With more than 30,000 fire departments on the U.S. map, according to a 2010 report from the National Fire Protection Association, you'd think there would be plenty of opportunities for job growth in the firefighting field. Job outlook is actually one of the negatives in pursuing a career fighting fires. But cast aside that bit of bad news, and you'll see the field also has its positives.
To go along with the good deeds you'll perform as a firefighter, you'll likely receive a handsome paycheck. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the median pay as $45,250 annually, which is above the average of $33,840 for all U.S. jobs and $36,660 for jobs in the protective service field. Overtime is not uncommon, and after 20 or 25 years of work, you'll likely have a pension waiting for you. Although pension amounts vary for each municipality, the International Association of Firefighters said the average pension for retired firefighters was between $30,455 and $36,545 in 2011.
Negative: Grueling and Hazardous
The career of a firefighter is mentally, emotionally and physically taxing. Some firefighters work 24 hours straight and take 48 hours off, while others work fewer hours but more consecutive days. The fatigue that results is compounded because firrefighters do not just sit around. You're training, participating in community events and responding to emergencies. You're physically active throughout the day. Your emotional state is also in flux. You're seeing things most people don't get to see and don't want to see. From life-threatening car wrecks to entire buildings turning into a charred mess, you're going to go through a lot of situations that put you in a difficult place emotionally. And, of course, you're putting your life in danger. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010, 32,675 firefighters suffered injuries while at the scene of a fire, while 13,355 suffered injuries during non-fire incidents.
Positive: Helping People
If being a firefighter was all about the bad times, it'd be a very depressing and lonely job. But the bad is offset, at least somewhat, by the good that you do. Fire departments visit schools and teach children about fire safety, attend fairs, help with charities and interact with the people in the community. Of course, the ultimate deed is saving people's lives. From getting pets out of a burning building to shuffling a family out of a smoke-filled apartment and into safety, you have the opportunity to make a profound and literally life-changing difference in people's lives. You'll also respond to serious car accidents, helping victims trapped inside their vehicles and assisting with injuries until the paramedics arrive.
Negative: Job Prospects
While you generally don't need a degree to become a firefighter, you will need to pass a few tests and have an emergency medical technician certification. That's the easy part. Getting your foot in the door is another story. The BLS doesn't paint a pretty picture for job growth, estimating employment to grow 9 percent through 2020, which is below the U.S. average. Men also dominate the field. Women made up only 4.5 percent of the total number of firefighters in 2011, according to a survey conducted by the BLS.
- National Fire Protection Association: The U.S. Fire Service
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Firefighters
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employed Persons By Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity
- International Association of Firefighters: Fact Sheet #3 -- Typical Pensions and Funding Status
- National Fire Protection Association: The U.S. Fire Service: Firefighters and Fire Departments (U.S.)
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