Firefighting is a dream career for many people, but many are left wondering how much does it cost to become a firefighter?
As soon as many recruits are old enough to join up, they want to be right there on the front line serving their community and helping out where they can. There is often the misconception that it is an easy route from applying to becoming a qualified firefighter.
This doesn’t consider the costs involved (both time and money) in getting those qualifications and doing everything required to become a firefighter.
So, how much does it cost to become a firefighter?
You can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000-$25,000 or more depending on the school and what courses you take. This will be determined on whether you take a basic 10-week training program for a basic firefighting certification or you attend a university for a bachelor’s degree in fire science and emergency management.
In this guide, I want to look at the different costs involved in the different routes that you can take to become a firefighter in your local department. If you apply with no previous training or experience, what sort of expenses can you expect as you go through the training process with a fire department?
If you decide to get a college education first, how much will this cost, and it is worthwhile? I will answer these questions with a general idea of fees for courses, training and equipment.
Costs to Become A Firefighter Through A College/University
The academic route has its pros and cons when it comes to the expenses and the benefits gained.
- The tuition is high because of the quality of the courses and the additional experiences gained
- The longer courses can prepare students for high-paying careers in the future
- There are much lower rates for in-state students if you want to learn in your home state.
- You may get help with student loans that you can repay once you are earning in the fire service
- The costs are significantly higher than those of the fire academies and training schools
- There are additional living costs of studying out of town
The first thing that you have to consider here is the cost of a degree or certificate course in terms of tuition. How much do you have to pay per year for all of your classes and tuition from the teachers involved?
This cost varies between institutions depending on what they can offer in return and their reputation. A state university may be more expensive than a community college.
Also, the longer the course, the higher the fees. Shorter certificates and associate degrees can lessen the costs if you only want the most basic skills for an entry-level position. Many certificate programs last for a year while the associate degrees can take two years to complete.
You can turn this into a bachelor’s in four years. Your college costs overall will also depend on the costs of housing and living in the area if you move to the campus to study. Will you stay in cheaper dorms on campus or somewhere off-campus? How much can you budget for each semester?
An alternative to consider that can lower the costs considerably is an online course. This reduces the costs of tuition because you don’t attend a classroom and work on modules in your own time.
There is also no cost of living, in the traditional sense, because you can study from your own home. The courses might not be as extensive, but they could help with valuable course credits and knowledge towards those first exams.
How much can you expect to pay?
Students that studying in the 2017/18 year paid, on average, $34,740 for private education and $25,620 for public education. It is also worth remembering that out-of-state students tend to pay more, but this might not be a problem if you intend to learn and work in your home state.
Public institutions charged roughly $9,970 for in-state students. Recent stats show that the average out-of-state cost for Fire Science is a little more, with an estimated average four-year degree total cost of $131,976. However, this can vary greatly from state to state.
Therefore, you have a couple of options here. You can stick with a cheaper in-state course at your state university or you can look elsewhere and find a good deal for a better course elsewhere.
So, is the higher cost of these courses worthwhile compared to the costs of fire academy training?
Some would argue that it makes sense to spend a little more here for a full education in management and administration, or a full fire science degree program. That is because of the benefits it can bring for your long-term career path and future salary.
The skills and knowledge gained here apply to roles higher up the ranks in the department than that of a firefighter. Those that wish to apply for promotion when the time comes can use their degree in their application and apply their knowledge to issues within the department.
This rise to Lieutenant, Captain or Chief means a much higher salary which then pays off any student debt and helps firefighters achieve their goals.
Also, you may get more for your money if you opt for a college course in terms of the facilities, modules and overall experience. Fire sciences university courses can cost more if they have state-of-the-art fire labs and any other tech that you will use.
Costs to Become A Firefighter Through A Fire Academy
It is easy to see the financial benefits of a short-course at a fire academy because of the upfront fees and the short time-frame before becoming a firefighter. However, there are additional costs and considerations involved.
- The courses are short and get recruits into entry-level employment faster
- The fees to sign up are significantly less than those of colleges
- There is the potential to reclaim some of the costs under certain circumstances
- The upfront costs can be a problem for some young recruits
- There are additional costs to consider for food, housing, equipment and gear
There are many fire academies and training departments in each state where you can gain the basic education needed to become a qualified firefighter. The skills gained generally apply to the Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications.
Some may also provide training in the way of EMT training from the outset. This gives recruits just enough to pass their exams and move on into a higher rank as a firefighter. The courses here can last for various lengths of time. Some are intense and over in a matter of weeks while others take months.
In many academies and training divisions, qualified firefighters can return later in their careers to take specialist courses and examinations in other disciplines. This is essential for those that need to know more about wildland fire training, rope access, water rescue or a host of other skills. These courses will require additional fees.
Additional Costs To Becoming a Firefighter
The fees for signing up to these shorter academy courses is a lot less. However, there are a lot of other costs to factor in that some new recruits might not think about.
There are the costs of the books, equipment and the fire gear used during the course. You have to purchase your own protective gear (although you may be able to rent some from the academy).
Then there are the costs of staying on-site during the course and the cost of living. Some facilities, such as the National Fire Academy, have a very basic approach with meal tickets and simple boarding for your duration there. This is the cheapest option but not always the most appealing.
Those that don’t want to eat this way must stay off-campus, which increases the costs further. There is also the fact that these academies are often a long way from home, which requires transportation costs. You may need to fly in.
Reimbursements are available for some students. This is a lot of money to pay upfront when trying to get your career off the ground.
The good news for some recruits is that there are stipend reimbursements of some costs for transportation and housing, which can lighten the financial burden significantly.
This applies to all those that are currently part of a fire or emergency management organization – even in a volunteer department. It also applies to those that are members of state or local government or a tribal nation.
Costs of Firefighter Exams/Certifications
Whichever route you take, you will need to take the same nationally-accredited exams to become certified for firefighting. There is a standard flat rate that all firefighters must pay to take an exam.
Firefighter 1 and 2 courses are typically $50 each. The same price applies to the EMT skills test that is expected by many departments. Then there is the CPAT test during the hiring process that is between $140-150.
Costs will vary depending on location and facility.
The best advice that I can give to anyone looking to join the fire service is to research all potential costs and save where possible. Those that want to join the fire service straight out of high school through a local training program need to be aware of local costs and expectations.
Can you pay for this upfront? Don’t forget about the costs of equipment and gear when training.
If you want to get a college degree first, consider the upsides of studying locally and the pros and cons of a full bachelor’s degree. Compare costs because there can be a big difference between colleges.
As long as you do your research and budget carefully, you can cover all the costs of becoming a firefighter in a way that suits you. There is no fixed cost until you get to your final exams. Until then, you do have more freedom over your choices than you may think.