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Career and Job Search Guide
  

Firefighter

Firefighter A Harris Poll discovered the public views careers in firefighting as one of the most respectable careers just behind doctors or scientists. Firefighters are often the first to arrive after an emergency, and many heroic firefighters demonstrated bravery and sacrifice during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Firefighters rescue people from burning buildings, wrecked cars, flooded buildings, and they assist in cleaning hazardous spills.

Each year, fires as well a variety of other emergencies kills thousands of people and destroy billions of dollars of property. Fire fighters are professionals that specialize in helping to protect the public against these dangers by responding to fires and life threating emergencies. Although firefighter are know for fighting fires, they are most frequently required to respond to other emergencies. More often than not they are the first emergency personnel to arrive at the scene of a traffic accident or medical emergency and may be called upon to treat injuries and perform other vital medical, rescue, and emergency response functions.

During their regular work hours, fire fighters have to be prepared to respond on a moments notice to fires or other emergencies. Fighting fires is more complex than it may appear and is very dangerous; it requires supreme organization and teamwork. Regardless of the emergency, fire fighters must perform specific duties as assigned by their supervising officer. At fires, fire fighers connect hose lines to fire hydrants and operate a pump to send water to high-pressure hoses. While some fire fighters are responsible for carrying hoses, other climb ladders and enter burning buildings—using carefully planned and systematic and procedures—to control and/or extinguish fires. Often, fire fighters use specialized tools to work their way through walls, doors, and debris. Fire fighters rescue individuals who are exscape a buring building safely without their assistance. They also provide emergency medical attention when EMT is not on the scene, ventilate smoke-filled areas and salvage valuable property when possible. An individual fire fighters' duties and tasks may change frequently while the company is on the scene fighting a fire or providing other life saving emergency services. They may remain at the scene of a major disaster for several days at a time, rescuing survivors that are trapped, and assisting with the medical treatment of survivors.

Fire fighters are required to work in a myriad of diverse settings, including rural areas, metropolitan areas, airports, forests, chemical plants and other industrial sites. As previously mentioned they also may have be tasked with range of duties, including providing emergency medical and rescue services. An interesting fact is that most calls that fire fighter most respond to involve medical emergencies not fires. In addition, specially trained fire fighters work in hazardous materials units that are specifically responsible for controling, preventing, and cleaning up hazardous materials, such as chemial spills, oil spills or accidents involving the transport of toxic materials.

Firefighters that specialize in fighting forest fires employ different equipment and methods than those used by traditional fire fighters that are responsible for putting out fires in homes and buildings. When forest fires break out, firefighters crews used heavy equipment and high pressure water hoses to fight the blaze. Notwithstanding the differences between forest fighters and urban fires fire fighting of any kind is rigorous work. One of the most common methods for fighting and controlling forest fires is to create fire lines. Fire lines are created by cutting down trees and removing combustible grasses and vegetation, and sometimes digging shallow trenches in the path of the fire in order to deprive it of fuel and keep it from spreading. The "navy seals" of fire fighting are known as smoke jumpers. Smoke jumpers are elite firefighters that parachute from airplanes in order to reach areas that are inaccessible by ground. This method for fighting fires can be extremely hazardous and is not for the faint of heart.

When firefighters aren't putting out fires or responding to other emergencies they spend their time cleaning and maintaining equipment, learning and developing additional skills related to fire fighting and emergency response, conducting real-life simulations and practice drills, and participating in physical fitness activities. Firefighers are also responsible for preparing written reports and reviewing the latest fire science literature in order stay informed on technological developments and changing administrative policies and practices.

Work environment. Fire fighters spend quite a bit of their time at the fire station where they are assigned. Fire stations are somewhat similar to dormitories. Regardless of the hour or the weather conditions, when an alarm sounds, fire fighters have to respond immediatesly. Fire figheters are always on call. Unlike most careers, fire fighting involves a high risk of injury or even death. Common causes of both injury and death to firefighters include walls toppling over, floors caving in, traffic accidents, smoke inhalation and exposure to flames. In addition, fire fighters may come into contact with various flammable, poisonous, or explosive chemicals and gases, as well as radioactive materials, all of which may cause severe injury or death. Consequently, firefighters must wear unconfortable protective gear that is often hot and heavy.

Work hours for firefighters are long and unpredicted. A lot of fire fighters work 50 hour weeks, and many work even longer. Some firefighters are on duty for 24 hours straight, then off for 48 hours, and receive an extra day off at set intervals. Others are required to work a day shift of 10 hours for 3 or 4 days at a time, work a night shift of 14 hours for 3 or 4 nights in a row, and then have 3 or 4 days off. Fire fighters are often required to work extra hours at fires and other emergencies and it is not at all uncommon for them to work on holidays. Fire captains, lieutenants and other senior officers often work the same hours and have the same shifts as the fire fighters at their agency.
Since firefighters devote their lives to helping other people, it can be a very rewarding career. In addition, usually only a high school diploma or a 2 year degree is required to be a firefighter. As a result, workers can assume a lot of responsibility at a young age. Firefighters are not limited to jobs at a firehouse. Many work in forests, factories, and airports.

Firefighting is a very dangerous career. Every time firefighters respond to a fire, they are exposed to toxic smoke, flames burning at high temperatures, and the possibility of the building collapsing. Between January and October of 2008, 93 firefighters were killed in the line of duty.

Most firefighters must spend a couple of days a week at a fire station where they can be summoned at any hour to respond to emergencies. They are frequently exposed to toxic smoke, hazardous materials, and experience a lot of on the job stress. Firefighters are diagnosed with above average rates of cardiovascular disease.

However, according to a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, besides members of the clergy, firefighters experienced the most job satisfaction.

Education and Training

Generally, potential firefighters only need a high school diploma before applying; however, more and more fire departments are now requiring a 2 year associates degree in fire science or fire prevention. A bachelor's degree in fire science or a related field may greatly improve an applicant's chances for a job. An increasing number of colleges and universities now offer courses leading to 2-year or 4-year degrees in fire science or engineering.

Once hired, entry-level firefighters in larger fire departments are typically trained for several weeks at a designated training center or academy. Through intensive practical training and classroom instruction, new firefighter recruits learn fire fighting techniques, hazardous materials control, fire prevention, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures, including both first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). New firefighers also learn how to use a variety of firefighting tools including fire extinguishers, chain saws, axes, ladders, and other fire fighting and emergency rescue equipment. After training has been successfully completed, recruits are assigned to a fire company, where they undergo a probation period to show that they are competant.

Many fire departments offer accredited firefighter apprenticeship programs that can last up to 4 years. Apprenticeships also include programs in fighting forest fires. Apprenticeship programs typically combine formal instruction with on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced fire fighters.

Job Outlook

The demand for fire fighters is expected to grow by an incredible 19% from 2008 through 2010, which is substantial faster than the average for all occupations nationwide. Most new firefighter recruits will come from volunteer firefighters who are converted to paid positions. Ove the last few years, it has become increasing difficult for volunteer fire departments to recruit and retain volunteer firefighers. Furthermore, a trend toward families and individuals living in and around major metropolitan areas has increased the demand for fire fighters. Notwithstanding growing demand, firefighters are expected to face a lot of competition of paid job openings. The number of qualified applicants in most areas where firefighters are needed far exceeds the number of full and part-time job openings. This situation is expected to persist in the foreseeable future. Applicants who are physically fit, score high on mechanical aptitude exams and possess an advanced degree in fire science or fire management have the best changes of filling open job positions.

Salary Data and Earnings Information

In 2008, the median annual wage for fire fighters was $44,260. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,180 and $58,440 annually. The lowest 10 percent of firefighters earned less than $22,440, and the highest 10 percent of firefighters earned more than $72,210. Median annual wages were $45,610 in the Federal Government, $44,800 in local government, $25,300 in other support services, and $37,870 in State governments.

In 2008, the median annual wage for first-line firefighter supervisors/managers was $67,440. The middle 50 percent of supervisors/managers earned between $53,820 and $86,330. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $108,930. First-line firefighter supervisors/managers employed in local government earned a median of about $69,000 annually in 2008.

According to the International City-County Management Association, average salaries for full-time firefighter positions during 2008 were as follows:

Position Minimum annual base salary Maximum annual base salary
Fire chief $78,672 $104,780
Deputy chief 69,166 88,571
Battalion chief 66,851 81,710
Assistant fire chief 65,691 83,748
Fire captain 60,605 72,716
Fire lieutenant 50,464 60,772
Engineer 48,307 62,265
Fire fighters who work more than a certain number of hours a week are typically paid overtime. It is not uncommong for firefighters to work extra shifts in order to maintain minimum staffing levels and during special emergencies.

At last report nearly 70% of all fire fighters belonged to a union or were covered by a union contract. Fire fighters usually receive benefits that include vacation and sick leave, medical and liability insurance, and some paid holidays-if they're not working. Fire fighters generally provided pension plans as well as retirement at half pay after 25 years of service or if the individual is permanently disabled while on the job.
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