Fires are devastating, causing property loss and sometime loss of life. A fire fighter's job is to respond to fires and sometimes other emergency situations, such as traffic accidents. Fire fighters are trained to rescue people and perform emergency life-saving techniques. The working conditions for a fire fighter are dangerous and the work hours are often physically demanding. Salaries vary greatly by experience and the position of a fire fighter.
The median annual wage of a fire fighter in the United States was $44,260 as of May 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest paid 10 percent of fire fighters received up to $22,990 a year, while the upper 10 percent earned $74,390 or more. Fire chiefs earned between $78,672 and $104,780 a year on average, while deputy chiefs made from $69,166 to $88,571.
Annual salary can vary by location. For example, the highest paid fire fighters were in New Jersey, with an average annual salary of $71,810 as of May 2009. California followed, with an annual salary average of $66,950. Some states with a greater overall number of fire fighters had a lower average salary. For example, Ohio had the highest concentration of fire fighters per thousand workers reported in the United States, with 19,480 fire fighters in 2009, but their average salary in Ohio was $41,160 a year.
Work Hours and Overtime
A full-time fire fighter often has a demanding schedule. Fire fighters are assigned to be at the station for extended hours while on duty. The station provides dormitory-style quarters for the employees. Typical work hours are around 50 hours per week, according the bureau. Shifts can also be demanding, with a fire fighter being on duty for a full 24 hours. An alternative work schedule may be 10-hour shifts for up to 3 to 4 days, or even a 14-hour shift for 3 to 4 consecutive days. Fire fighters do not have typical holidays off, and are often required to work additional hours when working a fire or emergency situation. Compensation for overtime is based on many factors. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, hours when a fire fighter is on duty may qualify for overtime, but meal times or sleeping times, even when on call, do not count for overtime calculations. Hours are typically calculated on number of hours worked in a month to determine overtime, not number of hours worked in a day or week.
A fire fighter can expect to receive medical insurance, holiday pay, sick time and vacation leave. A fire fighter needs specialized clothing for protection while working, and most fire fighters receive the clothing, such as boots, fire-retardant coats, and helmets from the fire department. Retirement benefits for fire fighters typically provide for half of a fire fighter's salary when the person has worked 25 years. Fire fighters can expect this level of pay if injured or disabled while in the line of duty.