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What does a Firefighter do?

How would you like to make your living being a hero? If that sounds too good to be true, you've probably been thinking about work as strictly a way to pay the bills. Let's face it: most jobs are a means to an end. At best, they're an acceptable trade-off, a way for you to support yourself and contribute to the family income. The best careers, however, highlight your personal strengths and challenge you to overcome your weaknesses. If you have always felt you have more to give, live to help others and welcome tests of courage, a career as a firefighter may well be such a job.

Becoming a firefighter: a condensed how-to guide

Firefighters are required to complete formal educational training. In the past, a high school diploma usually fulfilled the educational requirement, but the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stresses that employers in this field increasingly prefer job applicants who have completed some post-secondary schooling. Many universities now offer 2- and 4-year programs in fire science, and community colleges sometimes provide fire science electives for students who wish to pursue a shorter, more general course of study.

Firefighters must pass written and physical tests, as well as a medical examination that includes a drug screening. All new hires receive several weeks of intensive training at their department's academy. A combination of classroom instruction and practical exercises teach new recruits fire prevention, hazardous materials control, fire fighting techniques, emergency medical procedures, and specialized equipment management. In addition, most departments require firefighters to be EMT-certified; some larger, urban departments require paramedic certification.

You can find employment in a variety of settings, from rural areas to big cities, at airports, chemical plants, and as part of hazardous materials units. Workers who fight forest fires employ methods and equipment that differ from those of other firefighters, and their on-the-job training reflects these unique practices.

Job outlook and wage information for aspiring firefighters

The BLS predicts faster than average growth for the firefighting industry over the coming decade, due to an overall increase in demand as well as the conversion of volunteer jobs to paid positions. Yet, because firefighting consistently attracts so many applicants, competition for jobs should remain high. Candidates with the best chances are physically fit, score well on mechanical aptitude tests, and have completed some post-secondary education and/or EMT/paramedic certification.

If you'd like to make your career in public service, get a jump on the competition by enrolling in fire science courses at your local university or community college.

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