Becoming a firefighter is both an exciting and rewarding job. It’s also one of the toughest jobs you can have, with long hours and physically demanding duties.
The average firefighters’ salary in the UK is £36,000 per year – not bad considering how much training they go through to get there!
Read on to find out more about what it takes to become a firefighter in the UK.
The Lowdown on Firefighters’ Salaries
A career in the fire service offers fantastic career progression, training and development. With experience, you could earn up to £59,000 as an Area Manager. Interested? Read on to find out more.
We’ve created an easy guide to show you:
- What does a firefighter’s job actually involves.
- The working environment.
- Routes into becoming a firefighter.
- What you could earn.
- Qualifications required.
- Career Progression.
What does a firefighter do?
As a fireman, you’ll be responding to emergency situations to protect people and their environments.
Firemen and women help to protect people from fire and other dangers, giving advice on fire prevention.
This may not just be involving fires but can be where people or animals are stuck in hazardous situations such as factory equipment or in a car accident.
You could also find yourself working closely with your local community to help promote fire and health safety.
There are two main types of firefighters:
- Wholetime firefighters – work for the fire service full time and usually cover urban areas.
- The starting salary for a trainee whole-time firefighter is £23,366. When fully trained, this rises to £31,144. Higher rates apply for overtime. Crew manager salaries range from £33,101 (development) to £34,528
- Retained firefighters – are on-call responders who usually cover rural areas.
You’ll need to live close to a fire station so you can respond immediately and will be paid for the actual work you do. This could be around £6,000 – £8,000 per year.
A typical day as a firefighter.
Each day will be different, but you could certainly find yourself:
- Inspecting buildings to ensure they meet fire regulations.
- Carrying out practice drills and taking part in regular training.
- Checking and inspecting your equipment.
- Responding and controlling fires.
- Dealing with alerts such as bombs and flood alerts.
- Giving presentations to schools and community groups.
- Managing chemical spills and any hazardous equipment.
Do firemen work shifts?
Yes, this isn’t a 9-5 pm job. You will usually work 40 to 48 hours a week in a shift pattern.
Most firefighters will work over two days and then two nights – and then have four days off.
You may find different regions use a range of duty systems, and there is often the chance to work overtime.
What is the working environment like?
You could be working at a fire station or at a client’s business. It can be physically and emotionally challenging as you may have restricted heights and cramped conditions to work in.
Conditions may be hazardous, smokey and very hot.
You’ll be under pressure and need to stay calm. But no two days will be the same – one day you could be helping to deliver a baby roadside, another day you could be putting out a chemical fire in a field.
Career Progressions as a firefighter.
There is plenty of opportunity to progress in your career as a firefighter. After a number of years, you can move to become:
- Chief Fire Officer
- Station Manager
- Watch manager
- Area Manager
- Assistant Chief Fire Officer
- Crew Manager
There are also alternative jobs outside the fire service where you can transfer your skills, such as:
- Working as a First Aid Trainer
- Health and Safety Inspector
- Security Officer.
- Safety Trainer.
- Dog Handler – particularly if you have had experience with service dogs during your career.
What could I earn as a firefighter?
The starting salary for a trainee firefighter is around £23,366 per year. This rises to just over £31k once you are fully trained. There are often opportunities to earn extra money through overtime.
A Crew manager within the fire service can earn between £33k and £34,528 per year, depending on location.
With experience, you can move on to working as a Station Manager within the fire service, earning between £40k-£44k per year.
Area managers can earn up to £59,000 per year.
You’ll also be entitled to a range of benefits, including access to the Blue Light Card discounts scheme, which will see you saving money with over 15,000 national retailers and service providers.
In some instances, you can even claim tax back on the upkeep of your uniform. See this guide on uniform tax rebates for all the information.
Routes into becoming a firefighter
You need to be over 18.
You will need at least 4 passes in GCSE’s – including maths and English. An online test will judge your ability on safety, reading and assessments before applying for a training position.
Another option is to take a Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Public Services before applying to the fire service, although this is not essential.
The RAF takes on trainee firefighters – find out more here.
Level 2 Certificate in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community. This course is usually run by local fire services.
Apprenticeship schemes are run directly by your local fire service.
You’ll undertake 12-18 weeks of training before landing a job. Basic training will cover all health and safety aspects, use and checking of equipment. Once you have completed and passed your training, you will be deemed a ‘competent’ firefighter.
You will need to be physically fit.
Any experience as an emergency call handler or operator will help give you an idea of the industry.
Other related degree courses in areas including fire engineering, fire safety and risk management or fire and explosion are also available. Search for postgraduate courses in fire safety engineering for more options.
To improve your chances of entry, you need to keep fit and gain as much information as possible about both the role and the fire and rescue service in general. To keep up to date with relevant fire issues, join the UK Fire Service Forum.
Need to Know
You may need a clean driving licence.
Direct work experience is hard to find, but it will be advantageous to have some kind of knowledge of public responding work such as St John’s Ambulance volunteering or emergency response work.
In England, there are 46 fire and rescue services run by fire and rescue authorities (FRA). For a list of services by region, see the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
You will need to be over 18.