Are you ready to be a firefighter? It might be for you!

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Held up as heroes by many, firefighters risk their lives to save others. When the alarm bell rings, firefighters race to the scene to put out a fire, air out smoke-filled rooms, and provide emergency medical care to victims. In fact, in most states firefighters are also certified emergency medical technicians.

Firefighters work long and irregular hours, and they live and work as a team. Life at the fire station is similar to living in a dorm, punctuated by urgent calls to action.

Firefighters work on teams to fight fires in homes, commercial buildings, forests and other places. They also offer assistance when disaster strikes, whether it’s an hurricane or a hazmat threat.

Did You Know?

• Some firefighters are on duty for 24 hours and then off for 48. Others work a 10-hour day shift for 3 days, a 14-hour night shift for 3 nights, and then have 3 days off.

Are You Ready To…?

• Rescue victims in hazardous situations

• Provide first aid and other medical care

• Spend days at a disaster site

• Live and work as part of a close-knit team

• Work odd hours

• Spend long days at the fire station

It Helps to Be…

Courageous, physically strong, good at making on-the-spot decisions and sensible in a crisis. Being able to get along well with others is also extremely important because you’ll live as well as work with your teammates.

Make High School Count

• Put extra effort into gym class and get involved in extracurricular sports. You’ll have to pass tests of strength and stamina for the best jobs.

• Take as many science courses as you can, especially chemistry, which will help you understand the hazardous substances and materials you’ll deal with on the job.

• Learning a second language will also give you a job-hunting edge in some states.

• Sign up for health and safety classes. Learn as much as you can now about first aid, including CPR.

Did You Know?

• The first woman to fight fires may have been Molly Williams, an African-American slave working with a New York City fire company around the year 1818.


Government economists expect jobs for firefighters to grow faster than the average for all careers through 2018. The growth of cities has increased the need for their services.

However, competition for paid work is very tough and will probably stay that way. Because of the challenges and pensions firefighting offers to high school graduates, it is an especially popular field. For an edge in the job market, stay in top physical shape and develop your mechanical skills in shop classes. Also, consider studying fire science at a community college and getting your EMT or paramedic certification.


The average yearly starting salary of firefighters in 2009 was $29,400, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local and federal government workers earned more than those employed by state government.

Overtime pay is frequent because of the job’s unusual hours, and the benefits (including retirement) are excellent. By moving up the ranks, firefighters can command big salary increases.

Michael Heath is president of the St. John Professional Firefighters Association.