Firefighter: Executive Summary

After scientist and physician, the career the public rates as most prestigious is the firefighter.

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Most prestigious careers require many years of higher education. One exception is that of the firefighter. According to a Harris poll, after scientist and physician, the career that the public rates as most prestigious is the firefighter. That's probably because in addition to their well-publicized bravery after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, firefighters are often first responders to medical emergencies. They save people trapped in burning buildings, car accidents, earthquakes, and floods, and clean up hazardous spills. If another terrorist attack hits the United States, firefighters will most likely be on the scene saving many victims' lives.

This career's appeal goes well beyond prestige. Firefighters are truly in a helping profession, one in which success is frequent. Plus, typically only a high school diploma or two-year degree is required for entry into the career. That makes firefighting one of the rare jobs in which you get to assume great responsibility at a young age.

And firefighters aren't limited to careers in the firehouse. They are, for example, employed at airports, manufacturing plants, and in forests.

Firefighting's danger (it ranks 14th in the likelihood of dying on the job) might turn some away from this career. After all, every time a firefighter enters a burning building, he or she is exposed to flames and toxic smoke and risks toppling walls and the sudden cave-ins of floors. And most firefighters must live a few days each week in a firehouse, where they're often awakened by a middle-of-the-night alarm. Firefighters' frequent exposure to stress, smoke, and hazardous materials can do long-term damage to their health. Firefighters have above-average rates of cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, according to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center, except for the clergy, firefighters ranked No. 1 in job satisfaction.

Median Pay

National: $55,000. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by


A high-school diploma has been the traditional standard, but, as with many careers, education requirements are being ratcheted up as society sends ever larger proportions of students to college. Today, a two-year college degree in fire science or fire prevention is becoming the norm, with a four-year degree often a plus. A list of colleges and universities offering fire programs is at

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