How to become a firefighter

Firefighting might be the perfect combination of a job that pays the bills while offering the chance to help others. But it can be a hard job to get. Despite the potential dangers involved, firefighting attracts many more people than there are positions available, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career is expected to grow by just 7 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is below average. The jobs will likely come as communities are able to convert volunteer positions to full-time work and as the demand for emergency services due to an aging population rises. In fact, two out of three of the emergencies that firefighters respond to, the BLS reports, are medical — not fire-related.

Do firefighters need to go to college?

The educational requirements likely depend on the fire department you're interested in. Typically, the minimum requirement for becoming a firefighter is a high school diploma and certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT), the BLS reports. Candidates may also need to pass written and physical exams and be interviewed by current firefighters.

Some departments offer apprenticeship programs that give potential firefighters on-the-job training over a number of years. Others may ask potential employees to hold an associate or bachelor's degree in fire science. Some of the courses that might be part of a fire science program include:

  • Fire and Emergency Services
  • Fire Protection Systems
  • Fire Investigation and Analysis
  • Safety and Survival
  • Leadership and Management

How much can firefighters make?

Data from the BLS show that the mean annual wage for U.S. firefighters in 2013 was $48,270. The five highest paying states for this position were:

  • New Jersey: $75,130
  • New York: $72,480
  • California: $71,630
  • Washington: $64,450
  • Oregon: $57,250

California also employs the greatest number of firefighters in the country, with more than 28,000 working in the state as of May 2013.

Where can firefighters work?

Jobs are potentially available in all 50 states. Although California has the most firefighters overall, it's only home to one of the top 10 metro areas in the U.S. when it comes to the highest number of firefighters employed, which shows that job opportunities for firefighters are potentially concentrated in several different parts of the country. The areas with the highest employment levels for firefighters in 2013 were:

  1. Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL
  2. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  4. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
  5. Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX
  6. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
  7. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA
  8. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ
  9. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
  10. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

The infographic below details the education required and steps you can take to ignite your firefighting career. A complete list of sources can also be found in the visual.


Occupational Employment and Wages: Firefighters, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Firefighters, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

How to become a firefighter
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