How to Become a Firefighter EMT: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
They’re the first line of defense against disasters. They wait 24-hours a day just in case they’re needed. And they’re the first to rush into literal flames to save another human being’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. But of growing importance is the fact that more and more firefighter positions require something beyond the rigorous firefighter training… an EMT certification.
The majority of calls to which firefighters respond involve medical emergencies (70% or more, to be exact), so it makes sense that over 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 definitely need brush up on your EMT skills. Here’s a look at exactly what you’ll need to study, the tests you’ll need to pass, and the time you’ll need to commit to earn that required EMT certification and begin your career as a firefighter.
Firefighter EMTs vs Ambulance EMTs
An EMT is an EMT, regardless of the uniform they wear, and that’s an emergency medicine foundation shared by both firefighters and ambulance EMTs. Both receive the same medical training, both require physical tests, both require CPR certification, and both are expected to perform emergency medical treatment in the field. The primary difference between the two is the time required for training and the overall job responsibilities.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Firefighter EMT?
For future firefighter EMTs, that 14-Day Boot Camp is just the beginning—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 that of an EMT. Providing emergency medical treatment is still a primary part of their job, but 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 firefighter—volunteer and full-time.
Volunteer firefighters (about two thirds of the firefighter workforce) work from home or hold other jobs until they are called.
Full-time firefighters (those who plan to make a career out of the job) 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.
Because it’s a shared living quarters, firefighters divide up the usual household chores (much like roommates). Someone will be assigned to cook certain days, another may do the grocery shopping, while others will help with the cleaning. The most important thing about the firehouse, though, 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 an average of 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. The retiring shift heads home, and the arriving shift meets for roll-call and any pre-shift announcements. Next, the new shift will immediately perform a thorough check of all gear and equipment to make sure everything is in pristine 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—cleaning the trucks, the firehouse, refilling tanks, and any other jobs that need doing.
Like EMTs, no two days will be exactly 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 training, or just enjoying some relaxing downtime with their fellow firefighters in the recreation room.
Firefighter EMT Salary
How Much Does a Firefighter EMT Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary* for a firefighter is $49,620 per year (or $23.85 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 city), check out The Best Paying Cities for EMTs in 2019.
Your experience and rank within the fire department also play a big role in how much you can earn as a firefighter.
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 scientific research & development make an average salary* of $67,850, while those working in education earn an average salary* of $57,970.
Here’s a closer look at top-paying industries for firefighters:
|Industry||Average Hourly Wage||Average Annual Salary|
|Scientific Research & Development||$32.62||$67,850|
|Remediation and Other Waste Management Services||$32.57||$67,740|
|Petroleum & Coal Manufacturing||$28.57||$59,420|
|Colleges, Universities & Professional Schools||$27.87||$57,970|
Highest Paying States for Firefighters
Though Firefighters can find employment anywhere in the country, there are some states with more opportunities than others. Currently, the highest-paying states for Firefighters are California, New Jersey, Washington, New York, and Nevada.
Here’s the breakdown by location and average salary:
|State||Firefighter Hourly Salary||Firefighter Annual Salary|
Highest-Paying Cities for Firefighters
These U.S. cities offer the best salaries for Firefighters:
|City||Firefighter Hourly Salary||Firefighter Annual Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$52.34||$108,870|
|Los Angeles, CA||$46.21||$96,110|
|San Francisco, CA||$45.96||$95,600|
|New York, NY||$37.90||$78,840|
|Las Vegas, NV||$36.90||$76,760|
|Santa Barbara, CA||$36.57||$76,070|
Just like with Ambulance EMTs, location plays a big role in both your salary* and how far your salary* will go. Check out The Best Paying Cities for EMTs in 2019 for a better idea of how cost of living and average salary* combine in certain cities.
And pay isn’t everything, of course, so check out 35 Best Cities to Work As An EMT in 2019 for a broad 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.
How to Become a Firefighter EMT?
Firefighter EMT Requirements
With the exception of 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.
Just like EMTs, firefighters must be able to safely immobilize, stabilize, and transport victims in the field—only firefighters must also be able to carry them down ladders and stairs. 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 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.
FIREFIGHTER EMT SKILLS
According to FireRecruit.com, the most important skills a firefighter EMT should possess are:
- Integrity – Your team should know they can count on you at all times. Often, their lives and the lives of others hang in the balance.
- Physical Fitness – Like EMTs, firefighters treat patients in many types of circumstances, and often have to physically lift and carry those patients to safety. Physical fitness is crucial to accomplishing this.
- Communication – A firefighter’s job is literally life and death and communicating clearly in a stressful situation is key to getting everyone home safely.
- 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.
- Dedication – Saving lives isn’t a job you can just phone in. EMTs and firefighters require a strong focus and dedication to their careers.
- 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.
- Mechanical Aptitude – EMTs and firefighters both use a wide variety of machines and tools on a daily basis. Both should understand how those tools work (and how to fix them in a pinch).
- Public Image Consciousness – The decisions a firefighter makes both on the job and outside of the firehouse can reflect on the professionalism of his or her entire crew. EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders are first and foremost public servants, and they should always conduct themselves professionally.
- 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 differences impact your ability to work as a team.
- Self-Sacrifice – As a firefighter EMT, you will be asked 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.
Firefighter EMT Training
The Fire Academy
The purpose of the firefighter training program is 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 correct decision while surrounded by flames and smoke and while wearing 30-pounds of additional clothing and safety equipment is something else entirely.
For that reason, drills are a constant during firefighter training. Students will begin their drills learning to form a hose line (moving the hose to the burning building safely and correctly) then will gradually move to more and more dangerous (but controlled) situations within the fire.
Firefighters practice these drills on three types of building:
- Traditional – A building at the fire academy built specifically for live fire practice
- Acquired – Abandoned or dilapidated buildings in the community that have been donated to the academy
- Simulated Structural Fire – These are highly advanced training buildings where a computer often controls the flames to simulate a variety of scenarios.
And training doesn’t stop once the fire academy is complete. Even after you’ve been hired as a firefighter EMT, you’ll be 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, but beyond the certification fees for the initial testing, most fire academies are offered free of charge or for a very minimal fee per course. In South Carolina, for example, students are charged $5 per fire academy course. The National Fire Academy courses, on the other hand, are free for students.
Here are the costs for some of the required tests for firefighter EMTs:
- Written NTN (National Testing Network) Firefighter Test – $50
- CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) – $140-$150
- The Firefighter Mile Test (alternative to the CPAT) – $95
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 in order to pass. In fact, very little of the test will actually cover firefighting or emergency medicine.
The test itself is closer to an ACT or SAT exam than it is the EMT certification test. You’ll be given multiple choice questions on:
- Reading comprehension
- Spatial reasoning
- Memory and observation
- Logic and judgement
- Basic math and algebra, and
- Mechanical aptitude
Remember, this is an admissions test, not a certification exam—the fire academy just wants to know you possess the basic understanding required to fully grasp their firefighter classes.
The CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) is the more infamous of tests 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, so you’ll know exactly what to expect on test day.
You can find a testing location and register for both the written and CPAT firefighter exams at the National Testing Network website here.
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 often 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. Not only do 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 can work hard to get 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:
- Battalion Chief
- Assistant Chief
- Deputy Chief
- Fire Chief
From EMT to Firefighter
In closing, the life of a firefighter and an EMT have many, many similarities, and it’s no wonder why 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.
If you haven’t yet earned your EMT certification but would like to begin the process of becoming a full-time firefighter, check out the Unitek EMT 14-Day Boot Camp for fast EMT certification. It’s a two-week crash course in everything you need to pass the EMT certification exam and begin your career as a first responder.