What it takes to be a firefighter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As the 10-year anniversary of one of the worst days in American history approaches, I am going to write about the history of a firefighter and what we do to become a firefighter. I also am going to write about some personal stories from that day.

Firefighters were really unsung heroes until the incident in which terrorists hijacked two airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. This was the largest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. The firefighters were sent to rescue the civilians and risked their lives to try to save the lives of the people that were trapped in the two buildings. The structure collapsed with many of the firefighters and civilians still in the building. The courage, loyalty and strength it takes to carry on this career are shown by this heroic action performed by the firefighters, who will forever be in our hearts and minds. Firefighters risk their lives daily to help the public. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their jobs range from fighting fires to helping a child with a skinned knee. The firefighters of today have to be certified not only to fight fires but as first responders as well. It is a career that requires a high mental and physical demand. To become a firefighter you would need to be in the right physical and mental state. Firefighters aren’t made, they are born. They are their own species, so to speak.

The process to become a firefighter is continuous. The requirements to be accepted to a fire academy are to be at least 18 years of age and a high school graduate. After these requirements are met, the applicant will undergo a written and physical exam. Once accepted to the fire academy, the training begins. The training includes fire fighting techniques, emergency medical procedures and first aid. Frequently, once assigned to a fire station, the firefighters attend seminars to gain knowledge on new fire fighting techniques and equipment. They also attend conferences to get a better insight of the fire fighting community. Therefore the learning of a fire fighter is never-ending.

In the field of fire fighting, the compensation package depends where he or she is stationed. The typical salary of a full-time firefighter was $23,753 in 1995. Firefighters who have more experience can earn around $31,615 a year. The earnings of a firefighter vary depending on the size of the city and/or region of the country. In the smaller cities the average salary was $25, 500; however, in larger cities the gross income is $35, 400 a year. Virtually all fire departments provide the protective clothing needed for a firefighter, which includes helmets, boots and coats. Departments also include a breathing apparatus and dress uniforms.

The future need for firefighters is projected to grow fairly steadily. There are currently 300,000 personnel employed as firefighters, with several thousand jobs anticipated annually. The job opportunities available are a result of those who have died, retired or resigned from the occupation. Replacements are required more in this line of work than most other jobs because firefighters have the opportunity to retire at an early age. Most of the new jobs will be created from small growing communities that combine volunteer and career fire fighters. In large urban cities there is little growth expected. In most cities the competition for jobs is keen. The number of able applicants often is greater than the jobs that are available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that many people are attracted to fire fighting as a career because it challenges and gives people the chance to perform a public service. Most of the position increases will result from volunteer firefighting being converted into paid positions. Fire protection is an important service, and citizens are likely to put more pressure on local officials to maintain the level of fire protection.

The field of firefighting requires a high physical demand and various skills needed for this occupation. Fire fighting requires the ability to handle and operate objects, tools and machinery. First you would need to be in good health, physical ability, strength and stamina. Secondly, you would need to have above average manual dexterity, with good hand eye coordination and the ability to climb, stoop, reach and hear. Thirdly, you need to be able to lift up to 50 pounds or more. Fourthly, it is important to be able to work under high levels of stress, willing to risk death or injury and work well with others. Interpersonal skills are a necessity in this line of work. One would need to be able to handle the emotions of those he or she is helping, from distraught homeowners to burn victims. Therefore, the field of fire fighting requires a high physical ability and other various skills.

The typical days worked, duties and responsibilities of a firefighter can range on a wide scale. They have long hours compared to most other workers. They usually work 50 hours a week. In some cities they are on duty for 24 hours and off 48 hours. Firefighters have numerous responsibilities. When on duty, firefighters must be ready at all times for any types of call. On emergency scenes, firefighters are given specific duties handed to them by their superiors. At fires, they connect hoses to hydrants to send the water to high-pressure hoses, and they set up ladders in position to deliver the water to the fire. Firefighters also rescue victims and give medical attention as needed. They have assumed a range of responsibilities, including emergency medical

services. Most of the calls that firefighters receive are medical emergencies.

The career of a fire fighter has its drawbacks and is stressful. Some of the drawbacks include responding to calls regardless of weather or hour and risking death or injury on the job. Firefighters also could be exposed to flames or smoke. They can come in contact with poisonous, flammable or explosive gases and chemicals.

In conclusion, firefighters

risk their lives daily to keep the public safe. They show a great deal of courage, loyalty and strength. Fire fighting as an occupation requires a special kind of person who will risk all they have for the job and the people they are sworn to protect.

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