Every year, fires and other catastrophes take thousands of lives and destroy property worth billions of dollars. Fire fighters help protect the public against these dangers by rapidly responding to a variety of emergencies. They are frequently the first emergency personnel at the scene of a traffic accident or medical emergency and may be called upon to put out a fire, treat injuries, or perform other vital functions. In addition to any firefighting job skills that firefighters need to have; most career and volunteer fire department requires their members to be emergency medical technicians or paramedics as later discussed in this document.
During duty hours, fire fighters must be prepared to respond immediately to a fire or any other emergency that arises. Because fighting fires is dangerous and complex, it requires organization and teamwork. At every emergency scene, fire fighters perform specific duties assigned by a superior officer. At fires, they connect hose lines to hydrants; operate a pump to send water to high-pressure hoses, and position ladders to enable them to deliver water to the fire. They also rescue victims, provide emergency medical attention as needed, ventilate smoke-filled areas, and attempt to salvage the contents of buildings. Their duties may change several times while the company is in action. Sometimes they remain at the site of a disaster for days at a time, rescuing trapped survivors and assisting with medical treatment. (CollegeGrad.com)
Firefighter: Nature of the work preformed
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Fire fighters work in a variety of settings, including urban and suburban areas, airports, chemical plants, other industrial sites, and rural areas like grasslands and forests. They have also assumed a range of responsibilities, including emergency medical services. In fact, most calls to which fire fighters respond involve medical emergencies and 65 percent of all fire departments provide emergency medical service. In addition, some fire fighters work in hazardous materials units that are trained for the control, prevention, and cleanup of materials; for example, these fire fighters respond to oil spills. Workers in urban and suburban areas, airports, and industrial sites typically use conventional firefighting equipment and tactics, while forest fires and major hazardous materials spills call for different methods.
In national forests and parks, forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists spot fires from watchtowers and report their findings to headquarters by telephone or radio. Forest rangers patrol to ensure that travelers and campers comply with fire regulations. When fires break out, crews of fire fighters are brought in to suppress the blaze with heavy equipment, hand tools, and water hoses. Fighting forest fires, like fighting urban fires, is rigorous work. One of the most effective means of battling a blaze is creating fire lines—cutting down trees and digging out grass and all other combustible vegetation in the path of the fire— to deprive it of fuel. Elite fire fighters called smoke jumpers parachute from airplanes to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. This tactic, however, can be extremely hazardous because the crews have no way to escape if the wind shifts and causes the fire to burn toward them.
Between alarms, fire fighters clean and maintain equipment, conduct practice drills and fire inspections, and participate in physical fitness activities. They also prepare written reports on fire incidents and review fire science literature to keep abreast of technological developments and changing administrative practices and policies.
Most fire departments have a fire prevention division, usually headed by a fire marshal and staffed by fire inspectors. Workers in this division conduct inspections of structures to prevent fires and ensure compliance with fire codes. These fire fighters also work with developers and planners to check and approve plans for new buildings. Fire prevention personnel often speak on these subjects in schools and before public assemblies and civic organizations. (CollegeGrad.com)
Some fire fighters become fire investigators, who determine the origin and causes of fires. They collect evidence, interview witnesses, and prepare reports on fires in cases where the cause may be arson or criminal negligence. They often are called upon to testify in court.
Firefighters: Working Conditions
Fire fighters spend much of their time at fire stations, which usually have features in common with a residential facility like a dormitory. When an alarm sounds, fire fighters respond rapidly, regardless of the weather or hour. Fire fighting involves the risk of death or injury from sudden cave-ins of floors, toppling walls, traffic accidents when responding to calls, and exposure to flames and smoke. Fire fighters also may come in contact with poisonous, flammable, or explosive gases and chemicals, as well as radioactive or other hazardous materials that may have immediate or long-term effects on their health. For these reasons, they must wear protective gear that can be very heavy and hot.
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Work hours of fire fighters are longer and vary more widely than hours of most other workers. Many work more than 50 hours a week, and sometimes they may work even longer. In some agencies, fire fighters are on duty for 24 hours, then off for 48 hours, and receive an extra day off at intervals. In others, they work a day shift of 10 hours for 3 or 4 days, a night shift of 14 hours for 3 or 4 nights, have 3 or 4 days off, and then repeat the cycle. In addition, fire fighters often work extra hours at fires and other emergencies and are regularly assigned to work on holidays. Fire lieutenants and fire captains often work the same hours as the fire fighters they supervise. Duty hours include time when fire fighters study, train, and perform fire prevention duties.
Firefighter: Training, qualifications and advancement
Applicants for municipal fire fighting jobs generally must pass a written exam; tests of strength, physical stamina, coordination, and agility; and a medical examination that includes drug screening. Workers may be monitored on a random basis for drug use after accepting employment. Examinations are generally open to persons who are at least 18 years of age and have a high school education or the equivalent. Those who receive the highest scores in all phases of testing have the best chances for appointment. The completion of community college courses in fire science may improve an applicants chances for appointment. In recent years, an increasing proportion of entrants to this occupation have had some postsecondary education.
As a rule, entry-level workers in large fire departments are trained for several weeks at the departments training center or academy. Through classroom instruction and practical training, the recruits study fire fighting techniques, fire prevention, hazardous materials control, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures, including first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
They also learn how to use axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, ladders, and other fire fighting and rescue equipment. After successfully completing this training, the recruits are assigned to a fire company, where they undergo a period of probation.
Almost all departments require fire fighters to be certified as emergency medical technicians. (For more information, see the statement on emergency medical technicians and paramedics.) While most fire departments require the lowest level of certification, EMT-Basic, larger departments in major metropolitan areas are increasingly requiring paramedic certification. Some departments include this training in the fire academy, while others prefer that recruits have EMT certification beforehand, but will give them up to 1 year to become certified on their own.
A number of fire departments have accredited apprenticeship programs lasting up to 4 years. These programs combine formal, technical instruction with on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced fire fighters. Technical instruction covers subjects such as fire fighting techniques and equipment, chemical hazards associated with various combustible building materials, emergency medical procedures, and fire prevention and safety.
In addition to participating in advanced training programs conducted by local fire departments, some fire fighters attend training sessions sponsored by the U.S. National Fire Academy. These training sessions cover topics such as executive development, anti-arson techniques, disaster preparedness, hazardous materials control, and public fire safety and education. Some States also have either voluntary or mandatory fire fighter training or certification programs. In addition, a number of colleges and universities offer courses leading to two or four year degrees in fire engineering or fire science. Many fire departments offer fire fighters incentives such as tuition reimbursement or higher pay for completing advanced training.
Among the personal qualities fire fighters need are mental alertness, self-discipline, courage, mechanical aptitude, endurance, strength, and a sense of public service. Initiative and good judgment also are extremely important, because fire fighters make quick decisions in emergencies. Members of a crew live and work closely together under conditions of stress and danger for extended periods, so they must be dependable and able to get along well with others. Leadership qualities are necessary for officers, who must establish and maintain discipline and efficiency, as well as direct the activities of fire fighters in their companies.
Most experienced fire fighters continue studying to improve their job performance and prepare for promotion examinations. To progress to higher level positions, they acquire expertise in advanced firefighting equipment and techniques, building construction, emergency medical technology, writing, public speaking, management and budgeting procedures, and public relations.
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Opportunities for promotion depend upon the results of written examinations, as well as job performance, interviews, and seniority. Increasingly, fire departments are using assessment centers, which simulate a variety of actual job performance tasks, to screen for the best candidates for promotion. The line of promotion usually is to engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and, finally, chief. For promotion to positions higher than battalion chief, many fire departments now require a bachelorï¿½s degree, preferably in fire science, public administration, or a related field. An associateï¿½s degree is required for executive fire officer certification from the National Fire Academy.
Employment figures in this statement include only paid career fire fighters—they do not cover volunteer fire fighters, who perform the same duties and may constitute the majority of fire fighters in a residential area. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 70 percent of fire companies are staffed by volunteer fire fighters. In 2004, total employment in firefighting occupations was about 353,000. Fire fighters held about 282,000 jobs, first-line supervisors/managers of fire fighting and prevention workers held about 56,000, and fire inspectors held about 15,000.
About 9 out of 10 fire fighting workers were employed by municipal or county fire departments. Some large cities have thousands of career fire fighters, while many small towns have only a few. Most of the remainder worked in fire departments on Federal and State installations, including airports. Private fire fighting companies employ a small number of fire fighters and usually operate on a subscription basis.
In response to the expanding role of fire fighters, some municipalities have combined fire prevention, public fire education, safety, and emergency medical services into a single organization commonly referred to as a public safety organization. Some local and regional fire departments are being consolidated into countywide establishments in order to reduce administrative staffs, cut costs, and establish consistent training standards and work procedures.
Firefighters: Job Outlook
Prospective fire fighters are expected to face keen competition for available job openings. Many people are attracted to fire fighting because it is challenging and provides the opportunity to perform an essential public service, a high school education is usually sufficient for entry, and a pension is guaranteed upon retirement after twenty five years. Consequently, the number of qualified applicants in most areas exceeds the number of job openings, even though the written examination and physical requirements eliminate many applicants. This situation is expected to persist in coming years. Applicants with the best opportunities are those who are physically fit and score the highest on physical conditioning and mechanical aptitude exams. Those who have completed some fire fighter education at a community college and have EMT certification will have an additional advantage.
Employment of fire fighters is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. Most job growth will occur as volunteer fire fighting positions are converted to paid positions in growing suburban areas. In addition to job growth, openings are expected to result from the need to replace fire fighters who retire, stop working for other reasons, or transfer to other occupations.
Layoffs of fire fighters are uncommon. Fire protection is an essential service, and citizens are likely to exert considerable pressure on local officials to expand or at least preserve the level of fire protection. Even when budget cuts do occur, local fire departments usually trim expenses by postponing purchases of equipment or by not hiring new fire fighters, rather than through staff reductions.
Median hourly earnings of fire fighters were $18.43 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.65 and $24.14. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.71, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $29.21. Median hourly earnings were $18.78 in local government, $17.34 in the Federal Government, and $14.94 in State government. Median annual earnings of first-line supervisors/managers of fire fighting and prevention workers were $58,920 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $46,880 and $72,600. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,860. First-line supervisors/managers of fire fighting and prevention workers employed in local government earned about $60,800 a year. Median annual earnings of fire inspectors and investigators were $46,340 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,030 and $58,260 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $71,490. Fire inspectors and investigators employed in local government earned about $48,020 a year.
An EMT functions as a primary care provider in the pre-hospital setting. The EMT is responsible for all aspects of care provided to the sick and injured. The EMT provides basic life support, including patient assessment, airway management, use of the automatic defibrillator and assisting patients with taking some of their own medications. The EMT is responsible for driving the ambulance in a safe manner under all conditions. The EMT must have a thorough knowledge of the street, highway and addressing system in which he or she will be working. In organizations that provide advanced patient care, the EMT will work under the direction of a Paramedic and assume a support role. The EMT must understand all applicable legal, moral and ethical issues surrounding emergency medical service. The EMT must be dedicated to continued learning through continuing education and maintenance of licensures and certifications.
A paramedic functions as the most extensively trained primary care provider in the pre-hospital setting. The paramedic is responsible for all aspects of care provided to the sick and injured. The paramedic provides both basic and advanced life support, including comprehensive patient assessment, invasive airway management, cardiac monitoring and administration of medications. The paramedic is frequently in a leadership role working with a small team of lesser-trained prehospital care providers. The paramedic is responsible for verbal communication with the patient, other prehospital providers and hospital personnel, including physician medical directors. The paramedic completes extensive written documentation on patient condition and treatment provided, and must understand all applicable legal, moral and ethical issues surrounding emergency medical service. The paramedic must be dedicated to continued learning through continuing education and maintenance of licensures and certifications.
The EMT must be confident and accept the challenge and high degree of responsibility entailed in this position. The EMT must have excellent judgment, be able to prioritize decisions and act quickly in the best interest of the patient. The EMT must be able to function at an optimum level in a non-structured environment that is constantly changing. The EMT must be able to remain calm while working in difficult and stressful situations, and stay focused while carrying out the functions of the position. Good judgment is essential, along with knowledge and technical skills. The EMT must possess excellent verbal communication skills and be capable of adapting to situations with violence and emotional instability in multicultural settings. The EMT must possess critical reasoning skills and be capable of applying them effectively in stressful situations. Self motivation is essential.
The paramedic must be a confident leader who can accept the challenge and high degree of responsibility entailed in this position. The paramedic must have excellent judgment, be able to prioritize decisions and act quickly in the best interest of the patient. The paramedic must be able to function independently at an optimum level in a non-structured environment that is constantly changing. The paramedic must be able to remain calm while working in difficult and stressful situations, and stay focused while assuming the leadership role inherent in carrying out the functions of the position. Good judgment is essential in directing other team members to assist as needed, along with advanced knowledge, technical skills. The paramedic must possess excellent verbal communication skills and be capable of adapting to situations with violence and emotional instability in multicultural settings. The paramedic must possess critical reasoning and math skills and be capable of applying them effectively in stressful situations. Self motivation is essential.