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Firefighters

What is this job like?

Every year, fires take many lives and destroy billions of dollars worth of property. Fire fighters help protect people and property.

Fire fighters put out fires, which is not as simple as it may sound. Fighting fires is dangerous and complex, and it takes organization and teamwork.

Fire fighters also save people who are trapped in burning buildings.

They treat people who are hurt or ill, both at fires and in other situations. In fact, most calls that firefighters respond to involve medical emergencies.

In between alarms, fire fighters must clean and repair their equipment. They practice fire fighting skills, and they may perform fire inspections. They exercise to keep fit.

Some fire fighters work at airports or in factories. Others work in forests and rural areas. Special fire fighters, called smoke jumpers, fight forest fires. They parachute from airplanes to remote areas.

Fire marshals and fire inspectors work to prevent fires. They conduct building inspections. They make sure that laws about fire safety are followed. They also work with builders and city planners. They often visit schools to teach fire safety.

Fire investigators study fires to see how they started. They collect evidence from the scene and talk to witnesses.

Fire fighters live at fire stations much of the time. Most fire stations have living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. When the alarm sounds, fire fighters must respond rapidly.

Fire fighting is dangerous work. During a fire, floors can cave in and walls can topple. Flames and smoke can burn or kill. Fire fighters may come in contact with poisonous gases or other hazardous materials. To protect themselves, fire fighters wear protective gear which can be heavy and hot.

Many fire fighters work more than 50 hours a week. Their hours are often longer and more varied than the hours of other workers. In some agencies, fire fighters can be on duty for 24 hours straight.


How do you get ready?

Usually, fire fighters take a written test and tests of strength, coordination, and agility. Fire fighters have to be healthy.

Classes in fire science at a community college may help people get a job. Now, more fire fighters go to college.

New fire fighters often train at a special school where they learn to prevent and put out fires. They also learn how to use axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, ladders, and other tools. They study local building codes and emergency medical procedures, such as first aid. After completing this training, they are assigned to a fire station.

Fire fighters need to be alert and self-disciplined. Fire fighters should be brave and strong. Being good with machines is important, too. A fire fighter makes quick decisions, so good judgment is important. They must be able to get along well with others because they live and work closely together.

How many jobs are there?

Paid firefighters held about 310,400 jobs in 2008. This number does not include volunteer firefighters. In some areas, there are more volunteer firefighters than paid ones.

There were about 55,200 supervisors and managers of firefighters. Fire inspectors numbered about 16,600.What about the future?

The number of firefighters is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. Most job growth will come from volunteer positions becoming paid jobs. A larger population will also need more firefighting and medical help.

But there will be strong competition for jobs. Many people want to become firefighters because it is challenging and it gives them a chance to help others.


How much does this job pay?

In May 2008, the average hourly wages of firefighters were $21.97. Firefighting supervisors and managers earned an average wage of $34.07 an hour, while fire inspectors earned an average wage of $26.37 an hour.

Are there other jobs like this?

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics

Police officers

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