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Firefighters respond to fires, accidents and other incidents where there are risks to life and property.

What does a firefighter do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Full-time firefighters help protect the public in emergency situations. They respond to a wide variety of calls: as well as fires, they assist at car crashes, chemical spills, flooding and water rescue.

In addition to attending emergency call-outs, the job involves:

  • using sophisticated firefighting and rescue equipment
  • inspecting and maintaining equipment between uses
  • promoting fire safety through talks, advice and training sessions
  • inspecting building for fire safety and enforcing safety standards
  • performing practice drills
  • working with police and ambulance service personnel
  • undertaking physical and academic training.

There are two main divisions of firefighter: full-time professional firefighters and retained firefighters. Apart from training, retained firefighters only attend the fire station during call-outs and usually have another full-time job. They're employed in rural areas and must live or work within five minutes of the station. Around 80 per cent of firefighters are retained.

All staff wear uniforms, and 24-hour shift work is a standard requirement of the job. The work can be stressful and dangerous but there is a great deal of job satisfaction to be gained from providing such a valuable service to the community.

Typical employers of firefighters

  • Local authority fire services
  • Airports and ports
  • The Armed Forces
  • A small number of industrial organisations, such as those in the chemical, nuclear, gas and oil industries

Individual fire services advertise vacancies as they arise: look for them on fire services' websites and on social media. Senior roles are advertised on specialist industry websites and in the national press.

Qualifications and training required

You can become a firefighter both with or without a degree. You don't need specific academic qualifications to join, although health and safety qualifications and specialist management training will help you progress. Uniformed or emergency service experience may also be beneficial.

Why extracurricular activities will help you get hired

Training is an essential part of the work. New firefighters start with an intensive training period that's followed by an ongoing learning and development programme that includes specialist qualifications. You'll need to meet a fitness standard to be hired, and you'll also need to maintain a standard of fitness in the role.

To find out more about getting into emergency services work via a school leaver route, see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for firefighters

There are national minimum entrance requirements for firefighters: you need to be at least 18 and have eyesight that meets agreed standards. Other essential qualities and skills include:

  • good physical fitness
  • confidence
  • resilience
  • good communication skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure.

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