Often the first responders in emergency situations, paid and volunteer firefighters play a vital role in their communities.
According to data from the National Fire Protection Agency, there are over 344,000 career firefighters, in addition to the over 756,000 volunteer firefighters who serve smaller communities.
Over 91 percent of paid firefighters work for local governments, but they are also employed at the state and federal levels, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, some paid firefighters work at chemical plants, airports and industrial sites.
On a slow day, they may coax a cat out of a tree or respond to a false alarm caused by burned microwave popcorn, but usually, the quick-thinking actions of these courageous professionals serve a much greater purpose.
According to Raymond Williams, who is a Battalion Chief at the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) in Birmingham, Alabama, life safety is one of the most important jobs of a firefighter. The city, with a population of over 212,000, has 648 paid firefighters at 31 fire stations.
Williams says they help to prevent the loss of life from fires; however, he notes that firefighters also administer first aid during medical emergencies — which are much more prevalent than fires. In fact, on a national level, firefighters respond to almost 20 million medical emergencies, compared to approximately 1.4 million fires. They also rescue victims from other hazardous conditions like crashed or overturned vehicles.