If you’ve been at the scene of a medical emergency recently, you may have been surprised to see firefighters arrive rather than the paramedics. If you’re wondering why this should be and whether there’s any difference between the two professions? Then you’re in the right place, we’ve got all you need to know about this topic.
Paramedics respond to emergency medical calls and provide medical treatment and transport. Firefighters extinguish fires and respond to other emergencies. A firefighter can also be an EMT or Paramedic and provide medical care.
Keep reading to learn more about the differences between firefighters and paramedics, as well as, the reasons why firefighters respond to medical calls. Check it out.
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Can You Be A Paramedic Without Being A Firefighter?
Yes, you can be a paramedic without being a firefighter.
This is a very common career path and there’s absolutely no need to spend any time learning about putting out fires to qualify as a treatment specialist for emergency situations.
So, why all the confusion? Well, a firefighter’s primary job is to fight fires. This is pretty obvious, right?
What might not be so obvious is that there are far fewer fires in modern times than there were in the past. That’s for a few reasons:
- Building materials are less combustible – this isn’t always true, but most of the time modern buildings are built out of either flameproof or flame-retardant materials, so they don’t burn as easily
- Buildings are designed with fire safety in mind – not just fire extinguishers, but early fire identification protocols, sprinkler systems and even highly sophisticated powder systems for high-risk areas – so if a building does catch fire, there’s less risk of it spreading
- Buildings are laid out to try and prevent the spread of fire – in the past not only were buildings essentially easy to catch on fire, in the first place, but they were also laid out to almost encourage the fire to jump from building to building, thus a small fire often became a raging inferno, building standards discourage this kind of thing, today
This doesn’t mean, however, that cities and states can afford to lay off a bunch of firefighters and cut down their budgets for their fire departments.
Well, because fires still happen and when they happen they can still end up cause severe damage to property and threatening people’s lives – if there aren’t enough firefighters available to tackle these blazes, the public is at risk, as is their property.
So, the solution is to dual-task the fire department. Their primary responsibility is to put out fires and that’s what they do first. When there are no fires? Then they are tasked to provide other emergency services and this may include providing emergency medical treatment.
This means that pretty much all firefighters are expected to have some medical training when they are recruited to the fire service and that many will work to increase their level of medical skill while working as firefighters.
One of the most commonly recognized standards of training for emergency medical technicians in the United States is that of a paramedic.
So, many firefighters will end up as trained paramedics. However, you can still be a paramedic without ever becoming a firefighter.
This video covers the pros and cons of being an EMT or paramedic on an ambulance vs working for a fire department:
Do Paramedics Fight Fires?
As we’ve seen, the reason that firefighters often double as paramedics is that they are trained to handle many types of emergencies, emergency medical included. The reverse, however, is not true.
Someone who has qualified as a standard paramedic without joining the fire service is not going to be trained in fire suppression and response.
Fighting fires can be incredibly time consuming and some fires can burn for hours or even days and fire crews are expected to attend throughout these periods – that means your average paramedic, if they fought fires, might need to be away from their job for days, it’s just not a practical solution.
So, unless the paramedic works for a fire department AND is trained and equipped as a firefighter, they will not fight fires.
Do Fire Departments Have Paramedics?
We’ve already established that the answer to this question is “yes”, many fire departments employ paramedics, both as firefighters or ambulance paramedics that run fire department emergency amabulances.
Not only do many fire departments have paramedics on staff, in some areas it is a requirement to even apply for a firefighter job.
The reasoning for this is most fire departments will respond to more medical emergencies than any other type of call (usually 60-80% of all calls). So, the more qualified paramedics, the easier it is for the expertise to be “on hand” when it was needed.
Some people see this is unnecessary.
They say that the reason why not all firefighters need to be paramedics is that this makes for a more difficult patient care regime in some instances.
When you go to the ER – the first thing you will notice is that not every person working there is a doctor. This would be ridiculous and a waste of resources and everyone’s time.
So, if all firefighters are paramedics, who do you defer to in a medical situation? Do you fall back on rank or act like patient treatment is a democratic committee-based decision process? Neither is a great outcome.
Then there’s the fact that a firefighter with a paramedic license, rightly, expects a higher salary than someone who is an EMT. After all, the paramedic did extra time at school to get their training – they should be compensated for that.
Others believe that as firefighters are the first responders to most emergency calls in many areas, the more training, expertise, skills, and knowledge they possess, the better.
If the majority of the calls are for medical aid, why not have a higher level of training to do the most good for the most people. Paramedics responding on a fire engine allows for more versatile, better-prepared responders.
When my family or I have a real emergency, I want to have the most well trained and equipped professionals coming to help!
Here is a video with a firefighter from San Luis Obispo, California talking about the reasons why fire departments have paramedics:
Firefighter EMT vs Firefighter Paramedic
Nearly every firefighter is, however, a qualified EMT and that means they’ve completed a course of around 150 hours in length to provide skills and training in CPR, administering oxygen and insulin, helping with allergies, etc.
As a general rule (though there are some exceptions) EMTs deal with treatments that don’t involve breaking the skin.
A paramedic, on the other hand, has 1,800 or so hours of courses and has a very high level of education in anatomy, cardiology, general medicine and physiology.
They are qualified to handle a much wider range of medical emergencies and even to conduct some invasive processes and administer injections/medications.
Both of these qualifications are very valuable in the job of a firefighter and if you want to become a firefighter in most of the US, you will almost certainly need to be EMT qualified in order to be considered. Like we discussed above, some departments will only hire licensed paramedics and that seems to be getting more common.
Neither role is better than the other. It depends on your strengths, interests, and where you want to work.
Why Do Fire Departments Have Ambulances?
As fire departments accept the work of EMS (emergency medical services), it pays to be equipped to carry out that work.
Also read: EMS vs EMT: What’s The Difference?
Ambulances have become a part of the scenery at some fire stations now but, in general, a firefighting vehicle is dispatched to the scene regardless.
Some departments will staff EMTs and paramedics on an ambulance for transporting patients to the hospital. This is usually as a replacement for the private ambulance companies.
Counties will have contracts to provide emergency medical transport and sometimes the fire departments will get these contracts and provide this service. This is when they need fire department ambulances in addition to the fire engines and trucks.
This video talks about what happens when the fire department competes for the county ambulance contract:
This can help prevent strain on the resources of local hospitals, ambulance services, etc. and allows the firefighters to provide an efficient service to the injured party(s).
This is less common, as most fire departments do not provide the emergency medical transport for the area.
Also read: Firefighter vs Nurse: Which Job Is Better?
Paramedic vs firefighter? What’s the difference? The short answer is that paramedics are trained to handle medical emergencies and firefighters, as it says in the name, are trained to fight fires. However, increasingly firefighters are becoming dual-roled as EMTs or paramedics.
It is fair to say that if you are considering a career in the modern fire service that a paramedic qualification will not hurt your chances of getting a job and in some fire departments it will be an essential requirement of the recruitment process.