Firefighters held about 327,300 jobs in 2014. The vast majority—about 91 percent— worked for local governments. Most of the remainder worked for federal and state governments. A few worked at airports, chemical plants, and other industrial sites.
These employment numbers exclude volunteer firefighters. There are approximately twice as many volunteer firefighters as there are paid career firefighters.
Volunteer firefighters share the same duties as paid firefighters and account for the majority of firefighters in many areas. According to the National Fire Protection Association, about 69 percent of fire departments were staffed entirely by volunteer firefighters in 2013.
When not on the scene of an emergency, firefighters work at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, and remain on call. When an alarm sounds, firefighters respond, regardless of the weather or time of day.
Injuries and Illnesses
Firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They often encounter dangerous situations, including collapsing floors and walls, traffic accidents, and overexposure to flames and smoke. As a result, workers must wear protective gear to help lower these risks. Often, the protective gear can be very heavy and hot.
Firefighters typically work long and varied hours. Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts on duty and are off the following 48 or 72 hours. Some firefighters work 10/14 shifts, which means 10 hours working and 14 hours off. When combating forest and wildland fires, firefighters may work for extended periods. For example, the 2003 California Fire Siege took weeks of constant effort by California wildland firefighters to stop.