How to become a firefighter

To be a firefighter, you must be at least 18 years old. However, you can apply to the fire service earlier if you will be 18 years old by the time your application is processed and you are able to work.

Being a firefighter is the dream ambition for hoards of children and many grow up to try to fulfil this goal. The application process is tough because the competition is vast, but for those who are successful, this is a career that is unparalleled in pace, exhilaration, risk and rewards.

Average Salary

Average Salary

£22,000 to £40,000

Qualifications

Qualification Level

GCSE

Weekly Hours

Weekly Hours

42

What qualifications do I need to work as a firefighter?

In order to join a fire service as a firefighter, you will be required to pass a number of fitness and written tests. You will also need to pass a medical examination and will be interviewed at least once.

Some fire services require firefighters to have a set number of GCSEs at a high grade pass (A*-C) and this will usually include English and maths. This is not a prerequisite for all services and so you must check the requirements with the specific fire service that you are interested in.

It may be advisable to consider working in a volunteer capacity to begin with as this will help you gain vital experience, build contacts and understand the ins and outs of the job. This may support your application.

The majority of fire services will also request that applicants pass a background security check which will be carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) before they can enter the profession.

Essential Skills for Being a Firefighter

Firefighters offer a brave, vital and heroic service to society. Their jobs are one of the most physically demanding and their working environments can be amongst the most hostile. It is not just the physical skills that are necessary to be a successful firefighter. Instead, the candidate will needs skills including:

  • The ability to remain calm, focused and work in line with all regulations, no matter how aggressive an environment can be.
  • A full driving licence
  • The ability to communicate with all communities and to explain situations calmly and professionally.
  • The ability to calm people who are likely to be scared, angry, stressed and desperate.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Exceptional time management skills and the ability to react swiftly.
  • The ability to use a variety of machines and tools effectively.
  • Leadership and managerial skills.
  • The ability to write thorough and coherent reports and to recollect events precisely.
  • The ability to provide updates to seniors and other professionals such as paramedics and police.

Day to Day Work of a Firefighter

The daily activities of a firefighter will depend greatly on whether there are any emergencies to respond to and which shifts they are working. Some firefighters might spend their shift working within the community to help teach people about fire risks and to help educate children on how to respond to a fire. Alternatively, a firefighter might wait in the fire station in case a 999 call comes through.

The variety of duties that are involved in being a firefighter are often one of the most attractive features of this career.

Some of the potential day-to-day activities that a firefighter might be required to complete could include:

  • Responding to emergency calls and fighting fires of various sizes in a range of locations.
  • Helping to release people and animals who are caught in difficulty – such as in railings or at height.
  • Spending time in community settings such as schools to teach people about potential risks and how to react in the case of a fire.
  • Testing smoke alarms and fire detectors within the community.
  • Assessing public buildings for fire safety and potential risks.
  • Checking and maintaining all equipment within the fire service.
  • Responding to bomb threats.
  • Attending hazardous spillages or chemical corrosions.
  • Completing drills to maintain skills.
  • Working out to maintain fitness levels.

How much does a firefighter get paid?

As a new firefighter, you will earn a salary in the region of £22,000 to £30,000. This starting salary will increase with experience and crew managers can earn up to £31,000 per year.

Station managers and highly experienced firefighters can earn in excess of £40,00 annually.

Career Progression for a Firefighter

Firefighters are able to further their careers and this is usually achieved through years in service and experience. Every fire service runs an Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS). This system allows all firefighters to monitor their career development and to explore opportunities for progression.

Firefighters could work towards becoming a crew manager, station manager or watch manager. These roles come with additional duties and responsibility and will benefit from an increase in pay. For those who are happy to travel and move within different services, it might also be possible to achieve a promotion to area management or to become a brigade manager or even higher rank such as a chief fire officer.

For those who are interested in fire safety and prevention in the workplace, professional qualifications are available that could lead to a membership with the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE).

Working Hours for a Firefighter

Firefighter services need to be available every hour of every day and this means that you will usually be required to work on a rota basis.

It is possible for a firefighter to work on a full-time (known as ‘whole time’) or on a part-time (referred to as ‘retained’) basis. Full-time firefighters will be required to work 42 hours each week and this will be on a shift basis.

Most shifts work on a pattern of 2 day shifts, then 2 night shifts and 4 days off. You may still be called in to cover staff shortages or if there is a large emergency that requires additional fighters.

Retained firefighters won’t have a formal contract of set hours, but instead they will agree to respond to emergency situations as and when required.

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life"