Pros and Cons of a Career as a Municipal Fire Fighter
Municipal fire fighters respond to a variety of emergency situations that threaten a community, from battling structural fires to performing search-and-rescue operations. If you are considering a career as a municipal fire fighter, read on to learn more about the pros and cons of this career.
|Pros of Being a Municipal Fire Fighter|
|Providing a useful public service*|
|Low formal education requirements*|
|Pension typically guaranteed after 25 years*|
|Cons of Being a Municipal Fire Fighter|
|Hazardous conditions (around 70,450 injuries annually reported between 2010-2012)**|
|Employment growth slower than average at seven percent from 2012-2022 with high competition for jobs*|
|Long hours and irregular work schedule*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Fire Administration.
Career Information for Municipal Fire Fighters
The BLS reported that in the U.S., structural and ground fires cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property damage every year. Fire fighters are trained not only to extinguish fires, but also to provide emergency medical attention to victims of fire, structural collapse or other catastrophic accident. As a fire fighter, you may encounter a myriad of volatile and unstable circumstances, and you must be prepared to jump into action at a moment's notice.
Job Duties, Career Outlook and Salary Information
Fire fighters are tested on their physical strength and their mechanical aptitude. In addition to emergency medical services, your job duties will include connecting hoses to hydrants, systematically conducting evacuation procedures and ventilating areas exposed to smoke. You will most likely work long hours at a fire station maintaining preparedness in the event of an emergency.
Fire fighting is an extremely hazardous job. In addition to dangers from falls, fire and smoke inhalation, you may be exposed to dangerous chemicals, poisonous gases and radioactivity. The strenuous nature of the work may also prove hazardous. Of the estimated 70,450 injuries incurred by fire fighters from 2010-2012, more than 27 percent were from overexertion and physical strain.
The BLS projected a seven percent increase in employment for fire fighters between 2012-2022, which is slower-than-average growth compared to all occupations. Job opportunities, as well as the highest competition for jobs, may be greatest in major metropolitan areas. As of May 2014, the BLS reported that local government fire fighters earned a mean annual wage of about $49,440. Municipalities generally have age restrictions for fire fighter trainees, and certain fire fighting jobs allow you to retire with full pension after a set number of years in service.
Education, Training and Certification Requirements
Although most municipal fire fighting jobs require only a high school diploma, certification requirements generally include either an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)-Basic certification or EMT-Paramedic certification. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) reports EMT-Basic eligibility to include the recent completion of an approved training course, possession of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) credential and the successful completion of a state-approved EMT - Basic psychomotor examination.
Although each state and municipality varies in its hiring practices, most fire protection agencies allow qualified applicants to test on a rolling basis. Generally, you'll take a physical exam that includes stair and ladder climbing, victim rescue scenarios and hose handling. You'll also take a written exam or a computer-based exam that includes reading comprehension, mathematics, information gathering, map reading and mechanical aptitude with equipment such as gears, power tools and pulleys. Municipalities generally hire from a pool of qualified applicants who have successfully completed the examinations within a window of time, such as 12 months. If you are not chosen to complete the hiring process within this period, you may be asked to re-apply.
Real Job Listings for Municipal Fire Fighters
While many local governments hire fire fighters on an as-needed basis from a pool of state-certified applicants, you may be able to find work as an apprentice or trainee, obtaining certification either as part of, or during your training period. Here are some real examples of job postings for municipal fire fighters from March 2011:
- An Illinois suburban community seeks firefighter/paramedic. Must possess paramedic certification and state fire fighter certification. Applicant must be within 21-35 years of age. Pays $50,320 per year.
- A North Carolina community seeks fire fighter trainee. Must possess high school diploma. Applicant must obtain EMT-Basic certification and state fire fighter certification within 12 months of hire. Pays $29,807-$47,692 per year.
- A city in Texas is advertising for a firefighter certified by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP). The candidate must possess a valid Texas driver's license and EMT-Basic certification from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). Starting annual base bay is around $40,000 per year.
How to Get Ahead in Your Career as a Municipal Fire Fighter
College Degree Programs in Fire Protection
Traditionally, advancement in fire protection careers was obtained through experience, internal promotions or obtaining advanced degrees with superfluous academic content. The increasing complexity of emergency services has led the U.S. Fire Administration, as part of the Department of Homeland Security, to develop the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education committee (FESHE). The mission of FESHE is to establish professional standards for emergency leadership positions and develop curriculum for approved bachelor degree programs in fire protection administration. Currently, FESHE accredits seven baccalaureate programs in the U.S. These and other programs can prepare you for advancement in specialized areas of administration and leadership. As competition increases for fire fighter positions, you may find that obtaining a college degree in a fire protection-related field can provide you with an advantage for entry-level fire fighter positions as well.
Emergency Medical Technician Certifications
The importance of emergency medical training for fire fighters has also increased with the complexity of emergency response duties. A growing number of local governments prefer fire fighter candidates that possess EMT-Paramedic certification. Additional training courses are required for paramedic certification, including the prerequisite EMT-Basic certification. Following the completion of an approved program, you'll need to successfully complete your state's paramedic certification examination. As a paramedic, you may pursue continuing education in areas such as cardiology, trauma, obstetrics and pediatrics, which may give you a competitive advantage when seeking a job.
Alternative Careers in Fire Protection and Public Safety
Perhaps you're interested in fire prevention, but not too keen on running into a burning building. There are alternative careers in the fire prevention field that might pique your interest.
Career as a Forestry Technician
Forestry technicians play a crucial role in fire protection by collecting and recording data, marking trees to be cut and enforcing forestry regulations. Forestry technicians also plant trees, utilize forestry equipment and spray pesticides in an effort to protect the forest and conserve its resources. The vast majority of forestry technicians are employed by the federal government. Most positions require an associate's degree from a forestry and conservation program that is accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF). The BLS projected below-average growth in employment for forestry technicians over the coming years with a negative-four percent growth from 2012-2022 and a mean annual wage in 2014 of about $37,990. Forest fire and prevention specialists, based on BLS data, earned a mean annual salary of about $43,230.
Career as a Fire Inspector
Fire inspectors are generally employed by municipal governments to prevent structural fires by examining interiors and exteriors, electrical wiring, storage areas and exit doors to determine appropriate fire safety measures. They issue building permits and initiate corrective measures for builders to take in order to improve fire safety conditions. Based on BLS projections, fire inspectors and investigators are expected to see slower-than-average employment growth at six percent between 2012 and 2022. These professionals earned a mean salary of about $58,980 in 2014. Additionally, on-the-job training as well as classroom training is typically required, though it varies by state. After training completion, certification may be required as well.