Smiling firefighter in front of a fire truck

EMT to Firefighter: Career Guide for Firefighter EMTs

How to Become a Firefighter EMT: Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Smiling firefighter in front of a fire truck

They’re the first line of defense against disasters. They’re on call 24-hours a day just in case they’re needed. And they’re the first to rush into literal flames to save another person’s life.

Few careers are as heroic as being a firefighter, and understandably, few are harder to break into. There are strict physical requirements and thorough background checks. At the same time, more and more firefighter positions require training in emergency medical services and EMT certification.

The majority of calls to which firefighters respond involve medical emergencies (almost two-thirds or 64%, to be exact). So, it makes sense that more than 90% of fire departments now require their employees to be EMT certified before jumping on the truck.

If you want to wear the helmet and badge, you’ll need to brush up on your EMT skills. Here’s a look at precisely what you’ll need to study, the tests you’ll need to pass, and the time you’ll need to commit to begin your career as a firefighter.

(Click here to see our complete list of the best alternative jobs for EMTs & Paramedics)

Firefighter EMTs vs. Ambulance EMTs

An EMT is an EMT, regardless of their uniform or workplace. Firefighter EMTs and ambulance EMTs both receive the same medical training. Both require physical tests, CPR certification, and both must perform emergency medical treatment in the field. The primary difference between these two roles is the time needed for training and overall job responsibilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Firefighters also earn an average of $15,000+ more per year than EMTs due to the additional training and job expectations.*

How Long Does it Take to Become a Firefighter EMT?

EMT training is just the beginning for future firefighter EMTs—you’ll also attend a Fire Academy, which can last 14 to 16 weeks if studying full time. Some employers also require an associate degree or additional training in fire science. However, once the courses and certification are complete, a firefighter’s responsibilities extend well beyond an EMT. Although providing emergency medical treatment is a primary part of their job, it’s just one of the many life-saving tools in the firefighter’s tool belt.

Where Do Firefighter EMTs Work?

There are two types of firefighters—volunteer and full-time.

Volunteer firefighters work from home or hold other jobs while “on-call.” About two-thirds of all firefighters are volunteers.

Full-time firefighters make it their career to serve as firefighters. They typically work out of a central firehouse. Here, they’ll sleep, eat, shower, exercise, and prepare for the next emergency call—which can come at any hour of the day or night.

Firefighters divide the usual household chores because it’s a shared living quarter (like roommates). From cooking and cleaning to grocery shopping, they all work together to fulfill these shared responsibilities. The most important thing about the firehouse is that everyone is ready to drop whatever they’re doing the moment duty calls.

Firefighter EMT Job Description

What Does a Firefighter EMT Do?

A typical firefighter works about 56 hours per week—typically divided into 24-hour shifts. Some departments may choose to assign 8- or 12-hour shifts, but this is a rarity.

For most fire departments, the new shift begins at 8:00 am. After that, the retiring shift heads home, and the arriving shift meets for roll call and any pre-shift announcements. Next, the new shift will immediately check all gear and equipment to ensure everything is in perfect operational order for the upcoming 24-hours (no one wants to discover a half-full oxygen tank or missing gear during an emergency).

After inspections, the daily maintenance begins—firehouse upkeep, cleaning the trucks, refilling the tanks, etc.

Like EMTs, no two days will be the same for firefighters. They never know what emergencies will occur or what call will come in, so they have to be on constant alert during their shifts. But while they’re in the firehouse, firefighters may spend time completing required studies and training, sweating through required daily physical exercise, or just enjoying some relaxing downtime with their fellow firefighters in the recreation room.

Stethoscope next to stack of money

Firefighter EMT Salary

How Much Does a Firefighter EMT Make?

According to the BLS, the average salary* for a firefighter is about $56,000 per year (or about $27 per hour). Of course, this can vary drastically from city to city. For a better idea of how salaries can change (plus some highlights about each town), check out our full list of the best paying cities for EMTs.

Your experience and rank within the fire department also play a significant role in how much you can earn as a firefighter. For example, among firefighters, the top 10% of wage earners make more than $93,000 per year.

Where Are Some of The Best Places to Work as a Firefighter EMT?

Firefighter salaries can vary greatly depending on your employer, experience, and education. For instance, firefighters working in spectator sports make an average salary* of about $70,000, while those working in architectural and engineering firms earn an average salary* of $59,000.

Here’s a closer look at top-paying industries for firefighters in 2020, according to the BLS:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Spectator Sports $33.83 $70,360
Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing $30.80 $64,060
Ship and Boat Building $28.43 $59,130
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $28.36 $59,000
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services $28.29 $58,840

Highest Paying States for Firefighters

Though Firefighters can find employment anywhere in the country, some states have more opportunities than others. According to the BLS, the highest-paying states for Firefighters are New Jersey, California, Washington, New York, and Hawaii.

Here’s the breakdown by location and average salary:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
New Jersey $41.77 $86,880
California $41.76 $86,860
Washington $37.36 $77,700
New York $37.20 $77,380
Nevada $32.97 $68,590

 Highest-Paying Cities for Firefighters

According to the BLS, these U.S. cities offer the best salaries for Firefighters:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $60.43 $125,680
San Francisco, CA $52.63 $109,480
Vallejo, CA $50.80 $105,670
Los Angeles, CA $48.19 $100,230
Oxnard, CA $47.72 $99.260
Seattle, WA $41.79 $86,930
New York, NY $40.89 $85,040
Atlantic City, NJ $40.45 $84,140
Portland, OR $39.93 $83,060
Santa Barbara, CA $39.40 $81,950

Pay isn’t everything, of course, so check out our guide on the best cities to work as an EMT for a broader overview of some of the most popular cities in the United States and how they stack up as a home base for both EMTs and firefighters.

Admissions screen on a laptop

How to Become a Firefighter EMT?

Firefighter EMT Requirements

Except for the advanced training and certification needed for fighting fires, the basic requirements for becoming a firefighter are almost identical to those required for EMTs.

What qualifications do you need to be a firefighter?

  • High school diploma or GED
  • CPR certification
  • A valid driver’s license
  • EMT training and certification
  • A clean background check
  • A clean drug screening
  • 18 years old or older
  • A clean physical

(Requirements may vary according to local city and state ordinances.)

You also must be able to demonstrate a high degree of physical fitness.

Like EMTs, firefighters must be able to safely immobilize, stabilize, and transport victims in the field—only firefighters must also carry them down ladders and stairs. In addition, most physical exams require that firefighter applicants be able to lift and carry up to 200 pounds.

Finally, you’ll have to pass a written exam (the National Testing Network (NTN) test), an interview, and a physical skills test (CPAT, “Candidate Physical Ability Test”), after which many departments require the completion of a fire academy.


According to, the most important skills a firefighter EMT should possess are:

  1. Integrity– Your team should know they can count on you at all times. So often, their lives and the lives of others hang in the balance.
  2. Physical Fitness – Like EMTs, firefighters treat patients in many circumstances and often have to lift and carry those patients to safety. Physical fitness is crucial to accomplishing this.
  3. Communication – A firefighter’s job is literally life and death and communicating clearly in a stressful situation is key to getting everyone home safely.
  4. Flexibility – There are no “cookie-cutter” days for EMTs and firefighters. You always have to be ready and able to adapt to whatever situation arises.
  5. Dedication – Saving lives isn’t a job you can phone in. EMTs and firefighters require a strong focus and commitment to their careers.
  6. Team Player – EMTs and firefighters live and die by their crew. They have to work well with everyone, regardless of personal differences or disagreements. When the bell rings, everyone has to be on the same side.
  7. Mechanical Aptitude – EMTs and firefighters both use a variety of machines and tools daily. Both should understand how those tools work (and how to fix them in a pinch).
  8. Public Image Consciousness – The decisions a firefighter makes, both on the job and outside of the firehouse, can reflect on the professionalism of their entire crew. EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders are first and foremost public servants, and they should always conduct themselves professionally.
  9. Tolerance – There will be many different races, beliefs, political views, habits, and eccentricities among any group of people required to share a house, but at no point can these differences impact your ability to work as a team.
  10. Self-Sacrifice – As a firefighter EMT, you are expected to take risks for the benefit of another human being—whether it be a victim or a fellow crew member. An attitude of service to others must be a constant in the minds of any first responder.

Close up of a firefighter in uniform

Firefighter EMT Training

The Fire Academy

The firefighter training program aims to help future firefighters make the correct decisions when under stress. Answering a question correctly on a written exam is one thing, but making the right decision while surrounded by flames and smoke and wearing 30-pounds of additional clothing and safety equipment is entirely something else.

For that reason, drills are a constant during firefighter training. For example, students will begin their drills learning to form a hose line (moving the hose to the burning building safely and correctly) and then gradually move to more dangerous (but controlled) situations within the fire.

Firefighters practice these drills on three types of buildings:

  1. Traditional– A building at the fire academy explicitly built for live-fire practice
  2. Acquired– Abandoned or dilapidated buildings in the community that were donated to the academy
  3. Simulated Structural Fire– These are highly advanced training buildings where a computer often controls the flames to simulate various scenarios.

And training doesn’t stop once the fire academy is complete. Even after you’re hired as a firefighter EMT, you’re expected to continue studying and training daily during the length of your career.

Firefighter EMT Course Costs

The costs of firefighter EMT training can also vary by location. Still, beyond the certification fees for the initial testing, most fire academies are offered free of charge or for a very minimal cost per course. The National Fire Academy courses, for example, are free for students.

Here are the costs for some of the required tests for firefighter EMTs:

  • Written NTN (National Testing Network) Firefighter Test – $55
  • CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) – $145–$155
  • The Firefighter Mile Test(alternative to the CPAT) – $105

Firefighter EMT Certification

The written NTN (National Testing Network) Firefighter Test takes about 2.5 hours to complete, which means that a lot of material is covered. However, unlike the EMT Certification Exam, you don’t have to know everything about being a firefighter to pass. Very little of the test will cover firefighting or emergency medicine.

The test is closer to an ACT or SAT exam than the EMT certification test. You’ll be given multiple choice questions on:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Spatial reasoning
  • Memory and observation
  • Logic and judgment
  • Basic math and algebra, and
  • Mechanical aptitude

Remember, this is an admissions test, not a certification exam—the fire academy wants to know you possess the basic understanding required to grasp their firefighter classes fully.

The CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) is the more infamous test required to become a firefighter EMT. These are the tests seen on television and in the movies—a series of eight stations (obstacle courses) that must be completed within a certain amount of time (10 minutes and 20 seconds). The CPAT is pass/fail, so you either make it or you don’t.

Fortunately, you won’t be expected to tackle the CPAT cold. When you sign up for the exam, you also sign up for the mandatory orientation and practice runs to know exactly what to expect on test day.

You can find a testing location and register for the written and CPAT firefighter exams at the National Testing Network website.

EMS team loading a woman into an ambulance

Firefighter EMT Jobs

Finding a job as a firefighter is a fairly streamlined process. The fire academy itself is often a conduit into a career, as admission to the academy is usually determined by the number of open positions locally. But for firefighter EMTs looking for work around the country, the National Testing Network is one of the best places to start. They provide the testing and certification required for incoming firefighter EMTs, but they also provide a database of open firefighter EMT positions. You can check out some of the available positions here.

Firefighter Career Growth Opportunities

As an admitted member of the Fire Department, Firefighter EMTs who work hard may be promoted up the chain of command. New recruits can work towards achieving the rank of engineer or lieutenant but work their way up to Fire Chief.

Firefighter Chain of Command:

  1. Engineer
  2. Lieutenant
  3. Captain
  4. Battalion Chief
  5. Assistant Chief
  6. Deputy Chief
  7. Fire Chief

From EMT to Firefighter

In closing, the life of a firefighter and an EMT have many similarities, and it’s no wonder so many EMTs decide to build on their emergency medicine foundation by joining the fire department. The pay is better, the stakes are higher, the opportunities to serve the community are more plentiful, and the need is great.

About Unitek EMT

Unitek EMT is one of the premier EMT schools in Arizona. Our mission is simple: training the next wave of top-notch EMT professionals. We offer a variety of training options to fit your needs, including an accelerated EMT program, to get you mission-ready and certified fast. We also offer EMS Continuing Education courses to update your expertise and enhance your career. Unitek EMT instructors are experienced leaders in their fields, and our real-world training scenarios are ideal for aspiring EMT professionals.

Click here to learn more about the 14-day EMT Basic Training in Tempe, AZ.

2 replies

Comments are closed.