I checked the old site meter and found that a person had found my blog by way of a Google search for “cushy firefighter jobs.” Looking at the results of the search, I was lead to this page, over at free republic.
Even though I have done this before, there are a few misconceptions over there that I will address right now.
1 “Firefighters make $150,000 to $175,000 a year.” This is not true (I wish it were). In my area, firefighters make anywhere from $21,000 a year, up to $90,000. This varies by where you work. Obviously, a firefighter in Bug Holler will make less than a firefighter in Miami Beach. Then again, the same is true for waiters and hairdressers.
2 “Firefighting isn’t hazardous anymore, because the combination of flame resistant materials and breathing apparatus has reduced the risks.” This is not true either. The rate of firefighter deaths per fire has remained constant, and has even begun rising in recent years. Although the equipment is better, manpower cuts and other factors (such as building construction) have conspired to make firefighting a hazardous occupation. We are still killing 100 firefighters a year, even though there are fewer fires. Nearly every firefighter I know that has more than five years on the job has been injured.
3 “Several times during a wildfire I have seen a row of half a dozen engine crews standing around collecting overtime at a staging area.” Of course. Crews get rotated in and out of fire areas while they are working at a fire. These staging areas are valuable manpower pools, ensuring that the incident commander has available personnel to handle any emergencies that come up, and also serve to give tired crews a break.
4 “Firefighter/paramedics aren’t real firefighters” This is also untrue. A firefighter/paramedic is a firefighter who is also certified as a paramedic. This means that he has completed college to become a paramedic, and has also graduated from the fire academy. This allows the fire department to offer fire AND EMS service, thus making the fire department more cost efficient.
5 “The pay is too high because firefighters don’t have much training for what they get paid.” A starting firefighter has graduated from the fire academy AND is at least an EMT. This takes about a year. As you progress, you attend more and more school, and as your education advances, so does your pay. That is pretty much how ALL jobs work. Most firefighters (at least in my area) have at least one college degree. I have degrees in Emergency medicine and Fire Science, and technical certificates in rescue diving, Incident Safety, and Company officer. I am also an instructor in numerous EMS related disciplines. There are guys in the fire service who specialize in trench rescue, machinery and vehicle extrication, chemistry, psychology, and hazardous materials rescue. The more you learn, the more you earn. Just like any other job.
6 Another person complains about overtime. Most workers get overtime at 40 hours.
Under the LAW (FSLA), firefighters get overtime when we work more than 53 hours a week. Since we work a 56 hour week, there is a small amount of overtime built in to our schedule.
The problem here is that people like to complain about our pay and benefits, without really knowing what we do, or even what it takes to be a firefighter. Sure, there are guys in my area that make good money, and I think I am one of them, because I make about $19 an hour. Then again, I have 18 years of experience, I am well educated and qualified. I supervise others. Like most jobs, you earn what you are worth, and your pay is set by the market. I have earned degrees and attended school in order to become more valuable.
When you are having that heart attack, or you are trapped in your car, a collapsed building, or a burning warehouse, who do you want to come rescue you? The lowest paid, least trained person? Or will you want the educated, experienced, motivated professional with 15 to 20 years of experience?
You will get what you pay for. If you think our job pays so well, and is so easy, why aren’t you doing it? Look at other jobs with similar experience, education, and working hours, and you will see that firefighting is right in line with them.