One question that occasionally arises is, “How much do firefighters get paid?” Mick Mayers, who pens the Firehouse Zen blog, recently addressed that topic in a post on the Uniform Stories blog.
Like everything else in the fire service, firefighter salaries fall into the category of “it depends.” Factors for pay include the size of the department, the size of its budget, and an area’s cost of living. Mayers cites Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers that show the annual mean wage for firefighters in 2013 ranged from $18,950 to $90,140. “While that low seems incredibly low and the high incredibly high,” Mayers says, “the reality is that the median annual wage is approximately $45,600. In the realm of getting rich, you aren’t going to do it in this profession.”
Which leads to another point about firefighter pay: People don’t necessarily sign up for firefighting to get rich. They do it for the love of the job. Sure, there is a modicum of job security, and shift schedules allow entrepreneurial-minded firefighters to develop side businesses. More often than not, though, second jobs just help firefighters to support their families, especially in areas with a high cost of living.
Firefighters face a host of risks in their chosen profession, and this fact is often overlooked by citizens who feel that firefighters are overpaid. Mayers references a 2013 NIOSH study that found that firefighters have higher rates of cancer than the average population in the U.S., and twice the rate of mesothelioma. Firefighters must often contend with the after-affects of job-related injuries and illnesses well into retirement. Mayers says, “…(F)irefighter retirement benefits simply don’t keep up with the bills that come from those situations. I know relatively young firefighters who have had to go out on a disabling injury or illness, and frankly, firefighting disability payouts in most communities are horrible.”
Job satisfaction is one of the intangible benefits of being a firefighter. Mayers closes his post by highlighting the pride firefighters have in the work they do for their communities. “…(M)ost firefighters are guys and gals that the community can trust to be there for them in their hour of need, people with a considerable amount of integrity and competence that given the amount of money they actually make each year, is a considerable return on investment for the taxpaying citizen.”
Something to think about the next time your local fire department asks for a modest budget increase.