Employment Prospects


Approximately 332,400 paid firefighters work in the United States, with about 90 percent of career firefighters working in municipal or county fire departments. Some very large cities have several thousand firefighters, while small towns might only have a few. The remainder work in fire departments on federal and state installations, such as military bases and airports, and for the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service, and state departments of forestry. Private fire brigades employ a very small number of firefighters. About 72 percent of career firefighters work for departments that protect more than 25,000 people, and 95 percent all volunteer firefighters work in small, rural departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Many large companies have their own fire-protection staffs and private fire brigades.

Starting Out

You can enter this occupation by applying to take civil service examinations in your municipality. This usually requires passing physical health, physical performance, and written general intelligence examinations.

If you successfully pass all of the required tests and receive a job appointment you may serve a probationary period during which you receive intensive training. After the completion of this training, you may be assigned to a fire department or engine company for specific duties.

In some small towns and communities, applicants may enter this occupation through on-the-job training as volunteer firefighters or by applying directly to the local government for the position.

Advancement Prospects

Firefighters are generally promoted from within the department, first to the position of firefighter, first grade. After they demonstrate successful job performance and gain experience, firefighters may be promoted to positions as lieutenants, captains, deputies, battalion chiefs, assistant chiefs, deputy chiefs, and finally fire chief. Firefighters may sometimes work three to five years or more to receive a promotion to lieutenant. Promotions usually depend upon the firefighter's position rating, which is determined by seniority, job performance, and scores made on the periodic written examinations.

Tips for Entry

Read Fire Fighter Quarterly ( and National Fire Protection Association Journal ( to learn more about the field.

Visit and for job listings.

Join the International Association of Fire Fighters to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.