Firefighters rescue people and buildings from fires and other dangerous situations, and advise on preventing fires. In this guide we talk you through the entry requirements, key skills, and a typical career pathway for a firefighter.
This blog is based on a profile in Unifrog's Careers library, a tool where students can learn about hundreds of careers, and how they fit into the world of work. The above video is sponsored by Manchester Airports Group. We chatted to Daniel Coe, Aviation Firefighter at Manchester Airports Group, about his experience as a firefighter.
What you'll do
You’ll work for a fire and rescue service run by your local area or county, overseen by a fire and rescue authority. Your work will be a mix of fire station duties, fire prevention, and dealing with emergencies. Every day will be different, but could include inspecting and maintaining equipment, carrying out practice drills and taking part in training, and controlling and putting out fires.
“Part of my role is to attend emergency calls like aircraft incidents, fire alarms, and medical emergencies. The other part of my job is to educate airport staff about fire prevention,” Daniel says.
Working hours and environment
You can work full-time (usually 42 hours, including night shifts) or as a part-time (retained) firefighter.
You'll often work in uncomfortable and dangerous environments, like high places or enclosed spaces. When not dealing with emergencies, you'll be expected to maintain your physical fitness and practise using emergency equipment as part of your daily work.
"My favourite thing about the job is helping people and the sense of achievement that I’ve made a difference. I like that no two days are ever the same. My least favourite thing about my job is that the fire station must be operational 24/7, 365 days a year, so this means that we must work night shifts and bank holidays, which can put a strain on your personal life."
Career path and progression
You could work your way up to crew manager, watch manager, or station manager. If you’re prepared to move between services, you could also become an area manager, a brigade manager, or a chief fire officer.
If you're involved in fire safety and prevention work, you can take professional qualifications leading to membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE).
You could also get a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) licence for driving fire engines.
You'll need excellent communication skills and the ability to operate a range of tools and equipment. You’ll also need leadership and problem-solving skills, and a good ability with numbers, IT, and report writing.
"In order to do my job, you need to be a team player, have great communication and listening skills, have determination and courage, and be good under pressure. It can be difficult to get in at first but keep working hard, as persistence pays off! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you start off."
You'll usually need high school qualifications, like Level 3 qualifications (e.g. GCSEs at grades 9 to 4/A* to C in English and maths) in the UK; or a high school diploma or GED certificate in the US.
You'll usually need to pass a series of physical and written tests, a medical check, a criminal records background check, and an interview.
In the US, training at a fire academy can help you get into this career.
Labour Market Information (LMI)
Here’s some data on firefighter jobs in the UK and USA as of 2023. On the actual Careers library profile there is lots more LMI.
Average yearly salary
8.5% more jobs (2017-2027)
2.8% less jobs (2020-2030)
Want to see the full version of this Career profile, and explore hundreds more? Log into Unifrog and visit the Careers library, or request a demo here.