The top 10 percent of all firefighters in the United States earned annual incomes above $75,520, according to May 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But competition for these and even lower-paying positions is stiff. You may be up against 100 or even 1,000 other applicants for one position. Your chances of getting employment with the local fire department are greater if you have the proper education, physical stamina and strength and a lot of courage.
Average Salary & Benefits
Your average annual earnings as a firefighters would be $47,720, according to the BLS. There's a good chance your salary would fall in the $31,690 to $60,120 range, which is what the middle 50 percent earned. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,480. Your pay would be based on experience, geographical area and the budget of your local government. As for benefits, expect to have medical, life and liability insurance. The liability insurance protects you from being sued during fires or rescue missions. You may also receive a dental and prescription plan as the State of New Jersey offers their firefighters. You would also likely get paid time off and a retirement pension plan. Many firefighters can start collecting pensions after 25 years of service, according to the BLS, which allows you to pursue another career at a relatively young age if you desire.
Salary by Industry
You would more than likely end up working for the local government as a firefighter as 91 percent do, according to the BLS. These individuals also earned one the highest annual salaries among firefighters at $48,450. You would earn about $10,000 more working for a petroleum or coal products manufacturer, as they made $58,000 per year. Your salary would be slightly less working for the federal or state government at $47,130 and $45,560 per year, respectively.
Salary by State
Your income would also be higher in certain states. Expect to make the most in California. These firefighters earned annual incomes of $71,030, according to the BLS. They also earned relatively high salaries of $70,160 per year in New Jersey. Your annual salary as a Massachusetts firefighter would earn you a more average industry salary of $49,240. And you would make less in Ohio at $42,550 per year; and significantly less in Wisconsin at $31,040 annually.
Your job as a firefighter can be dangerous and grueling. You must wear heavy equipment to fires, which can make you hot and sweaty. And at fire sites and accidents, you are prone to floors and walls caving in, traffic hazards and overexposure to smoke. As for your hours, they can be long and irregular. You would work about 50 hours per week on average, according to the BLS. But you may work 24 hours straight, and then be off for 48 to 72 hours. Shifts may vary between day and night hours, too. For example, you may work 10-hour shifts during the day for three or four days, followed by 14-hour shifts at night for a couple days, before getting a couple days off.
Education & Training
You may be able to get on with your local fire department with a high school diploma or an equivalent GED. However, many fire departments prefer their candidates get a postsecondary degree in fire science. An associate degree in fire science would be an example. Your training would include several weeks of both classroom work and drills. You may learn about building codes in a classroom, for example. But you would have to fight mock fires with full equipment during some training exercises. Check with your local fire department to learn about minimum strength requirements.
The BLS expects a 9 percent increase in jobs for firefighters between 2010 and 2012. This rate of growth is slower than the national average of 14 percent for all occupations. Population growth in certain areas will create some new positions. And the increased demand for firefighters as department hires age will spur other job openings.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Firefighters
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Firefighters
- State of New Jersey: Division of Pensions and Benefits
- StateUniversity.com: Firefighter Job Description, Career as a Firefighter, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job
- Philadelphia Fire Department: Firefighter
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images