The amount of money firefighters make varies a lot depending on where they are working and what rank they are. The latest data on firefighter salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is from 2018. This data states that a firefighter can expect to make a median salary of $49,620. This is a balanced-out nationwide statistic, so is incredibly variable.
A better statistic to use is the data compiled by Statista.com. They compare firefighter salaries by state. According to Statista, Californian firefighters can expect to make the most with a median salary of $84,370. On the other end of the spectrum is firefighters from Mississippi who can expect to make just $30,180 per year.
1. How much do Firefighters Make in Each State?
It is hard to make direct comparisons between states because the cost of living and tax rates differ substantially between states. So, you need to also consider the quality of life you will have – not just the take-home pay.
For example, California is the highest-paid state for firefighters, but it’s also the most expensive state to live in. Mississippi is the lowest-paid state for firefighters but is a relatively inexpensive place to live.
You can expect to make a median firefighter salary of $84,370 in California and a median salary of $30,180 in Mississippi for the same job. But according to Nerd Wallet, a salary of $84,370 in California would get you the same cost of living as $35,671 in Mississippi. So the difference isn’t quite as big as it first looks.
With that said, here are the raw figures for median salaries for firefighters in different states (according to Statista.com in 2020).
What States Pay Firefighters the Most?
The five states that pay firemen the highest salary are:
1. California: $84,370
2. New Jersey: $80,890
3. Washington State: $76,970
4. New York: $75,160
5. Nevada: $69,310
What States Pay Firefighters the Least?
The five states that pay firemen the lowest salary are:
1. South Carolina: $36,360
2. North Carolina: $34,110
3. Kentucky: $34,030
4. Louisiana: $31,150
5. Mississippi: $30,180
2. Comparisons to Similar Professions
Do Cops make more than Firefighters?
Many people considering firefighting as a career also consider becoming a police officer. The two professions have many similarities. They both do a tremendous service to the general public and act as a safety net for people in need. It can be incredibly gratifying knowing that you have helped save lives and keep people safe.
Both police officers and firefighters also need to stay in a physically fit condition and be mentally alert. So maintaining a strict workout routine is a must.
And of course, both professions are very well respected by the general public.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median police officer or detective salary at $63,380. This is higher than the BLS’s own statistics on the median firefighter salary of $49,620. One potential explanation for the difference is that police have to deal with aggressive people, felons, and other law breakers on a regular basis.
There are about 800,000 police officers in the United States compared to 330,000 firefighters.
Do Paramedics make more than Firefighters?
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) – also known as paramedics – are perhaps the most similar professionals to firefighters. Paramedics and firefighters are both dispatched to emergencies in the community. They must both safely drive their vehicles in high-stakes situation through traffic to attend emergencies as fast as they safely can do so.
Similarly, both paramedics and firefighters need to know emergency first-aid and other medical procedures that they may have to administer on the spot. And of course, they may both be in the business of saving lives and carrying humans who are unable to remove themselves from dangerous situations and take themselves to a hospital.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paramedics make significantly less than firefighters. The median salary for paramedics (latest figures compiled: 2018) is $34,320 compared to the median firefighter salary of $49,620.
Do Nurses make more than Firefighters?
It can also be instructive to compare a firefighter’s salary to some of the most common professions in the United States. Nursing is a profession that over 3 million people (or almost 1% of the US population) do. The median salary for a registered nurse in the United States is $71,730. As with the firefighting profession, this will vary significantly across the states. But it is instructive that a nurse’s median salary is more than $20,000 a year higher than a firefighter’s.
Do Teachers make more than Firefighters?
Another one of the most common comparable middle-class professions in the United States is teaching. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1 million high school teachers, 600,000 middle school teachers, and 1.5 million elementary school teachers in the United States.
The BLS states that the median salary for high school teachers is $60,320 per year, the median for middle school teachers is $58,600, and the median for elementary school teachers is $57,980. It appears from these statistics that teachers across all levels of grade school earn between $8000 and $10,000 per year more than firefighters.
3. What Training do you Need to Become a Firefighter?
The minimum requirement to become a firefighter is usually a high school diploma. However, getting your foot in the door is very difficult and requires a lot of networking and extra-curriculars.
One of the best ways to get your foot in the door is to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). You could graduate from an EMT position to a firefighter position when a position finally opens near where you live. Similarly, you might want to work in Emergency Dispatch to get some experience in the industry.
Some jurisdictions also allow people to volunteer with the fire service so you can start networking in your local area.
Other requirements often include: Age (usually under 35 when you start), physical fitness (you will need to pass a fitness test), and further education.
Further education usually includes a Firefighting I or Firefighting II certificate from a local community college.
4. What it’s Like to be a Firefighter
What do Firefighters do on an Average Day on the Job?
On an average day, a firefighter can expect to do much more than attend call outs to fires.
A firefighter will usually begin their shift by checking their equipment and ensuring the truck and station are clean and organized. They will ensure they are ready to attend an emergency call-out at any time during their shift.
Other activities include:
- Some stations offer fire extinguisher maintenance, checking and recharging services for the public.
- Maintaining equipment such as the truck and firefighting pumps and hoses.
- Public education and outreach campaigns.
- Ongoing training and upskilling.
- Maintaining physical fitness by doing drills at the station.
Do Firefighters get Drug Tested?
Yes. You can expect to be randomly drug tested as a firefighter. This of course does depend upon where you work. However, you are far more likely to get drug tested as a firefighter than in many other professions. This is because firefighting is a high-risk profession with human lives in your hands. You are dealing with life and death situations so the state wants to know that you are not cognitively or physically impaired.
There are over 330,000 firefighters in the United States. They earn a wide range of different salaries depending on rank, where they live, and many other factors. But, on average, a firefighter will make a balanced out salary of about $49,620 if they are from a ‘typical’ middle-of-the range state that’s not got a super expensive or super cheap cost of living, and have a few years’ full-time experience in the job.