There are upsides and downsides to everything, including being a firefighter. The job comes with small perks like getting respect from the civilians, helping others in times of emergency, etc.
A firefighter’s salary in the US falls in the $45K range, which is pretty decent. But the risks that come with the job make it intimidating. Minor injuries are very common, so are health risks due to smokes containing abrasive particles.
Can the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
We’ll discuss it here.
The work environment requires all team members to deliver their best. For a fire safety team to operate, each team member needs to collaborate with the other. Teamwork is a rewarding aspect of this job. But can it be called an advantage?
A firefighting team is given training so one team member could watch out for another. There are always risks because the team is called up to deal with unnerving situations. The risk gets reduced because of a large team working towards achieving some goals - putting out the fire while keeping the number of casualties low, and making sure nobody gets harmed during this whole process. If you are a firefighter, and still alive after combating a menacing fire, you owe it to your team members. So in a way, it’s an advantage.
A firefighter has strong nerves. Maybe there was a time when he was like one of us, afraid of fire. But years of rigorous training, followed by exposures to life-altering situations during his service life have made him strong from the inside. He doesn't feel any inhibition at the time of confronting a devastating fire. Even if that's not an advantage, that's surely a privilege that very few people have, and firefighters are among them.
A firefighter knows his equipment best. NFPA’s list of equipment is comprehensive, and he knows how each of them works. Some are triple purpose nozzle, revolving nozzle, water foam nozzle, fire hose delivery coupling, fire hose reel box, water foam sprinkler, dry powder type extinguisher, sprinkler alarm, air release valve, pressure reducing valve, inline balance pressure proportioner, etc.
Ordinary people never even heard of any of these equipment. And firefighters are quite savvy using them. Of course there are varying levels of expertise among them. The experienced ones can quickly pick up a device and start operating with it. For a fledgling firefighter, however, the turnaround time is more.
Because a firefighter fights with fires all through his professional life, the US government had traditionally endowed them with attractive retirement packages. Things have started to fall out of place after the recession hit United States. In June 2012, an article on Reuter spoke about the need for pension reforms, a decision that was backed by the US taxpayers.
When fully implemented, such reforms will curtail many benefits that firefighters traditionally enjoyed. In cities like San Jose, California, fire safety employees have two options; opting for reduced benefits or higher contributions after retirement.
Unfortunately, the disadvantages are quite demotivating. The very first disadvantage of being a firefighter in US is the outdated overtime calculation system. The retirement calculation only considers the average of the BASE salary over last several year. But overtime wages are carefully avoided.
Firefighters don’t sit in the desks and don’t have fixed work hours. They can get a call any time of the day. But the retirement calculation doesn’t treat them this way anymore. Unjustified as it sounds, there are plenty other disadvantages queued up in the line.
Risk of cancer
Yes. They are at an increasing risk of suffering from cancer. A study by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed an elevated risk of several types of cancers in them.
In many areas, especially in marin and bay areas, the firefighting teams don’t have the requisite number of employees. In some areas, only two people take care of the fire engine when NFPA recommends at least four people for this job.
No social security
Surprised? Public employees in the US are not eligible for it. While the employers save 6+% payroll tax, the retired firefighters find themselves deprived of several post-retirement benefits.
Shorter life expectancy
Life is not a movie script. Many firefighters die during saving others. Firefighting is one of the professions that have a high fatality rate.
Will you become one?
As you can see, the disadvantages are alarming. Despite that, many people join this job. If you want to be one of them, for whom integrity and saving others matter more than monetary gains, then go ahead. If not, at least show some respects to those brave men.
Emily Smith is an expert about fire safety who takes special interest in safety from automobile fires. She is also a regular blogger and shares her knowledge about fire safety. In her blog, Emily discusses different types of tips on fire safety as well as a few ways to prevent a devastating fire accident. She often consults Houston Fire Investigation.