What’s not to like about firefighters? Firefighters are vital because they assist with extinguishing and preventing fires, respond to medical emergencies, assist with traffic incidents, floods, and, when necessary, rescue cats out of trees. 

Pay and Benefits 

Typically employed by local governments, the pay is good, the benefits are great and the job typically comes with a great retirement pension.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 average pay for firefighters is $50,700 annually or $24.30 per hour. The Bureau also predicts a 4% increase in job positions by 2031.

All of this can be done without a four-year degree. However, most fire departments currently require all firefighters to be certified EMTs, which typically requires 120 hours of training. So, a firefighter’s position isn’t a job you apply for if you’re looking for a job in a hurry.   

Training and Requirements

Depending on the program you enroll in, the course can be as short as nine weeks or as long as a year if you’re trying to complete the course while working a full-time job.  Some high schools offer firefighter training programs. If you take the complete program, you can graduate ready to take the state test.  

After you complete the course, you also have to pass the test. The pass rate, for three attempts, averages 70%.  

After you have your EMT certificate, other requirements for being a firefighter vary by department, but they typically include:  

– A minimum requirement to be at least 18 years old and not turn 30 years old prior to the end of the application period.  

– Have a high school diploma or GED.

– Have a valid driver’s license. 

If selected during the hiring process you will be required to:

– Pass pre-employment drug screen and post-offer physical.

– Pass all background checks required by the city

Most departments have set periods when they accept applications. If firefighting is a career you have an interest in, check with departments you might want to work for and see when their next application period is scheduled for and back up accordingly to make sure you’ve studied for and passed your EMT exam. 

Departments may only accept applications when they have openings, which may not happen regularly for some departments.  

Once hired, you’ll complete firefighter training academy and may be required to secure additional certifications or licenses such as a defibrillator license or a Haz-Mat awareness and operations certifications. 

The good news is you’re getting paid while you complete this training.  

Graduation from the fire academy requires individuals to pass the Candidate Physical Agility Test (CPAT). You need to be in pretty decent physical shape to pass this test.  The requirements to pass are standard; find out what they are and begin training to develop the skills you need to pass.  

Work Hours 

Most departments have adopted a 24-hour-on, 48-hour-off schedule. Some work 10-to-12-hour shifts for three to four days and then have three to four days off before the cycle begins again.  

Firefighters can also get some “sleep” on a longer shift until alarms at the station go off.  If you’re on a 24-hour shift, you’re allowed to sleep, but it’s up-and-at-it if an alarm goes off.  

Retired Wichita Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Bob Thompson says Wichita’s 24-hour-on, 24-hour-off schedule has worked well for a lot of firefighters.  

Some firefighters take advantage of the two days off to start and operate their own businesses, and in some cases they earn more on their side-hustles than they do on their regular jobs.  

In addition, the schedule works well for vacations. With the 24-hour/48-hour schedule, it takes two weeks to save five days of vacation.  

Tips from a Retiree

Thompson says he’s disappointed fewer African Americans are entering the firefighting profession.  

“Black firefighters used to be leaders in our community,” said Thompson, “It was a well respected position that afforded Black men an opportunity for advancement and a middle-income salary that allowed them to buy nice homes and take nice vacations.” 

That’s still the case, said Thompson, but somehow the profession has fallen off the radar for African Americans.  

It’s not the kind of career where you can just jump and start the next week, but it takes far less time than a four-year college degree, and the income and benefits often surpass that of most college graduates with a general degree.    

Thompson also encourages those who are interested in the career field to dive in and stay involved in any way possible. 

“If you have any interests or thoughts of being a firefighter, move forward with it. Seek the requirements on what it takes to get hired, have all your credentials ready,” he said.

He emphasizes volunteering at the fire department to get behind the scenes and witness the work firefighters encounter. 

“It may not be active every day, but you still get a chance to see what it’s about doing that opportunity,” Thompson said. “There’s more to it than just driving down the street.”

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Simone Garza

Simone Garza is a reporter in our Kansas City office. In addition to general reporting on Kansas City’s African-American community, she reports on economic inclusion for the African American community....