Many young children dream of becoming a firefighter. But not most firefighters don’t know their long-term career goals until they’ve spent many years on the job.
Some will realize that they want to do more than fight fires–they want to help make a fire department better. And to do that, they want to become a fire chief.
Of course, the question of how to become a fire chief is an involved process. Keep reading for everything you need to know about this rewarding job.
Becoming a Fire Chief
Becoming a fire chief means going above and beyond in a career path that already demands quite a lot.
A fire chief is a firefighter who is head of their specific fire department and is responsible for managing a team of firefighters, among other supervisory and administrative duties.
What They Do
A fire chief has a variety of duties, but it’s best explained by the advancement process required to reach fire chief.
Firefighters can be promoted, in order, to:
- Battalion Chief
- Assistant Chief
- Deputy Chief
If that seems like a long way to get to the chief position, that’s part of the point. Successful fire chiefs have to understand the role that each individual plays in keeping the fire service operational. More than that, you need to understand and practice every role within the department so you know how to call on them.
Working with other emergency response leaders, a fire chief coordinates each member of their department to handle fire control, response, rescue, medical treatment efforts, and cleanup of hazardous materials.
Not only is a fire chief responsible for the lives of people who place calls to the fire department, but they’re also responsible for the safety of the firefighters in their department.
On one hand, they are primarily an administrator. They schedule and assign duties to firemen under their purview, drill and train them, evaluate their performance, and ensure that the proper policies are followed.
Firefighter Chief Salary
The national average salary for a fire chief is $74,581. However, this figure does not account for a few key points.
First, fire chiefs may earn bonuses on top of their salary, which can boost their annual income.
Second, the salary you make as a firefighter can vary widely depending on where you live. Fire chiefs in large metropolitan areas typically earn more than those in rural areas.
In addition, your income may vary based on your state. Fire chiefs in California, which has problems with massive wildfires, can earn into the six-figure range, but that’s because their jobs are more dangerous than other areas.
How to Become a Fire Chief
With that in mind, let’s talk about how you could become a fire chief.
As we previously noted, the path to becoming a fire chief is a long one. You should have many years of experience under your belt in order to manage a department with a steady hand and practical mind.
Certifications and Education
It all starts with getting the right certifications and education.
First, you’ll need to get certified as a firefighter. The entry-level educational requirement is a high school diploma or equivalent, but you will need some coursework beyond this. Most areas require firefighters to hold an EMT certification.
In addition, entry-level firefighters will receive a few months of specialized training at academies run by the fire department or by the state. You’ll learn:
- Firefighting techniques
- Local building codes
- Emergency medical procedures
- Working with standard firefighting equipment
If you want to become a fire chief, you should plan on pursuing additional education.
At a minimum, you should have a Bachelor’s degree in fire science, public administration, or other relevant fields. Those wishing to become a fire chief may also benefit from pursuing a Master’s degree.
Start as a Firefighter
Regardless, you should plan to start your career as a firefighter.
After all, you won’t know how to manage firefighters if you don’t know what it’s like to actually be one.
From there, you can pursue additional education and certifications to better your chances of advancing through the ranks. But while you’re a firefighter, take the time to learn how to be a truly good firefighter. Learn every small detail of your job, and take every opportunity to learn more.
That coincides with the next step: building relationships.
Firefighters are regularly involved in dangerous situations that many people will never experience. It’s a high-stress, high-stakes job that depends on trust and successful communication. No fire department can do their job if they can’t rely on their teammates and their chief in a tough scenario.
The only way you’ll accomplish that is by taking the time to build relationships with your fellow team members.
Take the initiative. Always make time to take part in extra drills, training, volunteering, and community events, and take the time to get to know your fellow firefighters.
If you truly want to become a fire chief, one of the essential qualities of a good candidate is growth within the department. Colleagues and upper management alike will notice the initiative and appreciate that you take the time to bond with them as people.
Consider the Timing
While you grow yourself as a firefighter and make yourself a better candidate, consider the timing.
For example: are you financially able to cut ties with your current position? As a fire chief, you work at the whim of your boss (the fire board, an elected official, a city manager, etc.) In other words, your job security is now subject to politics.
Also, do you have a family? Are they willing to relocate? Most of the time, fire chief positions can’t be found in your backyard, which means leaving established community organizations, finding new schools, and setting down roots somewhere new.
In a similar vein, consider whether your new department would be the right fit for you. The type of department will make a huge difference on the lived experience of the job, as will the people, so it’s important to know what you can handle (and what you can enjoy).
Ready to Pursue a Career in the Fire Service?
Now that you know how to become a fire chief, are you ready to pursue the job of your dreams?
If so, you’ve come to the right place.