Firefighters combat dangerous and flammable substances, rescue people from hazardous situations, assist in public safety education, and serve as first responders to emergency calls. Firefighters are employed by government organizations or self-employed as private contractors. They work in a wide range of environments from urban areas to suburban and rural settings and can be found at hospitals, businesses and homes. The vast majority of call-outs to which firefighters respond are not fires, however. Other emergency situations include assisting with vehicle accidents, hazardous material incidents, and medical emergencies.
Firefighting is a dangerous and physically demanding profession. In order to become a fireman, candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a strenuous physical examination and successfully complete a lengthy training period called an apprenticeship, where they train with an experienced firefighter. The apprenticeship lasts up to four years and includes classroom instruction, hands-on experience and on-the-job training. Most departments use a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) to assess physical firefighting abilities. The CPAT consists of timed events and typically measures endurance, strength, aerobic capacity and upper body agility.
In addition to the physical demands of the job, firefighters must be able to pass regular psychological and drug screenings. The grueling schedule and mental stress of the job can lead to substance abuse, which is often an underlying cause of on-duty deaths among firefighters.
During a callout, firefighters must quickly determine the best course of action to take. They must be able to communicate with the public and understand how fire, smoke, water, chemical and biological factors affect fire behavior. Firefighters also use the knowledge gained during their training to ensure they are properly using equipment and handling hazardous materials during an incident.
After each response, firefighters document their findings and file them at the fire station. On emergency medical callouts, this may be in the form of patient care sheets or accident summaries. Firefighters also generate reports about each incident that can be used for law enforcement investigations, litigation or to create training programs for preventing future incidents.
As part of their routine duties, firefighters perform maintenance on fire engines and vehicles, inspect and document equipment deficiencies, clean their equipment and handle minor vehicle repairs. They also verify the integrity of their personal protective equipment, including oxygen tanks and hazmat suits, and make sure it is ready for its next use.
Firefighters often travel between fire stations on a rotating schedule to cover their shifts. This can require them to live away from their families for extended periods of time. They also face the risk of exposure to dangerous and toxic chemicals, as well as the potential for injury or death from car accidents or other incidents while on duty.
Despite the challenges, the rewards of a career as a fireman can be substantial. Many firefighters find a sense of purpose and satisfaction in protecting their communities from harm, educating the public on fire prevention and ensuring the safety of people and property.