A firefighter


Firefighters are responsible for emergency response in case of a fire outbreak or other hazardous situations. They oversee the evacuation of the endangered premises and ensure victims are rescued and taken care of by the appropriate professionals. Once the premises are clear of victims, they ensure the fire is extinguished, compliant with health and safety regulations. They also regulate the clean-up of the scene and assess the damage.

Firefighters typically do the following:

  • Respond to fire alarms quickly to regulate and extinguish forest or building fires
  • Operate firefighting and rescuing equipment such as aerial ladders, axes, fire hoses etc.
  • Provide emergency medical services with compliance to established standards
  • Inspect scenes of fire or accidents to identify causes or discover significant findings
  • Clean up fire scenes by removing debris and burned items
  • Respond to other emergency situations and assist those in need
  • Write accurate reports after incidents and submit them to superiors
  • Clean and maintain personal equipment and keep it ready for use
  • Participate in fire drills as a way to stay alert and up-to-date with job duties
  • Assist in public educational programs to help prevent dangerous fire accidents

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to firefighter:

operational firefighter
senior firefighter
airfield firefighter
fire brigade officer

Working conditions

When responding to an emergency, firefighters often wear protective gear, which can be very heavy and hot. On call at fire stations, firefighters sleep, eat, and do other nonemergency tasks, such as work on equipment. 

Injuries and Illnesses

Firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They often encounter dangerous situations, including collapsing floors and walls and overexposure to flames and smoke. Workers must wear protective gear to help lower these risks.

Work Schedules

Firefighters typically work long periods; overtime is common, and their hours vary. For example, firefighters may work 24-hour shifts on duty, followed by 48 or 72 hours off duty.

When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, wildland firefighters may have to stay in a fire camp, a temporary site set up to provide shelter and support for days or weeks when a wildland fire breaks out.

Work for wildland firefighters may be seasonal. During certain times of the year, wildland firefighters might not work or might have limited hours.

Minimum qualifications

The entry-level education typically required to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some postsecondary instruction, such as in assessing patients’ conditions, dealing with trauma, and clearing obstructed airways, is usually needed to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. EMT requirements vary by country, state or city.

Entry-level firefighters receive a few months of training at fire academies run by the fire department or by the state. Recruits learn firefighting and fire-prevention techniques, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures. They also learn how to fight fires with standard equipment, including axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, and ladders. After attending a fire academy, firefighters usually must complete a probationary period.

A certification is often necessary to become a firefighter. The requirements vary by country, state or city.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Firefighter is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Firefighter career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to firefighter.

industrial firefighter
marine firefighter
fire service vehicle operator
pump operator
emergency response worker

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of firefighter. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of firefighter with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

fire protection technician
fire inspector
fire safety tester
radiation protection technician
aeronautical information service officer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of firefighter.

  • Fire safety regulations: The legal rules to be applied for fire safety and fire prevention in a facility.
  • Hydraulics: The power transmission systems that use the force of flowing liquids to transmit power.
  • Fire prevention procedures: The regulations concerning fire and explosion prevention, and the equipment, systems and methods used in it.
  • Fire-fighting systems: The devices and systems used to extinguish fires; the classes and chemistry of fire.
  • Health and safety regulations: Necessary health, safety, hygiene and environmental standards and legislation rules in the sector of particular activity.
  • First aid: The emergency treatment given to a sick or injured person in the case of circulatory and/or respiratory failure, unconsciousness, wounds, bleeding, shock or poisoning.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of firefighter.

  • Provide first aid: Administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation or first aid in order to provide help to a sick or injured person until they receive more complete medical treatment.
  • Select hazard control: Perform appropriate selection of hazard control measures and risk management
  • Extinguish fires: Choose the adequate substances and methods to extinguish fires depending on their size, such as water and various chemical agents. Use a breathing apparatus.
  • Ensure public safety and security: Implement the relevant procedures, strategies and use the proper equipment to promote local or national security activities for the protection of data, people, institutions, and property.
  • Work as a team in a hazardous environment: Work together with others in a dangerous, sometimes noisy, environment, such as a building on fire or metal forging facilities, in order to achieve a higher degree of efficiency while heeding the co-workers’ safety.
  • Manage major incidents: Take immediate action to respond to major incidents that affect the safety and security of individuals in private or public places such as road accidents.
  • Evacuate people from buildings: Evacuate a person from a dangerous building or situation for protection purposes, ensuring the victim reaches safety and is able to receive medical care if necessary.
  • Perform search and rescue missions: Assist in fighting natural and civic disasters, such as forest fires, floods and road accidents. Conduct search-and-rescue missions.
  • Use different types of fire extinguishers: Understand and apply various methods of firefighting and various types and classes of fire extinguishing equipment.
  • Manage emergency care situations: Manage situations in which decision making under time pressure is essential to save lives.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of firefighter. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Environmental policy: Local, national and international policies dealing with the promotion of environmental sustainability and the development of projects which reduce negative environmental impact and improve the state of the environment.
  • Navy operations: The operational procedures and regulations of military naval organisations, on base and on ships during missions.
  • Mechanics of vessels: The mechanics involved in boats and ships. Understand the technicalities and participate in discussions over related topics in order to solve problems related to the mechanics.
  • Dock operations: Know operations that take place in docks, primarily those concerned with the incoming and outgoing of cargo shipments. Know logistics activities relating to cranes, containers, and shipments.
  • Pollution legislation: Be familiar with European and National legislation regarding the risk of pollution.
  • Pyrotechnic articles legislation: The legal rules surrounding pyrotechnics and pyrotechnic materials.
  • Types of maritime vessels: Know a large variety of maritime vessels and their characteristics and specifications. Use that knowledge to ensure that all security, technical, and maintenance measures are taken into account in their supply.
  • Vessel electrical system: The various components making up a vessel electrical system and the interplay between these components.
  • Industrial tools: The tools and equipment used for industrial purposes, both power and hand tools, and their various uses.
  • Industrial engineering: The field of engineering concerned with the development, improvement, and implementation of complex processes and systems of knowledge, people, equipment, etc.
  • Regulations on substances: The national and international regulations on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, e.g. regulation (EC) No 1272/2008.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of firefighter. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Maintain safety systems: Perform activities for the maintenance of fire fighting and related safety systems.
  • Rescue in road accidents: Save and extricate victimes of road traffic accidents.
  • Assess impact of industrial activities: Analyse data to estimate the impact of industrial activities on resource availability and groundwater quality.
  • Perform risk analysis: Identify and assess factors that may jeopardise the success of a project or threaten the organisation’s functioning. Implement procedures to avoid or minimise their impact.
  • Assist people in contaminated areas: Assist workers in remediation activities as well as people at risk of exposure in safety operations, such as instructing on wearing protective gear, entering and leaving restricted areas, and usage of remediation equipment.
  • Investigate maritime accidents: Investigate maritime accidents; gather evidence in the event of claims for damages.
  • Operate marine machinery systems: Operate principles of marine machinery, including marine diesel engine, steam turbine, boiler, shafting installations, propeller, various auxiliaries, steering gear, automatic control systems, and deck machinery. Follow safety and emergency procedures for operation of propulsion plant machinery, including control systems. Prepare, operate, and maintain the following machinery items and control systems: main engine and steam boiler and their associated auxiliaries and steam systems, auxiliary prime movers and associated systems and other auxiliaries like refrigeration, air-conditioning and ventilation systems. Take necessary measures to prevent damage to these systems.
  • Assess contamination: Analyse evidence of contamination. Advise on how to decontaminate.
  • Maintain logbooks: Maintain the required logbooks according to practice and in established formats.
  • Operate emergency equipment: Utilise emergency equipment and tools such as fire extinguishers, wheel chocks, pocket lamps, and warning signs.
  • Ensure vessel security: Ensure that security requirements for vessels are met according to legal norms. Check if the security equipment is in place and operational. Communicate with marine engineers to ensure that the technical parts of the vessel functioning effectively and can perform as necessary for the upcoming journey.
  • Contain fires: Take the appropriate measures to prevent fires from spreading.
  • Dispose of hazardous waste: Dispose of dangerous materials such as chemical or radioactive substances according to environmental and to health and safety regulations.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Use geographic information systems: Work with computer data systems such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
  • Avoid contamination: Avoid the mixing or contamination of materials.
  • Operate marine communication systems: Operate on board marine communication systems; communicate with other ships or with on-shore control centre e.g. to send urgent messages concerning safety; transmit or receive alerts, etc.
  • Relay messages through radio and telephone systems: Possess the communication abilities to relay messages through a radio and telephone system.
  • Monitor disposal of radioactive substances: Ensure correct management and disposal of radioactive substances used for medical purposes, in compliance with established procedures.
  • Drive firetruck under emergency conditions: Drive and operate firetruck in response to emergency situations, at a safe and controlled speed, complying with laws, regulations and standards for this type of activity.
  • Work safely with chemicals: Take the necessary precautions for storing, using and disposing chemical products.
  • Work with chemicals: Handle chemicals and select specific ones for certain processes. Be aware of the reactions which arise from combining them.
  • Inspect industrial equipment: Inspect equipment used during industrial activities such as manufacturing or construction equipment in order to ensure that the equipment complies with health, safety, and environmental legislation.
  • Manage factory operations: Oversee factory operations, including planning, organising, controlling and directing factory production activities.
  • Manage personal professional development: Take responsibility for lifelong learning and continuous professional development. Engage in learning to support and update professional competence. Identify priority areas for professional development based on reflection about own practice and through contact with peers and stakeholders.
  • Perform minor repairs to equipment: Conduct routine maintenance on equipment. Recognise and identify minor defects in equipment and make repairs if appropriate.
  • Operate emergency vehicle: Drive and maneuver an emergency vehicle and operate its fixed equipment following standard procedures.
  • Perform preventive maintenance on fire fighting vehicles: Keep firefighting vehicles ready for use at any time. Maintain all aspects of firefighting vehicles and ensure that vehicles function correctly.
  • Liaise with industrial professionals: Establish relationships with engineers, geologists, hydrologists and hydrogeologists, and other industrial professionals.
  • Assess risk factors: Determine the influence of economical, political and cultural risk factors and additional issues.
  • Install vessel’s safety equipment: Install and maintain safety equipment such as bells and horns, deck boxes holding life jackets, life boats or life raft pods, and the Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).
  • Educate public on fire safety: Develop and execute educational and promotional plans to educate the public on fire prevention knowledge and methods, fire safety such as the ability to identify hazards and the use of fire safety equipment, and to raise awareness on fire prevention issues.
  • Manage flammable substances: Managing flammable substances to roasting operations and ensuring that safety measures are in place.
  • Evacuate people from heights: Safely evacuate people from heights using rope access techniques.
  • Climb trees: Ascend and descend from trees in a safely manner.
  • Monitor chemical process condition: Monitor the conformity of the chemical process, checking all indicators or warning signals provided by the instruments such as recording instruments, flowmeters and panel lights.
  • Prevent marine pollution: Conduct inspections and take measures in order to prevent or mitigate marine pollution. Adhere to international codes and resolutions.
  • Assist community: Support the community or other public services technically in situations which create risks to the public or when special support is needed.

ISCO group and title

5411 – Fire-fighters

  1. Firefighter – ESCO
  2. Firefighters : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Firefighter job description template | Workable
  4. Featured image: Photo by Daniel Tausis on Unsplash
Last updated on November 17, 2022

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