The benefits and challenges of being a firefighter: What you need to know before pursuing a career.

Let me start off by saying; that I love being a Firefighter Paramedic in Florida; it has hands down been one of the greatest decisions I have made in my entire life.

As I begin to move into an educational role in my career, helping bring in new firefighters and teaching them the ropes, I am often times approached by new recruits or people interested in the career, and I feel like both the positives and negatives need to be addressed for those interested in potentially becoming a firefighter.

The education and probationary years

Like most of us, you will begin your journey by enrolling in school for EMT and/or Paramedic and a local Fire Academy to earn the base education to begin to apply for the career.

These classes are not like public schools; they are tough academically and physically. The whole process of education is to weed out those who want it from those who don’t. You will not be coddled. However, if you put in the energy and effort, you will find countless people along the way that will spend their time helping you succeed too.

Studying will be hard, it will take lots of your time, and you will begin missing events and opportunities with family. I say begin because this will be commonplace as you develop your career. Holidays, birthdays, and important events will all eventually land on your duty days at the Fire Department. You will be a low man on the totem pole and will not have the seniority always to get these days off.

The Fire academy will be a very tame version of boot camp. It’s a paramilitary experience with emphasis on repetition under stress, teamwork, and following processes; all emphasized to help you pass the state tests and survive your career for the years to come.

People who are not good at working in groups and putting aside their own egos tend to have a hard time during this process in the academy. You will need to function as a team, sometimes you are the one giving the commands, and sometimes you are the one that needs to follow them.

Once you’ve accomplished the education

You will spend numerous hours and hundreds of dollars testing for positions around your state for job openings. Driving to and from interviews, agility tests, paying money to apply through National Testing Network.

You will potentially be told no, a lot. You may get lucky and get your job first try, but this is not the norm.

The job benefits

Being a firefighter is a relatively secure role once you pass the probationary period. This is normally a year-long process where your employment can be severed for many reasons.

The number one reason I see people terminated during the probationary period is their attitude and customer service. Did I mention that this is a team job? You have to be able to work with diverse groups of people and provide a service to the citizens in a positive way. You must always show a positive light on your organization, on and off duty.

Health, Dental, and Vision plans are normally pretty great in the Firefighting role. Due to being a government job, some offer retirement options, differed compensation, and other fringe employment benefits. I always recommend that a prospective employee looks at the Collective Bargaining Agreement for a fire department you would like to be hired by to learn more. Typically, a google search of “Collective Bargaining Agreement + County/Fire Department name” will show results.

The physical and mental toll

I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention the physical and mental toll the job takes on the body and mind.

You will be exposed to calls that will change you as a person, I have found through my years that the majority of the changes I have experienced have been for the better, but that is not always the case.

You will see death and be reminded almost daily of the impermanence of life. Some of us become a little more paranoid and aware of our surroundings. This can be both positive and negative.

You will have calls that will bother you and memories you will not be able to get rid of. You will eventually work on friends and, potentially, family.

The fire service is evolving in the arena of mental health, and the stigma is starting to fade about hiding your feelings. We are finding that people abuse substances and have a higher rate of suicide. You do not have to be this statistic; make healthy choices throughout your career and share the burden with your crews and mental health professionals.

As a firefighter, you are more likely than the general population to get cancer. Take steps to prevent as you can. You will be exposed to ups and downs of heart rate from calls and tones going off at all hours in the stations, which has been proven to lead to increased risks of cardiac events in firefighters.


I look back at my years of service from my days coming into the EMT program with long hair un-shaved face and quickly realized that the fire service is paramilitary. My Paramedic photo is 180 degrees; I am clean-shaven and buzz cut in that ID photo.

The idea of being an American hero rushing into fires and saving everyone is an unrealistic expectation. You will run medical calls, lift people off the floor, help as a mental health counselor, and occasionally catch fire.

If you do decide to make this your career, you will have amazing stories. An unparalleled appreciation for life and love for your fellow brothers and sisters.

You will probably have hypertension and anxiety by the end of your career. However, you will have been there to assist people in their most desperate times of need.

You will have been a firefighter.

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