On the Job
Historically, fire fighters simply threw as much water as they could on a blaze, using horse-drawn carts or even buckets. The job is much broader today. Fire fighters are also trained as EMTs or paramedics; in many communities, they are the first responders to any emergency.
Many departments require fire fighters to be licensed EMTs before they are hired or earn paramedic credentials within a deadline after they start working. Some departments have residency requirements and demand that firefighters live within a specified distance of the job.
Fire fighting is a demanding job – physically, mentally and emotionally. It requires teamwork, communication and organization. Hours are long and irregular.
Long spells can pass without a fire or other emergency but when something happens, fire fighters must be ready. At the scene, some may connect the hoses while others search a burning building. Fire fighters provide emergency medical treatment, read floor plans, ventilate buildings and salvage property. They rescue trapped people and animals, and in major disasters, often remain at the scene for days at time.
Fire fighting is a science that requires critical thinking, the ability to make quick decisions, physical strength and an understanding of the chain of command. Equipment includes hoses, nozzles, ladders and pumps as well as axes and other tools to break through doors and walls.
Larger cities often have their own fire academies for both physical and fire-specific training. Smaller jurisdictions have access to them as well as state-run academies. The process is similar to what new police officers face-initial screening creates a pool of recruits for training.
Nine of 10 fire fighters work for local governments, but colleges, airports, chemical plants, gas and petroleum companies, and the aerospace manufacturing industry often have their own teams. Fighting wild fires and handling hazardous material spills and fires are other specialties.