Firefighting can be an exciting career. You’re doing something that’s serving your community. It’s got moments of huge excitement and the sense of camaraderie with your colleagues can be amazing.
But there are also some downsides. It can be a dangerous job, there is endless on the job training throughout your career, and you’ve got to keep yourself physically and mentally fit.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the pros and cons of being a firefighter so you’ll know whether you want to go into firefighting as a career.
Just a quick note for complete transparency: I’m not a firefighter. This is a collation of my own research into the pros and cons, including research I did by reaching out to firefighters to talk to them about their thoughts about the job.
Let’s get started!
Pros and Cons of Being a Firefighter
|1. Sense of fulfillment and purpose||1. You witness innocent people suffering|
|2. Structure in your life||2. You see families loving loved ones|
|3. The camaraderie||3. You miss family events|
|4. No take home work||4. The pay isn’t amazing|
|5. People love you (high job approval)||5. It’s dangerous|
|6. Benefits and job security||6. Your family will worry about you|
|7. You get to exercise on the job||7. It’s long shift work|
|8. You work with cool equipment||8. It’s hard on your body|
|9. The training is never ending|
Some of the advantages of a firefighting career include:
1. Sense of Fulfillment & Purpose
When you get to the end of your career, you can look back and realize that you’ve done some good for your community. You have a higher purpose and you’ve stuck up for the people around you. You’ve served the richest and poorest in equal measure and helped them all out without bias. Firefighting really is one of those egalitarian careers that looks out for the whole community – and we love our firefighters for us.
2. Structure in your Life
The paramilitary structure of many fire departments means young people who need a disciplined lifestyle will benefit from being a firefighter. Young, fit and enthusiastic people coming out of high school might choose to turn to a firefighting career for that much needed guidance in their lives. In fact, this idea of the firefighting profession teaching discipline to young people is explored in the movie Only the Brave (2017).
3. The Camaraderie
Several firefighters I consulted talked of the camaraderie in the station. Firefighters spend long days together and need to rely on one another in times of need. Much like the Army, this means the team need to form a tight bond. On shift, you’ll often eat together and work side-by-side for long shifts. When the time comes, you’ll have your best friends by your side with 100% faith they’ve got your back. We love how that camaraderie is displayed in the movie Ladder 49:
4. No Take-Home Work
Too many jobs these days require you to take homework with you after you leave the job. That sort of job can be a real drag. It means work life spills over into your home life, and your personal relationships can suffer as a result. Fortunately, your average firefighter is unlikely to have to take work home with them on a weekly basis. This may be
5. People Love You (High Job Approval)
Who hates a firefighter? Many people considering going into firefighting also consider becoming a police officer. On balance, firefighters are more loved than police officers. That’s because police can get a bad reputation among some working-class people and people of color who feel targeted by the police. By contrast, firefighters are always turning up to help protect everyone. It’s not their job to police or punish, so they’re more widely respected across all social classes.
6. Benefits and Job Security
This ‘pro’ is not always the case, so I left it toward the bottom. In many districts, you may find you have a good unionized workforce with good benefits. You might get high quality public service health coverage, annual leave, and a guaranteed salary. But this isn’t always the case. Over the past 30 years, in almost every public service profession, the benefits have been eroded, and you’ll find younger firefighters are on worse conditions than older ones. Nonetheless, you can still find a stable position as a firefighter in many cities in the United States.
7. You Get to Exercise on the Job
Many fire stations have gym equipment and you’re encouraged to use it to keep up your physical fitness whilst at work. There aren’t many other professions in the world where you can get paid to work out. (But don’t be fooled – it’s not all working out and playing playstation. Firefighters can be incredibly busy even on days when there aren’t a lot of call outs).
8. You Work with Cool Equipment
Most kids dream of sitting in that shiny fire truck. It’s big, powerful, and overall just super cool. You’ll also get to learn how to manage a fire fighting pump and fire extinguishing equipment like a complete pro.
Cons of Being a Firefighter
Some of the disadvantages of a firefighting career include:
1. You Witness Innocent People Suffering (and Dying)
I wanted to put this first, because it’s one of the top things that are cited by firefighters as the downside of their job. Unfortunately firefighters might arrive on the scene too late to save lives, often due to faulty or old smoke detectors. They’re often tasked with the job of going into buildings to save people who may have already died of smoke inhalation or burns. You may also be required as a trained EMT to turn up to scenes of suicides, which can be highly traumatic.
2. You’re there when Families Lose their Loved Ones
Similarly, it can be heartbreaking to see families lose their loved ones. Often, you’ll be on the scene when a family member finds out that their child has died. This is of course incredibly heart wrenching. At times, you may even have to break the news to a family about the death of their loved one. I’m sure this must stay in the memories of firefighters for years to come.
3. You Miss Family Events
As a busy working person, you might find that you’re on shift when your child takes her first steps or says her first words. Because you’re on shift work, you might also find that you can’t attend extended family picnics and gatherings on weekends. And even if you turn up to that gathering, you might get an urgent message calling you in for an emergency.
4. The Pay isn’t Amazing
We wrote a comprehensive review of firefighter salaries and found that many other comparable public service professionals get higher pay on average. You’ll likely be paid less as a firefighter than a nurse, police officer or teacher. As you climb the ranks, your pay will go up – and your wage is higher than several other professions. So, it’s not horrible – but you’ll have to accept you’ll be in a working class job throughout your career. If you want to get rich, this isn’t the career for you.
5. It’s Dangerous
Firefighters can die on the job. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. And while you’ve got plenty of training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to help protect you, sometimes unfortunately deaths do happen. Fires are danger zones. It’s not uncommon that structures collapse from above during a fire that will fall and kill or paralyze you. You’ll also be operating fire escape ladders and suspending in high and unsafe locations at times. If you’re interested in becoming a firefighter, you might want to check out the documentary Burn which interviews a firefighter who was paralyzed on the line of duty:
Read Also: 7 Best Movies about Firefighting
6. Your Family will Worry about You
Given the dangers of the job, it’s not surprising that your family will be incredibly worried about you. You have family members back home you need to care for, and your job might get in the way of that. Your partner and children might be waiting at home while you’re at a blaze waiting with great worry that you’ll not get out alive. This can be hard on your family.
7. It’s Long Shift Work
If you want a 9-5 Monday to Friday job, firefighting isn’t for you. Many fire stations require you to do 24 and even 48 hour shifts. On these shifts, you’ll be given rest time, but you’ll also be expected to race to a fire at any moment. These long shifts can be tough on you and your body – especially as you age and your body can’t keep up the way it used to in your 20s.
8. It’s Hard on your Body
That leads me to the next point. Firefighters need to be physically fit. And as you get older, keeping up that fitness can be very difficult. You might find that your body can no longer keep up with the rigor of the job. You might consider as you enter your late 30s to seek a higher-up managerial job in the fire department to let your body get some more rest, but that means stepping away from the front lines, too.
9. The Training is Never Ending
You need to keep your certifications up. You’ll need training on advanced first aid, firefighting techniques, and how to manage and maintain equipment. You’ll find there is also a lot of training on how to keep up to date with current standards and changing regulations. On top of all of this, you may find that there are lots of training sessions on team work and team bonding to make sure you’re ready when it’s time to jump into action.
Being a firefighter is more than just sitting around playing playstation then slipping down that pole to go and save the day. It can be dangerous, heartbreaking, and exhausting. But at the end of the day you’re there to serve your community and you’re serving a higher purpose. With a clearer understanding of what it takes to be a firefighter, hopefully you can make a better decision. The next step if you want to become a firefighter is to talk to a firefighter in person. Consider getting in touch with your local fire station and asking if you can have a chat with one of the ladies or gents in the station about what they think of the job.