What Does a Firefighter Do?


Firefighters are emergency responders who put their lives on the line to protect people and property from fires, explosions, floods, natural disasters, and other emergencies. They are sworn members of the fire service, and they typically receive formal training at a fire academy. Firefighters work for local fire departments, wilderness firefighting agencies, and state fire organizations, as well as with construction trades, fire-equipment manufacturers, and other industries.


A firefighter’s job requires intense physical activity and mental acuity. They often encounter high levels of stress and adrenaline, especially during emergency situations that require them to make quick decisions under pressure. In addition, firefighters are exposed to a variety of potential hazards, including smoke inhalation, heat exposure, and falling or collapsing structures. These factors can contribute to firefighter burnout.

Those who successfully complete the entrance process for a fire department can be hired for various positions, including on-call firefighter, engine operator, firefighter specialist, and dispatcher. As more and more people become interested in becoming firefighters, competition for the position can be fierce. A substantial number of candidates will be disqualified during the entry process, either due to poor written exam scores or failing the physical abilities test, or from failing the oral interview or background investigation.


In addition to fighting fires, firefighters also rescue trapped victims from car accidents, structure collapses, chemical spills, and other incidents. They are trained in a wide variety of techniques to free people from such situations. Firefighters can use ladders, fire axes, hand tools, hydraulic spreaders, and other equipment to extricate people from vehicles or to break through walls to rescue them. They may also have to rescue pets, livestock, or other animals from dangerous environments.

Firefighters are responsible for assessing each emergency situation upon arrival at the scene. They must evaluate the properties of the fire, its probability of spreading, and the needs of victims in order to determine the best course of action. They must also assess the risks of entering a building to fight an interior fire. They then must quickly decide between an offensive or defensive strategy based on these assessments.


In many jurisdictions, firefighters must also perform public education and fire safety outreach activities. They train community members, teach schoolchildren about fire prevention, and speak to groups at schools and civic events. Firefighters can also be found in hazardous materials units, assisting with cleanup and decontamination after oil spills and chemical accidents.

When they are not on call, firefighters spend time cleaning and maintaining the fire station and their personal living quarters. They must also regularly inspect their equipment and participate in drills. In addition, they are on call for 24 hours, so their shifts can last days or even weeks. This can impact family life and cause sleep deprivation. Despite the long and varied tasks, the rewards of being a firefighter can be significant. The pay is competitive, and the benefits package is comprehensive. Many firefighters find that being a firefighter is a career they are passionate about.

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