Firefighters dedicate themselves to the protection and service of their communities. They are asked to provide a wide variety of tasks to keep people safe over the course of their daily lives. While serving shifts of up to 48 hours (and some even up to 72) at a time, these people display heroic coverage every day while battling fires, rescuing people from emergency situations, and providing medical care as needed.
There are several different qualifications necessary in order to become a firefighter today. Although many fire districts do not require a specific educational degree, you do need to be physically fit to perform the tasks in this job description. Many firefighters get their start in high school while serving in a supportive capacity. You will also need medical training to provide emergency interventions and specific knowledge about how fires operate when active in a structure.
Most firefighters also spend a portion of their time educating their community on how to prevent a fire from starting in the first place. Routine tasks include building inspections, fire safety programs for schools, practice drills, and additional training as needed.
When the alarm sounds in the station, these are the pros and cons of being a firefighter to consider.
List of the Pros of Being a Firefighter
1. You are serving the public good when you work as a firefighter.
Whether you work on a volunteer basis or choose to be a firefighter as your career, this job provides a sense of fulfillment that you cannot always find in other positions because you are serving the public every day. When you report for duty, then you have an opportunity to help your community on every shift in some way. Although it can be challenging to encounter people at their worst moments sometimes, the work to protect people while educating them on how to save lives is a very rewarding experience.
2. There are times when you get paid to sleep on the job.
Firefighters work extended shifts because they must be available around the clock in case an emergency situation happens. If you work in a district that does not see very many overnight calls, then there is an opportunity for you to earn a salary while you are sleeping at night. There are times when you might be working all night long, but then there are the shifts where you will get paid to watch TV, work out in the gym, or catch a nap. There are not many other jobs which give you this level of flexibility while still paying a competitive salary.
3. You will have access to excellent benefits and a pension in most situations.
When you earn a salary as a firefighter, then the wages are dependent on your geographic location and the amount of work that is present in your district. Most firefighters earn about $50,000 per year, which places this career at the median earnings level in the United States. You will also receive a comprehensive set of benefits that includes a lucrative retirement package, with most in this career receiving a pension after they put in a certain amount of service over the years. You may not earn as much in this position as you would in another job, but the community will take care of you when it is time to enjoy your retirement.
4. There are high levels of public approval for your job.
Being a firefighter doesn’t expose you to the same level of politics, ethics, or legal concerns as a public servant when compared to other positions like social workers or police officers. This career option feels rewarding because you can find comfort in knowing that the average person in your community will not disapprove of the work you are doing each day. No one wants to be in a position where they need the help of a firefighter at some point in their lives, but it is also comforting to know that you and your fellow professionals are ready to respond at a moment’s notice should the need arise.
5. You have access to high levels of job security.
Every community requires firefighters. That means there is always a measure of job security available when you pursue this profession. Although this advantage does not necessarily apply to those who serve voluntarily, this opportunity is usually classified as a government job. That means you can move almost anywhere in the world and still have an opportunity to find work if you carry the appropriate certifications or licenses. This career rarely forces someone to look for a change unless they are on able to meet the requirements of this position in the first place.
6. Part of your job is to save lives.
One of the most rewarding components of being a firefighter is the fact that you are placed into a position to save lives every day. When you put out fires, then you are also saving the livelihood of that family. If you respond to an automobile accident or another emergency in your community, then you can play a direct role in helping victims recover from their circumstances.
Because of this advantage, firefighters often experience a significant sense of social satisfaction because they know that their community holds them in such high regard. There are not many jobs available in our world today where you can report to work and have an opportunity to become a hero every day.
7. You get to work a job which offers authentic responsibility.
Many of the employment opportunities that you can find in the world today involve some form of commercialization. You are either helping to make products, offer services to consumers, or serving in an administrative role to provide these items for an employer so that the organization earns a profit and you can receive a paycheck to meet the needs of your family. Working as a firefighter means that you have an authentic responsibility on your shoulders every day. How you respond to an emergency situation could dictate the outcome of a person’s life. That is why this position is valuable, and the reason behind the amount of respect you receive for the work that you do.
8. Most firefighters have multiple days off each week that go beyond a weekend.
Most firefighters will work a schedule where they have three days off after working 24 to 48 hours on their shift. If you work in a busy district, then you might earn up to five days off because you will always be active during your time on duty. In smaller towns and rural areas, a typical schedule might be to have two days on, three days off, and then have three days on and four days off.
The final schedule that you receive if you decide to pursue this career depends on the station and what the needs of your community happen to be. If you like to have some extra time at home, then being a firefighter can help you to create a balanced schedule.
List of the Cons of Being a Firefighter
1. Firefighters are asked to work some unusual shifts.
If you like to work every day following the same patterns or routine, then being a firefighter is not for you. It is not unusual for this position to work in shifts of at least 24 hours. Some localities require a 48-hour shift when you report for duty. Although you may not be active all of the time when you are at work, the requirements of the job will keep you away from home while you are at work.
That means you might be unavailable for your son’s soccer game, your daughter’s piano recital, and other situations which could occur at home while you are on duty. If you want the availability to be there for your family more often or prefer a 9-5 job that gets you home every night, then being a firefighter would be a challenging career to consider.
2. You are asked to complete dangerous job duties as a firefighter.
There are times when a firefighter might go through an entire shift without responding to an emergency call. Then there are the days when a dangerous situation arises in your community, and it is your responsibility to respond to the incident. This position requires a willingness to put yourself into potentially harmful situations to help save lives and conserve property assets. Even though you are given protective equipment that can help you survive if you’re asked to go into a fire, there is no guarantee that you will return.
As of May 24, 2019, there have been 18 firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty while helping to protect their community in some way. The stress of not knowing whether or not you might come home at the end of your shift is an issue that can adversely impact families over time. You are putting your life at risk to save those of others.
3. The pay that you receive is not always reflective of the work that you do.
Firefighters might have access to an excellent retirement package in most districts, but the amount of take-home pay that you receive for the completion of your job duties is not comparable to other government positions. You will typically earn about $10,000 less per year as an experienced firefighter compared to the salary offer that law-enforcement officials receive in your community. Your wages are typically comparable to what social workers or administrative positions in local government earn.
There are some firefighters who can earn more than $100,000 per year, but there are also some in rural communities that make less than $30,000 per year. If you want to work in a high-paying job, being a firefighter will not usually get you there.
4. You are constantly training as a firefighter to be better.
Because part of the duties of a firefighter is to enter a building and carry people out of them to save their lives, it is essential that you remain in excellent physical shape. You are constantly training in this career, whether that means you are taking care of your physical body or staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends in this industry.
Firefighters will also complete several chores around the house while at work, making sure their station and equipment is always ready to go if called upon for an emergency. There are moments when you will get paid to sit or sleep, but don’t think that this happens all of the time. You were going to be on your feet throughout most of the day.
5. There are times when you must treat trauma or respond to a death.
Firefighters are tasked with the duty of remaining calm and entering into dangerous situations where victims may have extensive injuries or there may be fatalities present. You are given the responsibility of staying tough physically and mentally in these situations. Even after you have rescued someone from an accident or a burning building, there is no guarantee that the individual will survive. You must find a way to separate your personal reactions from your professional responsibilities in this career if you are going to have a successful experience.
6. There are fewer thrills in firefighting than you might expect.
If you are thinking about becoming a firefighter because you like the idea of being in the action all of the time, then you will quickly discover that this career opportunity is less about the thrills and more about maintaining your station and getting the administrative work finished. Most firefighters will experience a significant amount of downtime during their regular shifts. Even when you find a job in a large city like Los Angeles or New York City, this disadvantage still applies.
That is why you will see firefighters making themselves busy by cooking dinners, cleaning their equipment, staying organized, cleaning the station, and performing a variety of housekeeping duties while waiting for their next call.
7. The cost of your benefits as a firefighter are continuing to rise.
Many people consider becoming a firefighter because of the extensive for health care and retirement benefits that are typically available in this career. The only problem with this approach is that the cost of pensions and insurance is continuing to rise, with some paying a 10% increase or more each year to maintain what they have.
States, cities, and counties are drastically modifying their benefit packages to reduce the risk of going into debt or filing for bankruptcy one day. There’s not much room to breathe when expenditures exceed revenues sense over 90% of the operating costs for the average station go directly to employee wages and benefits. Many firefighters are paying more for their current benefits than in past generations, and it is essential to remember that they can change often – not always for the better either.
8. You are going to work more hours per week than most people.
The average firefighter well eventually put in about 10 shifts per month, with all of them being 24 hours in length. When you break down the time that you are required to be on duty, it typically works out to about 56 hours per week. That means you are going to be doing more work for less money compared to other jobs.
If you just want to be a firefighter, then the schedule you work won’t matter to you much. Just be prepared to put in more time away from home than the average worker without having the overtime on your check to reflect the extra effort.
Are You Ready to Explore Being a Firefighter?
If you have examined the pros and cons of being a firefighter and believe that this career opportunity is right for you, then these are the next steps that you must take to accomplish your goals.
Most stations will require you to have a high school diploma or GED. You must also hold a valid driver’s license and be at least 18 years old in order to work independently. Some districts allow you to start on the job training at age 16 or before, but always under the direct supervision of a hired or volunteer firefighter.
You must prove that you can pass the physical and written tests which are necessary to become a firefighter one day. The hiring process can be quite lengthy, so it may be several months before you are formally accepted into this career choice. Some jurisdictions will require that you become an emergency medical technician as part of your initial training. There might also be an Academy to attend, so it may be worthwhile to consider a formal education to bypass some of these steps.
Being a firefighter can be very rewarding, despite the many challenges. For further information about what is necessary to have this job in your community, stop by your local station to see the requirements or pick up an application.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.