How Do I Become a Firefighter?

Explore the career requirements for firefighters. Get the facts about education and training, job growth and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Emergency Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Firefighters respond to emergency calls to extinguish fires and rescue victims from a variety of situations. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a firefighter.

Degree Required High school diploma or equivalent
Training Required Fire academy training provided by agency
Key Responsibilities Drive and maintain fire department vehicles; extinguish fires using appropriate technology for type of fire; rescue victims from fires and other emergency situations; draft incident reports
Job Growth (2012-2022) 7%*
Median Salary (2013) $45,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Education Will I Need to Become a Firefighter?

While many states require only a high school diploma to become a firefighter, if you want to improve your job prospects, consider pursuing an associate's degree in fire science or fire engineering. These programs are available in community colleges and universities and include courses such as fire prevention, strategy and tactics, fire administration and building construction.

Once you are hired, you'll receive training at the fire academy of the fire department, which will consist of practical training and classroom instruction. You'll learn skills such as firefighting techniques and hazardous materials control. You may also fight fires under controlled or simulated conditions. It is likely that you will have to become certified as an emergency medical technician or a paramedic, if you live in a large city. Such training might be offered as part of the fire academy program, or you may have to seek your own training and certification program.

Apprenticeships are offered by some fire companies and may last up to four years. In addition, some fire departments partner with the U.S. National Fire Academy to offer training, which covers areas such as public fire safety and education, and executive development.

What Job Responsibilities Will I Have?

As a firefighter, you'll be called upon to enter burning structures in order to search for and rescue people. Some of the tools you may use to help you gain entry to burning buildings include electric saws, core cutters and axes. You may have to climb ladders to reach upper floors and help individuals safely exit the building. You'll connect high-pressure hoses to fire hydrants and use your expertise to find fire sources in buildings. Additionally, you will operate emergency vehicles, answer fire alarms, give first aid to injured individuals and offer assistance on the sites of industrial accidents or other medical emergencies.

What Other Qualifications Will I Need?

Most states require that prospective firefighters be at least 21 years of age, but some states allow those who are as young as 18 to become firefighters. To obtain a municipal firefighting position, you must pass several examinations, which consist of written, oral and physical ability tests. Medical and psychological examinations along with drug screenings must also be completed. The tests might be administered or arranged by fire departments. Individuals with the best test scores have better chances of getting a firefighting position. When making this career choice, keep in mind that you will need mechanical aptitude and good judgment. You should also be dependable, mentally alert and have a desire to serve the public.

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