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What does a firefighter do?

Learn about the typical responsibilities of a firefighter and opportunities to advance in this field. 
While popular dramas often show firefighters rushing into burning building, the daily work of a firefighter goes far beyond what is shown on tv. From disaster preparedness, to medical response, to serving as educators, firefighters do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep our communities safe.
Firefighters are on call to respond to a variety of emergencies. In fact, the majority of emergencies that firefighters respond to are medical issues, not fires. This means it’s essential that firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Their duties don’t end once they return to the fire station. They prepare for future emergencies by maintaining tools and fire vehicles, running drills, and staying in shape for the demands of the job. They also go out into the community to provide public education on things like fire prevention. Some firefighters also specialize to respond to specific disasters, such as wildfires and oil spills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for firefighters across all industries in 2015 was $46,870 per year. The vast majority of firefighters work for federal or municipal fire departments, which come with benefits such as a pension plan, health insurance, and paid vacation time.
However, firefighting positions in the private sector are on the rise. There is a growing trend for federal and state agencies to contract with private companies for fire services, and some insurance companies also hire firefighters to protect households from wildfires. Oil companies are another private employer of experienced firefighters. This dangerous job involves battling fires in oil wells, and comes with a higher salary as a result of the risk.
Firefighters sacrifice a lot to serve their communities. Long and varied hours are common, with shifts that can last 48 hours. They might spend days at a disaster scene to help victims. As firefighters gain experience, they can move up in the ranks of the fire department, moving through several stages from engineer all the way up to chief. Other possibilities include becoming a fire inspector or investigator.


Fire Department Calls.” National Fire Protection Association. Accessed November 16, 2021.
Firefighter.” Oilandgascareersnow.com. Accessed March 21, 2017.
Firefighters.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed March 21, 2017.
Our History.” National Wildfire Suppression Association. Accessed November 16, 2021.
What Does a Firefighter Do?” CareerExplorer.com. Accessed November 16, 2021.

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