Career Guide | What Do Firefighters Do?

little boy dressed as a firefighter

Firefighters are courageous first responders and emergency workers. Firefighters often work long shifts and respond to fires and other emergency situations.

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What Does A Firefighter Do?

There are many different kinds of firefighters. Some firefighters are volunteers that work at the local fire department and respond to local fires, rescue missions, and emergencies.

Firefighters can also work in the military and respond to larger scale emergencies and disasters. Other firefighters specialize in what kind of fires they respond to, like forest, wildland, and hotshot firefighters.

Firefighters can also be crucial workers who specialize in hazardous materials. They are the responders who tackle hazardous materials, oil spills, and other chemical accidents and emergencies.

  • put out fires
  • respond to emergencies
  • use large water hoses
  • use fire hydrants in the street
  • drive fire trucks and other emergency vehicles
  • maintain equipment
  • do frequent practice drills
  • educate the public on fire safety
  • rescue victims from burning buildings
  • help in other emergency or rescue situations

What Do Firefighters Make?

In general, firefighters make a median annual salary of $50,850 per year. This pay can also depend on what level a firefighter is in their firefighter career, whether they have a degree in fire science, and whether they receive hazard pay.

What Do You Need To Be A Firefighter?

Communication Skills:

Firefighters have to communicate with each other and the people they are saving in high-pressure, emergency situations. The circumstances firefighters work under and stressful and hectic, but through the mayhem, they need to be able to clearly, calmly, and efficiently communicate with everyone involved.


Firefighters also work in teams. A firefighting team needs to be able to depend on each other and successfully work together without problems. Teamwork amongst firefighters can literally save lives, so knowing how to successfully work in groups is a must for any firefighter.


Firefighters are the first responders in high-risk, dangerous situations. They risk their lives to save victims in burning buildings and other dangerous circumstances. To do so, firefighters need a healthy dose of bravery as part of their skillset.

Decision Making Skills:

Intense situations call for quick and smart decision-making skills. Many times a firefighter won’t have time to weigh different choices. Firefighters need to know their job and their training well enough to be able to make quick, on-the-spot decisions in hazardous situations.

Problem Solving Skills:

Just like with decision making, firefighters also need to be able to problem solve quickly and responsibly. Firefighters face a wide range of problems in their jobs, from cats stuck up trees to buildings that are burning down. All kinds of new and complicated problems get thrown their way every day in all the cases they handle. So firefighters need well-exercised problem-solving skills to do their job.

Physical Strength and Stamina:

Firefighting also involves a lot of manual labor. Firefighters operate, carry, and maintain a lot of different heavy equipment. The fire suits they wear are also heavy, and firefighters need to be strong enough to do their jobs while wearing their heavy gear. Firefighters train and pass strict physical exams to have the physical strength and stamina necessary to do their jobs.

Keep Calm:

Firefighters work under a lot of pressure. Their jobs are also highly unpredictable. While dealing with stressful situations it’s important for firefighters to maintain composure and remain calm. This is especially important when firefighters are dealing with civilians. Rather than create more panic in intense scenarios, firefighters need the skills to maintain calm, focus, and teamwork to get their jobs done.

What Do Firefighters Wear?

Firefighters wear a lot of protective equipment to help keep them safe as they fight fires. All in all, a firefighter will wear a fire helmet, turnout pants and jacket, a self-contained breathing apparatus, gloves, boots, and a personal alert safety system (PASS).

The firefighter’s uniform is designed to keep them safe from fire and intense heat. Their PASS is then designed to monitor a firefighter’s GPS signal in case they need help being located or get trapped. Because of the durable, protective nature of a firefighter’s gear, a firefighter’s uniform ends up weighing between 45 and 50 pounds. This is just one of the many reasons firefighters are required to be in top physical condition to do their jobs.

What Do Volunteer Firefighters Do?

There are volunteer firefighters and then there are career firefighters. The main difference between the 2 is that career firefighters live and work every day at the firehouse, while volunteer firefighters don’t.

To become a volunteer firefighter you usually will have to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Then you’ll have to pass some firefighting exams and background checks.

Volunteer firefighters help career firefighters to do their job, and they often carry out many of the same tasks. Volunteer firefighters also put out fires, undergo training and practice drills, and help fulfill a lot of essential, nonemergency tasks at the fire station too.

  • rescue victims
  • carry fire hoses
  • put out fires
  • fire prevention practices
  • administer first aid
  • break down doors where necessary
  • clean and maintain the firehouse
  • give tours of the fire station
  • Undergo regular training

What Do Firefighter Paramedics Do?

Many firefighters deal with emergency situations that involve sick and injured people. Paramedic firefighters are firefighters that also have certifications, training, and expertise as actual paramedics alongside all their fire training. Paramedic firefighters are both firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Firefighter EMTs/paramedics treat patients in emergencies on-site and transport patients to medical facilities for further treatment.

  • respond to 911 calls
  • assess a patient’s overall condition
  • determine necessary treatment
  • perform resuscitation/CPR
  • bandage wounds
  • provide first aid
  • provide life support during transit to a medical facility
  • transport patients to medical facilities
  • maintain and restock emergency vehicles
  • drive emergency vehicles like an ambulance

What Do Firefighter Engineers Do?

Fire engineers, engineer firefighters, or firefighter engineers are all the same word for the firefighter that drives and maintains the different vehicles that firefighters use.

Firefighter engineers operate and maintain fire vehicles and other emergency vehicles. It’s their job to make sure the fire engine is working properly and ready to go at all times.

Other than that, firefighters work as regular firefighters, working in emergency situations alongside their fellow team members.

  • drive emergency vehicles
  • replace fuel, fluids, and other necessary vehicle parts
  • maintain emergency vehicles
  • put out fires
  • rescue victims
  • teach fire safety

What Do Forest Firefighters Do?

Forest firefighters work in a firefighting team often referred to as crews. Forest firefighters focus their firefighting expertise on forest fires. They have to be knowledgeable about fire science related to forest fires specifically.

When there is a forest fire, forest firefighters parachute into the location along with their firefighting equipment. They work with water pumps, chemical pumps, and shovels to extinguish and stop the spread of forest fires. Forest firefighters might also help rescue trapped hikers and campers.

Once the forest fire is under control they’ll patrol the area for reemerging fires to put out. Forest firefighters also enforce fire and safety regulations in the forests they patrol and educate campers and hikers on forest fire prevention.

  • fight forest fires
  • patrol forested areas for fires and fire hazards
  • parachute into forest fire locations
  • rescue hikers and campers
  • read a compass and map
  • teach forest fire safety and fire prevention

What Do Air Force Firefighters Do?

Air Force firefighters are fire protection specialists who use their firefighting skills to work for the Air Force. They handle hazardous situations, fires, and emergencies that involve the Air Force or fall under Air Force jurisdiction.

Air Force firefighters might work to put out brush fires, burning rocket fuel, and chemical fires. They work on Air Force bases, but also often assist local fire departments too.

  • operate government vehicles
  • put out fires
  • handle hazardous materials
  • assist local fire departments
  • teach fire safety regulations and drills
  • run emergency drills

What Do Reserve Firefighters Do?

Reserve firefighters are similar to volunteer firefighters. Reserve firefighters are firefighting staff on the reserves, meaning they are like backup firefighters. Many people looking to start a career as a firefighter might start as a reserve firefighter.

Many reserve firefighters are on their way to beginning their lives as career firefighters. They often undergo lots of training and work to become certified in many areas. The most common certification that reserve firefighters want to get is as a certified EMT or paramedic.

  • community service
  • participate in a firefighter training program
  • perform routine maintenance
  • help educate the community
  • help inspect buildings for fire safety regulations
  • report to your supervising fire officer

What Do Wildland Firefighters Do?

Wildland firefighters are much like forest firefighters. But wildland firefighters tackle fires that occur on any kind of wilderness terrain, not just forests.

One tactic that wildland firefighters often use is fire lines. Fire lines involve cutting down large lines of trees, and ditches to prevent the further spread of a wildland fire. They might also cause controlled fires, or prescribed fires, to burn potential forest fire fuel away under controlled conditions.

Wildland firefighters also consist of smokejumpers. Smokejumpers are wilderness firefighters that parachute into forest fire areas to fight the fire from the ground and rescue trapped victims.

  • parachute from airplanes
  • chop down trees and dig ditches to create fire lines
  • manage controlled fires
  • rescue people trapped by wildland fires

What Do Hotshot Firefighters Do?

The term “hotshot” firefighter, or hotshot crew, first became a thing in California during the 1940s. Hotshot firefighters are called hotshots because they are firefighters that fight the hottest parts of forest fires.

Hotshot crews are highly skilled hand crews that work as a coordinated team to tackle the hottest epicenters of wildland fires. Like other firefighters, they work with heavy equipment and gear to help them fight the spread of wilderness fires. But hotshot firefighters have a very specified skillset to tackle some of the most dangerous fire zones to stop dangerous wildland fire spreads.

  • meet strict physical requirements
  • learn operational procedures specific tackling wildfires
  • work in a carefully coordinated team

What Do You Need To Become A Firefighter?

High School Diploma

What degree do you need to become a firefighter? The short answer is, you don’t need a degree to become a firefighter.

Almost every fire program will require its students, applicants, trainees, and volunteers to at least have a high school diploma or GED. But most fire departments don’t require any kind of college degree.

Firefighters looking to make a full-time career out of firefighting can also further their education with college degrees in fire science, but this isn’t required to start working as a firefighter.

Fire Academy or Fire School

Firefighting schools offer specific training and instructions for firefighters. At fire school, prospective firefighters can learn all about fire science, fire prevention, building codes, and emergency training.

Many firefighters will receive their necessary licenses and certifications while in fire school.

What Do You Have To Do To Become A Firefighter?

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Certification

Many firefighters are also certified EMTs and paramedics. Firefighters are, after all, emergency responders. They often work hand in hand with ambulances in all kinds of emergency situations.

Firefighters dealing with fires also often need some medical expertise to administer first aid to the people they save or their fellow firefighters.

Firefighter Certification 1

Firefighters have to pass 2 separate certifications in order to work as firefighters. Firefighter certification 1 involves learning about proper communication practices, fire scene decontamination, structure fires, fire extinguishment methods, fire streams, fire detection, protection regulations, fire suppression systems, and any other updates for firefighter training and practices.

Firefighter certification 1 teaches prospective firefighters all the basics of firefighting, fire safety, and fire department operations and procedures.

Firefighter Certification 2

When firefighter trainees move on to firefighter certification 2 they will begin training on more advanced areas of firefighting. Firefighter certification 2 will teach them even more about slowing fire damage, rescuing people from a fire scene, and handling firefighting equipment.

Firefighter certification 2 takes all the basic things firefighters learn in their first certification and expounds upon that knowledge.



Zippia: the Career Expert. “Working As A Firefighter/Paramedic.”

Chron. “What Does an Engineer Fireman Do?” by Aurelio Locsin. “What is a Forest Firefighter?” “Career Details: Fire Protection.”

Firefighter NOW. “What Is A Reserve Firefighter?”

USDA, US Forest Service: Caring for the land and serving the people. “Hotshots: These handcrews can really take the heat!”

HCI College. “Firefighter Gear: What Do Firefighters Wear?”


written by Kimber Severance, Check City Copywriter

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