Fire fighting is forecasted to remain an extremely competitive field. It attracts many people, particularly because a high school education is usually sufficient to become a recruit. However, this is changing rapidly. An associate's degree in fire science or fire technology will likely become a more common requirement for an entry-level fire-fighting job.
The fire service is also a popular field because earnings are relatively high, and members receive a guaranteed pension upon retirement. In addition, the work is frequently exciting and affords an opportunity to perform a valuable community service. Consequently, the number of qualified applicants generally exceeds the number of job openings.
Employment for firefighters is expected to grow at an average rate through 2028, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. There is keen competition among public service providers for funding. Most job growth will occur as volunteer fire-fighting positions are converted to paid positions. Physically fit firefighters who receive high scores in the fire-fighting test and have paramedic training and some post-secondary firefighter education will have better job prospects than those with less education and training.
Specialty areas, such as hazardous materials and technical rescue, will also continue to grow. While improved building materials and building codes have reduced the number of fires, fires as well as medical emergencies will still happen and the firefighting profession will continue to be needed. The proliferation of electronic vehicles and battery installations poses an emerging challenge for firefighters who need new techniques and tools for properly extinguishing these high-tech, high-voltage devices. Firefighters will also continue to be needed to combat wildland fires and manage the wildlands to protect against future fires.
The potential for upward mobility in the fire service is essentially unlimited. After all, almost every fire chief in the country started his or her career as a rookie firefighter.
The coronavirus pandemic, which began in late 2019, has had a deep impact on firefighters. Many continued working through the coronavirus pandemic, adjusting their work practices by wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines to minimize their risk of infection. As essential workers and first responders, though, firefighters sometimes found themselves at greater risk of exposure in the course of doing their job when it required hands-on work performing rescues or providing first aid. In addition, the risk of spreading the virus was also high in fire houses, where many firefighters live together during their work shifts. Also, the public health crisis altered the nature of their work, meaning there was an intense increase in medical calls for people with COVID-19 symptoms compared to calls about fires. As described in an article in Firehouse.com, "In normal times, firefighters respond to 36 million medical calls a year nationally... that role [had] only grown in 2020." In the article, the president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs stated that in 2020, firefighters "pump[ed] more oxygen than water."
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021 is expected to contain the pandemic in the immediate future. As first responders, firefighters have been deemed essential workers during the pandemic, enabling them to be vaccinated in the early phase of vaccine distribution in many states.