.

Overtime and Additional Pay

Though you’ll start out with a lower than average salary, there’s always room for improvement.

As a firefighter, you’ll typically be given the opportunity to earn step raises over time as you gain time and experience with the department, as well as opportunities for overtime (my department calls it “Callback”).

That means you can supplement your current entry-level salary by:

  • Putting in more hours at the station (when available)
  • Working towards promotion to driver/engineer, captain and beyond
  • Staying with one department for a longer period of time (step and longevity raises)

You can also improve your salary by getting additional trainingOpens in a new tab.. The more versatile your training is, the more useful you will be to your department. Many departments will offer pay incentives for things like paramedic licenseOpens in a new tab., bilingualOpens in a new tab. abilities, specialty rescueOpens in a new tab. or hazmatOpens in a new tab. training, or other educational hours completed.

Typical Benefits of Full-Time Firefighters

Like most full-time government positions, being a firefighter comes with tons of useful benefit programs. If you’re one of the providers for your family, you’ll appreciate the health insurance programs that you can enroll your entire family in.

With such a dangerous job, there are also opportunities to enroll in life insurance programs and retirement plans. That makes firefighting not just a great career for you, but for your entire family in the long run. 

Health & Medical

The exact type of health and medical benefits that you’ll get as a firefighter depends on your department and state. Here’s a look at some of the benefitsOpens in a new tab. you might be entitled to.

  • Regular health insurance
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Prescription/RX
  • Emergency medical care

Keep in mind that these benefits aren’t only for you. As a full-time state employee, you’ll be able to extend these benefits to your loved ones as well. That means your spouse and any children you might have.

If you happen to be married, it gives both you and your spouse a choice when it comes to whose health insurance you’ll be using for the family.

Pension / Retirement Plans

PensionsOpens in a new tab. are not as common as they used to be and the benefits are not quite as lucrative as they once were. However, as government employees, most firefighters will get a pension better than many other industries.

In Calfornia, CalPersOpens in a new tab. is the main pension fund that is used, but there are many others that are similar in other states.

The basics of how a pension worksOpens in a new tab. are that you and your employer pay into the fund at predetermined percentages of your salary. You can then collect payments once you reach the eligible retirement age based on your years of service.

Example: Your pension is 2.7% at 57 years old. You get hired at 27 years old. You retire at 57, after working for 30 years. (30 x 2.7% = 81%) So, your pension will be 81% of your salary. This is just an example, not a real payment. There are a lot more factors like maximum payments, etc.

This can be a huge benefit to your financial security in retirement.

Firefighter Unions

As a full-time firefighter in the United States, you’ll be given the chance to join the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFFOpens in a new tab.). This union was developed to ensure safe job conditions, competitive pay, and benefits for all firefighter members.

There are quite a few benefits of being associated with the firefighter unionOpens in a new tab.. These include:

  • Legal assistance & advice
  • Pension-related resources
  • Workplace dispute support
  • Additional training opportunities
  • Access to discounts & scholarships

If you do decide to pursue a career as a firefighter, it’s highly recommended that you join the union as well. You might not need it now, but they’ll be there to support you when you need it down the line.

Other Perks

As if the health and medical benefits weren’t enough, there are some other perks associated with being a firefighter. The extra perks all depend on the state and department that you’re working with.

Here are some examples of extra benefits New York State firefightersOpens in a new tab. have access to.

  • Life insurance benefits (accidental death & dismemberment)
  • Full or partial tuition reimbursement
  • Additional loan opportunities

Based on these available perks, you may have access to additional opportunities you didn’t have before. Though these shouldn’t be the only reason that you’re deciding to become a firefighter, but they are a major plus.

Requirements to Be a Firefighter

Many careers require a college degree or intense training to even qualify for an entry-level position. What’s great about firefighting is that the requirements are pretty minimal and easy to pass if you’re considered healthy and physically fit.

There are basic age, health, and education requirements. You’ll also have to demonstrate your competency and pass written and physical exams to prove you’d be a great firefighter. After passing a few extra evaluations, you’ll be good to go and ready to start your career!

For more information about the hiring process, read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete GuideOpens in a new tab. and How to Become a Firefighter in CaliforniaOpens in a new tab.

Basic Requirements

To be able to apply for a position at your local fire station or attend the fire academy, there are a couple of criteria that you have to meet. 

For the most part, your state will require you to:

If you said “yes,” to all of these, you’re already well on your way to being qualified to be a firefighter. There are a few other things you’ll have to do though.

Written & Physical Exams

For more information about these tests, read: Tips for Passing the CPATOpens in a new tab. and Best Firefighter Exam Prep BooksOpens in a new tab.

As a firefighter, you’ll have to pass both a written and a physical exam to prove that you’re a good candidate for the position.

Here’s what you should expect from each.

  • Written exam. The written exam usually lasts less than three hours and consists of between 100 and 150 questions. The questions will test your reasoning and comprehension skills math, memory, spatial awareness, and social aptitude. You’ll usually need at least an 80% to pass the test, but higher scores will give you a higher placement on the eligibility list within your state.
  • Physical exam. The physical exam usually lasts 10 minutes and 20 seconds exactly. During the test, you’ll be put through a series of eight rigorous events similar to situations you might find yourself in as a firefighter. As long as you finish all events in the given time limit, you’ll pass the exam. A common physical test is called the CPATOpens in a new tab..

Read: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter- ExplainedOpens in a new tab.

After you pass all the hiring steps and get a job offer, comes the fire academy. The fire academy typically lasts between 10 and 24 weeks (depending on your state) and trains you all about being a firefighter.

Read: Fire Academy 101: What to Expect and How to PrepareOpens in a new tab.

Passing Evaluations

There are a few extra things you must prove to show you’re fit to be a firefighter. At the end of the day, fire chiefs just want to make sure that they have an intelligent and physically able workforce that can perform all of its duties. 

Take a look at some other evaluations you might have to pass in order to be offered a full-time job as a firefighter.

Health & Injury Risks

Most of the risks associated with being a firefighter are related to health and injury. Running into dangerous structures and fires can be life-threatening, so there’s always a risk of getting hurt or sick while on a call.

There are risks associated with being on a specific call, such as experiencing smoke inhalation or getting physically injured while at a fire scene. But, there are also long-term consequences you’ll be more susceptible to. But most injuries occur during the routine, non-emergency situations.

Smoke Inhalation

three firefighters fighting smoky fire

This is viewed as the “silent killer” when it comes to being a firefighter. Though firefighters are required to wear protective air tanks for breathing (SCBAs),Opens in a new tab. there’s always a chance of exposing your respiratory system to the smoke in a burning building.

When you’re exposed to smoke for too long, you might experience the following symptomsOpens in a new tab.:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty or pain when breathing

But with improvements in technology, if you wear all your Personal Protective Equipment (SCBA, Helmet, Turnout Coat and Pants, Boots, Gloves, Flash Hood, etc.) when you are supposed to, you risk of exposure is much lower.

Getting Injured on a Call

When you enter into a burning structure, you have no idea what you’re walking into. The fire may have started a few minutes ago, but it could have been active for hours.

With a weakened physical structure of the building, you’re more likely to trip and fall, fall through flooring or stairs, or be injured by falling debris.

Or you could be exposed to an infectious disease while treating someone on an emergency medical call.

There’s always a risk that comes along with responding to a call. You need to keep that in mind, especially if you have a family at home that you’re currently supporting.

However, the modern fire service is always continuing to evolve and change. They are working to find safer, more efficient ways to do the job. It is a collaborative effort to keep firefighters and the public as safe as possible.

Long-Term Smoke & Fire Exposure Risks

With so much exposure to smoke, chemicals, and other gases, it’s no surprise that firefighters are more likely to develop long-term illnesses and diseases as a result of their job.

As the years spent on the job accumulates slowly, you’ll be more at risk for developing the following conditionsOpens in a new tab..

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Hearing loss

Most of these are preventable by following proper protocol, but there’s no way to prevent absolutely everything.

Time Requirements

You’ll enjoy the extra money in your bank account and the feeling you get when you give back to the community, but it does require a lot of time. And that means a lot of time away from your friends and your family.

Typical firefighter shifts can be 24 or 48 hours on with a few days rest in between. That means spending long periods of time away from your loved ones. Also, being a firefighter could possibly mean that you’re always “on-call.”

Time On the Job

Being a firefighter isn’t like your average 9 to 5 job. In fact, you’ll probably spend more time away from your family than most other jobs.

Firefighter shiftsOpens in a new tab. are usually 24 hours on, 48 hours off or 48 hours on, 96 hours off (though some departments use less common schedules like day and night shifts). That means entire days spent away from your family and several days in a row that you’ll be on duty.

During each shift, you’ll obviously be allowed time to eat and sleep. But, there is no guarantee for either as you need to be ready to respond at all times while on duty.

Depending on staffing, you may be subject to mandatory overtime. This means you may have to stay at work for an extra shift or come in on your day off. Depending on the area and the economy, this could mean working a lot more than your normal hours. While this is great for finances, it can make home/family life and childcare difficult.

Constantly On-Call

Even when you’re off the clock, you’re never really off the clock.

When a huge emergency is called in and your department doesn’t exactly have the manpower to cover it, you might be required to come in on your day off. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re currently located. If a call comes in, the department will likely expect you to be able to respond. 

This usually isn’t a frequent occurrence, but it is something to be prepared for.

Also read: What Do Wildland Firefighters Do In The Off-Season?Opens in a new tab.

Conclusion

Firefighting is an incredibly rewarding job that’s truly worth it if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. Though you will have to give up some much-valued time with your friends and family and put yourself at risk in dangerous situations, being a firefighter has plenty of benefits.

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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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