California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Fire Fighters in California

May also be called: Fire Engineers; Firefighters/EMTs; Firefighters/Paramedics; Forest Fire Fighters; Forest Ranger Technicians; and Foresters

Specialties within this occupation include: Fire Inspectors; Fire Investigators; Forest Fire Fighters; Forest Fire Inspectors; and Prevention Specialists

What Would I Do?

Fire Fighters work to protect the community against injury, loss of life, and destruction of property by fire. When a fire is reported, Fire Fighters respond quickly and work as a highly-organized team to put it out.

Arriving at a fire as fast as safety permits, Fire Fighters assess the situation to determine what actions to take. Using their knowledge of various types of fires, construction design, building materials, and physical layout of properties, Fire Fighters work toward the source of the fire. They lay and connect hose lines, select and attach nozzles, and direct streams of water or chemicals onto the fire in a way that best stops it. They may place ladders and force their way into a burning structure using axes, crowbars, saws, and power tools. Equipped with fire resistant clothing and a breathing apparatus, Fire Fighters may have to make their way through smoke-filled passages to get to the source of a fire.

Fire Fighters have also assumed a wider range of responsibilities, including emergency medical services. In fact, most calls to which Fire Fighters respond involve medical emergencies. In addition, some Fire Fighters work in hazardous material units and are trained for the control, prevention, and cleanup of materials; for example, these Fire Fighters respond to oil spills. Workers in urban and suburban areas, airports, and industrial sites typically use conventional fire fighting equipment and tactics; while forest fires and major hazardous materials spills call for different methods.

Fire Fighters rescue people trapped in burning structures, give first aid to the injured, and help in the resuscitation of victims who are overcome by smoke. Rescue trucks are equipped with tools such as cutting torches, saws, resuscitators, first aid kits, lights, and other rescue equipment. Most fire departments have paramedic units able to provide more complex medical aid.

Fire Inspectors examine structures to prevent fires and ensure compliance with fire codes. They also work with developers and government planners to approve plans for new buildings. Fire Inspectors often make fire prevention presentations to schools and civic organizations.

Fire Investigators determine the origin and causes of fires. They collect evidence, interview witnesses, and prepare reports on suspicious fires that may be the result of arson or negligence. They may be required to testify in court proceedings concerning their report findings.

Forest Fire Fighters control and suppress fires with heavy equipment, hand tools, and water hoses. Fighting forest fires is very strenuous work. Fire Fighters create fire lines to battle a fire by cutting down trees and digging out grass in the path of the blaze to deprive it of fuel.

Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists work from watch towers to spot fires in national parks and forests. They report their findings to headquarters by telephone or radio.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Administer first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation to injured persons.Public Safety and Security
Rescue victims from burning buildings and accident sites.Service Orientation
Drive and operate fire fighting vehicles and equipment.Transportation
Move toward the source of a fire using knowledge of types of fires, construction design, building materials, and physical layout of properties.Complex Problem Solving
Position and climb ladders to gain access to upper levels of buildings, or to rescue individuals from burning structures.Multilimb Coordination
Take action to contain any hazardous chemicals that could catch fire, leak, or spill.Problem Sensitivity
Assess fires and situations and report conditions to superiors to receive instructions, using two-way radios.Critical Thinking
Patrol burned areas after fires to locate and eliminate hot spots that may restart fires.Far Vision
Extinguish flames and embers to suppress fires, using shovels, or engine- or hand-driven water or chemical pumps.Dynamic Strength
Fell trees, cut and clear brush, and dig trenches to create firelines, using axes, chainsaws or shovels.Equipment Selection
Inform and educate the public on fire prevention.Education and Training
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Fire Fighters must work in conditions that are highly stressful and very physically demanding. They risk death or injury from sudden floor cave-ins, falling walls, or traffic accidents when responding to calls. Fire Fighters may also come into contact with poisonous, flammable, or explosive gases, and chemicals or other hazardous materials. However, the risk of injury is reduced by wearing protective gear. The protective gear can be very heavy and hot.

Fire Fighters work long and varied hours that include working regularly on weekends and holidays. They may work more than 50 hours a week or longer. Shifts and hours vary from agency to agency. In some agencies, Fire Fighters are on duty for 24 hours, then off for 48 hours, and receive an extra day off at intervals. In others, they work a day shift of 10 hours for 3 or 4 days, a night shift of 14 hours for 3 or 4 nights, have 3 or 4 days off, and then repeat the cycle.

Many Fire Fighters are members of labor unions such as the International Association of Fire Fighters and the California Professional Fire Fighters.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of a Fire Fighter may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions. Fire Fighter occupations satisfy those with realistic interests and a strong service orientation who are actively looking for ways to help people. Realistic occupations involve technical or mechanical activities. Additional personal qualities that are important to Fire Fighters are: mental alertness, self-discipline, good judgment, dependability, endurance, strength, and commitment to public service.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Fire Fighters in California is $67,568 annually, or $32.48 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$50,732$67,568$86,402
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Fire Fighters can expect to receive a benefit package that includes paid vacation, holidays, sick leave, group health insurance, and retirement programs.

What is the Job Outlook?

Most job openings will be created by the need to replace Fire Fighters who retire, transfer to supervisory positions, or leave the field for other reasons. Fire Fighting occupations attract many job seekers because the work is challenging, a high school diploma is sufficient for entry, and pensions are offered upon retirement. The number of qualified applicants is usually greater than the number of job openings in most communities. Applicants can improve their employment opportunities by completing a Fire Fighting program at a community college, and by obtaining emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Fire Fighters is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Fire Fighters are expected to increase by 6.3 percent, or 1,800 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Fire Fighters
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
28,70030,5001,8006.37,800
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 180 new job openings per year is expected for Fire Fighters, plus an additional 780 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 970 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Fire Fighters
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
180780970
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

The majority of hiring agencies require Fire Fighters to obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. It is advisable for those interested in Fire Fighting careers, to enroll in fire fighting technology and EMT courses through a local community college to improve employment opportunities.

There are numerous entry requirements for Fire Fighters:

  • Minimum age of 18 to 21 years of age, depending upon the local hiring agency.
  • A high school diploma or equivalent.
  • A valid California Driver License.
  • Must be in excellent health with excellent vision.
  • Must demonstrate physical ability. The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) is used by many fire departments in California as a minimum qualifier to apply for a position of Fire Fighter.
  • Must pass a fingerprint criminal background check and a drug and alcohol screening test.
  • Must complete a regional fire academy training program.
  • Must obtain an EMT certification.
  • Some agencies have a residency requirement that employees live within city or county limits.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in blueprint reading, chemistry, computer technology, health science, language arts, mathematics, and shop are helpful for students interested in fire fighting occupations.

Apprenticeship and Work Study Programs

The California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee is a statewide apprenticeship program designed to offer on-the-job training through participating fire departments. Refer to “Other Sources” for the Web site address. For more information on apprenticeship programs currently available, visit the State of California's Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards Web site.


Training programs for EMT I, EMT/Paramedic, Fire Control and Safety, Fire Fighting, and Other Fire Technology Courses are available through Regional Occupational Programs. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Almost all fire-fighting departments require Fire Fighters to be certified as emergency medical technicians. Fire Fighters must participate in continuing education courses to maintain current emergency medical technician certification.

An emergency medical technician I is required to complete a 24 hour refresher course, or 24 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain certification. Additionally, they must pass a written and skills examination every four years administered by an approved training program or the local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency.

An EMT II is required to complete 48 hours of continuing education every two years and six field care audits per year. Also, they must pass a written and skills examination every two years given by the original EMS certifying agency to obtain recertification.

Paramedics are required to complete 48 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their license. There are no re-testing requirements for Paramedics.

Licensing and Certification

Fire Fighters/Paramedics are required to have a valid license issued by the Emergency Medical Services Authority. (Refer to “Other Sources.”) Applicants for a Paramedic license must possess a current EMT I or EMT II certificate, complete an approved Paramedic training program, pass a written and practical exam, and submit fingerprints for a criminal background check. The Paramedic license is valid for two years.

Professional Foresters must obtain a Foresters License from the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. (Refer to “Other Sources.”) This license is required for employees working as professional Foresters for State agencies, consulting firms, and for private industry. A license is not required for employees working for the federal government on federal lands.

Almost all fire-fighting departments require Fire Fighters to be certified as emergency medical technicians. Some departments include this training in the academy, while others prefer that recruits obtain EMT certification before their hire date.

Emergency Medical Technician I

An EMT I must be 18 years of age, successfully complete an approved EMT training program, pass a written and skills examination, and pass a fingerprint background check to obtain certification from the local Emergency Medical Service agency or through a public safety agency. The EMT I certification is recognized statewide. Certification is valid for two years.

Emergency Medical Technician II

An emergency medical technician II must possess a valid EMT I certification, successfully complete an approved EMT II training program, pass a written and skills examination, and pass a fingerprint background check to obtain certification. Not all California counties use EMT IIs. Certification is issued only by a local Emergency Medical Services agency. Therefore, the EMT II certification is not valid statewide. Certification is valid for two years. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Fire, Fire Science/Firefighting, Forest, and Forest Technology.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Fire Fighters are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Local Government 83.5%
State Government 11.2%
Federal Government 4.0%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Since local government employs the largest number of Fire Fighters, it is a good idea to check the city or county government personnel department listings in your local white pages. Also, local government Web sites are an excellent resource for employment information and current exam announcements. Refer to “Other Sources.”  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Fire Fighters.

  • Fire Department
  • Fire Protection Consultants
  • Check the City or County Government listings in your local white pages.

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Advancement in most fire agencies depends upon the results of competitive written examinations, job performance, interviews, and seniority. A Fire Fighter seeking a promotion is often required to participate in community college or continuing education programs to keep current with the latest concepts and procedures related to fire suppression, medical training, and management techniques. The line of promotion is usually to engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and finally, chief. Advancement to positions higher than battalion chief usually requires a bachelor’s degree in fire science, public administration, or a related subject area.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Fire Fighters with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Emergency Medical Technicians and ParamedicsGuide
Fire Inspectors and InvestigatorsProfile
Fish and Game WardensGuide
Security GuardsGuide
Transit and Railroad PoliceProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification33-2011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Municipal Firefighters33-2011.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RSE
   Forest Firefighters33-2011.02
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RSI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Fire Prevention and Safety Technology/Technician.430201
   Fire Science/Fire-fighting.430203
   Wildland/Forest Firefighting and Investigation 430206
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Fire Technology213300
   Wildland Fire Technology213310
   Fire Academy213350