Firefighters are people who dedicate their lives to the service of others. This is a demanding career that requires courage, physical strength, the ability to work under pressure and a commitment to the public. In addition to fighting fires and conducting rescue operations, firefighters also survey structures for safety issues, train citizens on fire prevention, and perform inspections of public buildings. The qualifications for becoming a firefighter vary depending on the employer. Many fire departments require candidates to have corrected 20/20 eyesight, a high school diploma and to be 18 years old (21 in some agencies). Some firefighter candidates receive their training through state or local firefighting academies while others enter the workforce as apprentices under an apprenticeship program. The firefighter career path offers several advancement opportunities including the ranks of engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief and chief officer.
People have been fighting fires since there were valuable things to burn, but the first instance of organized professionals doing so dates to the 2nd century AD in ancient Egypt. By the Roman Republic, a professional fire brigade was in place with an extensive command structure and the power to impose corporal punishment on those who violated fire safety codes.
Modern firefighting is a science, and the role of a firefighter is complex. The most familiar activity is putting out fires, but that is only a small part of the overall job. Rescue operations, hazardous materials mitigation, disaster response, and other duties require the same type of dedication, skill, and mental strength that firefighting does.
The physical demands of the profession are severe and include prolonged exposure to extreme heat, smoke, carbon monoxide, chemical fumes and toxins, as well as working in underground or other tight spaces for extended periods of time. The stress of the work may contribute to psychological disorders and musculoskeletal problems. Firefighters may suffer from exhaustion and are often exposed to physical injury, illness, disease, emotional trauma, death or disability.
To prepare for the physical requirements of this profession, applicants typically undergo a rigorous medical and psychological evaluation and drug screening. They must pass a written exam and a physical agility test. After passing the examination, they are placed on a civil service list and called for duty based on the need for personnel at emergencies.
To perform their duties, firefighters must have an excellent understanding of all aspects of fire fighting equipment and techniques. They must be able to analyze emergency situations quickly and determine the most effective courses of action. During an incident, they must communicate with other firefighters and the public through radio and other methods of communication. They must also be able to operate fire equipment such as hydraulic ladders, aerial platforms, pumping apparatus and power tools. Additionally, they must be able to read and understand technical materials, rules and regulations, and follow procedures for maintaining and operating all firefighting equipment. They must also be able to identify different types of hazardous materials and their effects.