What Does a Firefighter Actually Do?

What a firefighter does in one fire department may slightly differ from what is done in another department nearby or across the country.

Before you make the commitment to put countless hours of preparation, energy, and effort into becoming a firefighter, I sure hope you realize what you are getting yourself into. Well, if you are this far along in the process (which I assume you are since you are reading this), you may still learn a few things you did not previous know were things a firefighter actually does in the course of a day.

What a firefighter does in one fire department may slightly (or drastically) differ from what a firefighter does in another fire department in the nearby vicinity or across the country. Watch television shows and it is not uncommon to see firefighters sitting around the kitchen table, joking and having fun, and maybe even watching television or sleeping, during the day time. Rarely do you see firefighters portrayed as doing "busy work," or actually doing productive work such as actual pre-fire planning (and that does not mean going shopping; it means actually walking through existing occupancies or buildings under construction to learn how they are constructed and analyze how they would mitigate an emergency), doing company fire prevention inspections, creating and updating pre-fire plans, training, performing physical fitness, or just maintaining their fire station, apparatus and/or tools and equipment.

So, if you watch a television show, news story, or even a movie relating or depicting firefighters, how do you usually see us portrayed? In my experience, one of two ways: we are either on the job at a working incident of some form or fashion, or we are back at the station either preparing a meal or killing time waiting to get toned out for the next run. I'm not saying this is bad, as much as I'm saying it is an unrealistic portrayal of what a firefighter does in many (not all) departments. In some departments, that is the routine; go on a call or wait for the next call to come. Yes, there may be a little housework completed, and a rig check out here or there, but is the crew spending a couple of hours a day training, and doing what it takes to be the best they can be? I'll let you make that call.

However, getting back to what a firefighter really does, I think it would open a lot of people's eyes - including the eyes of future firefighters, if they realized that a firefighter may do more things than just run calls and sit around the kitchen table waiting for the next run. I find it amazing when fire departments hire firefighters, who suddenly hate running medical calls, or hate going out on Band-Aid calls, or hate doing public education details or company inspections, or whatever. We have all heard some form of complaint (after someone got off probation of course), where a firefighter is not fond of doing a certain task, or even worse, pleads ignorant or states "I didn't sign up to ________," or "that is not in my job description." As great of a career we have, I still hear things like that (luckily rarely in my department), but more commonly when I talk to others around the country or read about the actions or statements a certain firefighter may provide.

Before any future firefighter determines this is the career for them, I hope they realize they may be called upon on any given shift, to do a number of different things, and even possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the following things at some point during their fire department career, depending on the department they end up working for. Note: some of these things the department will formally teach you how to accomplish. However, many of these things the department will expect you to bring with you in the form of life experience or learn on-the-job from other firefighters.

I once heard from someone that a firefighter needs to know about 26 different trades and careers, to be a good firefighter. At first, that sounded unrealistic, but when you think about it, it is highly possible a firefighter can be called upon at a moment's notice to do any of the following trades, professions, jobs, or careers as part of their daily routine on duty (and I don't mean as part of a side job off-duty):

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