What is it Like to be a Firefighter
To fully grasp the lifestyle of a firefighter, you have to think of the occupation on a level that you might be more familiar with. Last September, my students and I delivered breakfast items to a local fire station where we were able to visit with and express our appreciation of some of the heroes working close to home. They were so thankful and willingly showed their gratitude by giving my students a tour of their station as well as some of the equipment, and of course, the fire trucks. I couldn’t have wiped the smiles off my 7th graders’ faces even if I wanted to! They were so intrigued by all the equipment and the daily routine of people who save lives for their career.
The work schedule was one of the benefits that the firefighters seemed to like best. As a firefighter, you would stay a certain number of nights in your fire station with your fellow firefighters, waiting and preparing for calls of varied natures to respond to. Then, they spend a number of days off where they get to rest at home and spend time with family and friends.
If you ask any firefighter, they would be very likely to tell you that the life of a firefighter is never put “on hold” just because you have days off. However, they would also tell you without hesitation that they wouldn’t want days off from a career that is so fulfilling.
To become a firefighter is already one of the most courageous careers an individual can pursue, but it is also comparable to joining a big family. A family solely focused on putting others first, and running in when everyone else is trying to run out.
Daily Work as a Firefighter
The job of a firefighter is defined by the ability to fight and deplete fires in homes, businesses, and environments of varied sorts. Also, if disaster strikes, firefighters are there to make sure that everyone involved is safe, and provide additional medical attention that might be needed.
Firefighters are also expected to not only protect lives, but to also protect property and avoid damages involving either. As a firefighter, you would also participate, enforce, and evaluate preventive activities and practices within your fire house, as well as for different families, businesses, and communities. Maintaining the cleanliness and efficiency of your designated fire station to ensure timely proficiency is something that firefighters work together to achieve, because it can be difficult to respond to emergencies quickly if it is a challenge to leave the station in a timely manner.
Another aspect of this occupation is that you get to participate in the development of public education, including information on fire safety and handling procedures for situations where a firefighter is needed. Going into schools and businesses, or speaking at public events, you are able to interact with students, parents, and employees about how to stay safe when the unexpected happens.
Not only are you a selfless hero of epic proportions, but you are passing on the knowledge you have to those in the community around you, making them better with every lesson.
Working Conditions for a Firefighter
- Works both indoors and outdoors depending on circumstances
- Exposure to extreme temperatures, depending on assigned tasks during emergency situations
- Extreme noise levels and stimulations (sirens, lights, etc.)
- Exposed to some hazards such as driving hazards, rescue attempts and difficult terrain. The possibility of hazardous material spills. Firefighters might be exposed to exhaust fumes, heat, smoke, water, dusts, fire retardant chemicals, and toxic fumes
This list shouldn’t scare you because you get trained on how to mitigate accidents as well as how to handle them if they were to unavoidably occur.
Physical Performance – Strength, Endurance, and Speed
As we’ve discussed so far, the daily work of a firefighter is nothing shy of extraordinary. And where there is “extraordinary”, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice stand behind it. From a daily career like this, it is impossible for a working woman like you to be absent from feeling empowered beyond your wildest dreams. Women one hundred years ago would have jumped for an opportunity such as this, and here it is, within our reach.
Job Requirements for Firefighters
Effective communication skills will take you far in whichever dream you decide to chase. Along with that, having the ability to be an effective, helpful, and encouraging team player in all circumstances is priceless, especially those where stress and adrenaline have a tendency to take control.
Whichever state you decide to work in as a firefighter, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s license. Most of the time, firefighters beginning their careers won’t exceed the ages of anywhere from 28 to 35. Not to say that those limits can’t be broken, but it’s the average age of firefighters because the physical requirements of the job as well as the fundamental need for physical excellence.
Being a firefighter requires at the very minimum a high school diploma or GED, and highly encourages EMT certification as well as a secondary degree in fire science. Upon being hired as a firefighter, all applicants are required to pass a physical ability test that includes tasks such as the stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue, ceiling breach and pull.
Part of being a visible hero in a community is holding yourself accountable to the tremendously honorable position that you hold. Most fire station jobs will monitor things that you post on social media, as well as things like your credit score to ensure that they are hiring a wise and responsible citizen. Fire stations, as well as any number of employers, will respect individuals that take ownership of any mistakes they have ever made as long as they also commit to being a better version of themselves.
Men and women striving to be firefighters must also pass the written exam that is included in the hiring process. Thankfully, there are a lot of test taking practices and exercises available to help you feel more comfortable and prepared for success.
If you are an even-tempered and emotionally intelligent person, being a firefighter is a fulfilling career where you will be tested, but the rewards are more than could ever be expressed in one blog post. Being the hero to someone in need might not be a cakewalk, but someone out there needs the heart that you have. Also, if you or someone who knows you well would characterize you as a fast-learner, this is the perfect career for you.
Above all else, the heart and attitude of a firefighter is the number one thing that stations are looking for. When you’re in the business of saving lives, there can’t be any exceptions within that area.
Resources/Benefits of Field Experience
As we have mentioned countless times here on Career Talk with Working Women, and will continue to mention for all of our posts and podcasts to come, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to VOLUNTEER.
One thing about firefighting is that they encourage and accept any form of volunteering as “experience”. Work in any area within your community, whether it’s fire related or not, and fire stations appreciate all of it. As I also mentioned earlier, look into taking extra credits/ classes that will contain useful and practical information that will prove beneficial to you as you dive further into the pool of fire safety.
Licensing Required for Firefighters
- High school diploma or GED
- EMT certification
- Additional education in related field
- Pass written exam
- Pass physical ability exam
Make sure to research the fire station you want to work at and the state you want to be employed in. Sometimes the requirements and licensing are different or have more that they request.
Salary and Employment Outlook for Firefighters
As it is with any career choice, it’s always wise to not only consider the lifestyle and the job requirements, but it is also prudent to research the information regarding salary and employment.
When I took my students to the fire station, the first question they all wanted to ask was how much the firefighters make. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting this information– the only logical way to make an educated decision is through genuine inquiries such as these.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary average for firefighters is $50,520 with a mean average wage of over $24 an hour. The highest employment rates of firefighters are found within local governments, followed by support services, and then with the Federal Executive Branch.
This is notable because that means you can potentially work under a variety of employers and you can serve a number of purposes within those communities. At the top of the employment averages in the United States are California, Texas, with Florida in third. And if you are like me, then it might not come across as much of a surprise to know that there are higher percentages of employed firefighters in metropolitan areas as opposed to non-metropolitan areas.
How to Get Hired as a Firefighter
One of the first steps that should be taken when pursuing the road to fighting fires and saving lives should be to speak with a local firefighter.
Here on Career Talk with Working Women, we have provided firsthand information from a working woman who fights fires for a living, and that will pose as an excellent resource for real information from a real hero. You can listen to the episode where we interview Michelle Vasquez-Herrera here.
Also, don’t be afraid to go out into your local fire stations or departments and ask to speak with and interview firefighters working in your community. Most firefighters are more than willing to speak with people, especially those aspiring to the career. Also, be aware of the fact that each state and firehouse could have different criteria expected from their applicants, so professionals say that speaking with the fire station you want to work for is the optimum thing to do for qualifications and certifications.
Lastly, it is crucial to prepare yourself for the interview. Interviews are pivotal for all career paths, but it is imperative that you contemplate the different questions in order to present genuine and thoughtful responses for this specific career. Sites such as Fire Rescue 1 and Fire Science provide resources for ground work such as this.
Don’t forget to listen to the weekly podcast to hear directly from working women on their careers, work-life balance, and advice for young women. Listen to an interview with Firefighter Engineer Michelle Vasquez-Herrera who is a certified Firefighter. Subscribe to the podcast, and share it with your friends.