What Life Would Be Like With No Firefighters


We live in a crazy world these days where nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. Thus, it doesn’t hurt to think about what is (as of now) a hypothetical situation. What if we no longer had firefighters to rely on? What would life be like?

Life without firefighters would be drastically different and far more dangerous. People would be forced to put out fires themselves, which could lead to injuries and deaths. More property losses would occur. People also wouldn’t be able to receive the medical attention that firefighters can administer and would have to rely exclusively on EMTs and paramedics instead. 

In this article, we’ll talk even more about this hypothetical world in which firefighters no longer exist. By the time you’re done reading, you should appreciate the role that firefighters occupy even more!  

What If There Were No Firefighters?

Imagine a world with no firefighters. We’re talking no paid firefighters and no volunteers either. All the fire departments are empty, and you never see a big red firetruck rushing down the street with its engines blaring anymore. 

That would be the only change that occurs in this hypothetical world. Fires still exist, we just have no firefighters. 

If we keep living as we usually do, then fires are bound to occur at some point. The National Fire Protection Association or NFPA has tracked the number of fire department calls in the United States since 1980. 

That year, there were 10,819,000 total calls, of which 274,000 were for mutual aid, 896,500 were false alarms, 5,045,000 were for medical aid, 2,988,000 were for fires, and 1,615,000 were other calls.

Fast-forward to 2019, which is the most current data we have from the NFPA. That year, fire departments across the country received 37,272,000 calls, which means firefighters got 26,453,000 more calls.

In 2019, up to 1,487,000 calls were for mutual aid, 744,000 were for hazardous conditions, 439,500 were for hazardous materials, 2,893,000 were false alarms, 24,481,000 were for medical aid, 37,272,000 were for fires, and 5,936,000 were other calls.

Besides the fact that the NFPA now tracks hazardous material calls, you can see that the number of calls to fire departments today is higher than ever. This is an upward trend that has persisted for more than three decades and is likely to continue in the decades to come.

Without anyone to answer your calls, what would you do when a fire starts burning in your home? Well, you’d have two options. The first is to try to fight the blaze yourself, maybe with a fire blanket or a fire extinguisher. These tools can combat small fires, but not larger ones. You’d need higher-scale equipment like what firefighters use.

You couldn’t stop the fire yourself, but you might die trying. Even if it didn’t come to that, the injuries you could suffer such as burns and smoke inhalation would still put your health in peril.  

The other option is to evacuate. Yet since you know that firefighters aren’t coming, the fire will be left to grow and spread. Your neighbor’s home could catch alight, then the rest of the homes on the street could all be ablaze if the fire spreads that rapidly. 

In short, it would be a nightmare. The loss of property damage both residential and commercial could devastate towns and cities, crippling economies and increasing homelessness. 

We haven’t even touched on the other services that firefighters offer. Plenty of firefighters are also trained EMTs who can treat wounds and injuries and even administer CPR. 

Yes, you’d still have EMTs and paramedics in this world, but without firefighters, some fewer professionals can tend to your health in an emergency. Between that and all the uncontrolled fires, the world would be a very scary place! It certainly doesn’t sound like one that we’d ever want to live in, and we’re sure you can agree!

Is Being a Firefighter Honorable?

If you’re looking for an honorable profession, being a firefighter is certainly near the top of the list. An honorable job is one that people respect, and who doesn’t respect firefighters? They risk their lives to save people, pets, and properties, doing this day in and day out. 

Your role as a firefighter would put you in good company. Other jobs that are regarded with such a high degree of respect and honor are:

  • Doctors
  • Pilots
  • Nurses
  • Police officers
  • Military personnel 

The Downsides of Being a Firefighter

As highly respected and integral as the field of firefighting is, it comes with both its upsides and its downsides. Let’s start first with what the worst parts of the job are. Then, in the next section, we’ll discuss why being a firefighter is so important. 

Also, if you’re more of a video person, I’ve created a video over on the FirefighterNOW YouTube channel outlining 7 reasons why firefighting may not be a good fit for you.

You Spend More Time at Work Than You Do at Home

In our article on firefighter schedules, we mentioned that firefighters spend up to one-third of their careers at the firehouse. Sure, the average office worker logs a lot of time at the office too, but they get to clock out and go home at 5 p.m. (or thereabouts). 

Firefighters cannot leave the fire department when they’re working unless to fight fires. Given their work schedules (more on this in a moment), that often means not only working at the fire department but living here as well.

A firefighter will prepare meals, eat, shower, and sleep at the fire department. They’ll clean the place up to keep it tidy for their fellow firefighters (but not on their own, of course). They might be more used to sleeping in the beds at the fire department than their own bed back at home. 

Unlike an office worker, who can often do their job remotely, that’s not the case for firefighters. As much as technology has evolved through to the 2020s and continues to evolve, we don’t yet have the technology to virtually fight fires.

Until and unless we do, that means a firefighter must be onsite every day that he or she is scheduled for work. 

Long Hours

As you can imagine, firefighters put in some very long hours. This is something we talked about in the abovementioned blog post on firefighting schedules, but it’s worth bringing it up again now. 

The most common work schedule for a firefighter is to work for 24 consecutive hours, then take the next two to three days off. Those 24 hours don’t have to be midnight to midnight but can be anytime. As a result, the schedule of a firefighter can be quite wonky.

Some fire departments still put their firefighters on shifted schedules. If so, then you would work eight to 12 hours at a clip, then 12 to 14 hours, for several days in a row. Then you’d get a day or two off. After that, you’d come back to work and have to do it again. 

According to Clockify, which logs work hours around the world, as of 2021, the average American works 37.5 hours per week and 1,801 hours per year. Firefighters can work up to 121 shifts throughout a given year, which is 2,900 hours. 

That’s a difference of 1,099 hours, which is huge! 

You Can be Called into Work at Any Time

Here’s one of the biggest downsides of being a firefighter. Although you’ll be given days off to recuperate from the rigors of the job, you don’t necessarily get to enjoy your full scheduled time. 

At any minute, you could be called into work. It doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping, eating, in the bathroom (yes, gross, but we had to go there), celebrating your spouse’s birthday, or playing with your kids. Duty calls, and you need to be at the fire department, stat.

Living with the knowledge that you could have to work anytime can make it hard to relax, which puts your time off to waste. If you are called in, you’d then have to get your time off restructured, which makes it even more difficult to plan your week. 

Very Dangerous Job Hazards 

Every job has occupational hazards, some that are much more serious than others. We can barely think of an occupation outside of working as a policeman/woman or being in the military that is more dangerous than working as a firefighter. 

Although firefighters are trained on search and rescue and operating fire equipment, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to get out of every fire alive. Firefighters risk their lives anytime they enter a home or a building that’s on fire to rescue people or attempt to combat the blaze. 

It takes truly brave-hearted men and women to work and volunteer as firefighters! 

Is It Worth It to Be a Firefighter?

After reading the above downsides of working as a firefighter, you might be rethinking your occupational choice. Like lots of jobs, being a firefighter has both good aspects and bad ones. Let’s balance out the above section by discussing the many reasons it’s worthwhile to become a firefighter. 

Again, if you’re more of a video person, I’ve created a video outlining why, in my opinion, firefighting is one of the best jobs in the world.

Doing Something That Matters

Few people want to do menial work at a desk day in and day out. They strive to find a job that makes them feel important and lets them do something that matters. Working as a firefighter is one such job that fits the bill.

Every single day you’re called to fight a fire, you’re helping people. Whether you’re protecting their livelihoods by putting out a burning fire or you’re rescuing victims, you can always hang your hat at the end of the day knowing that your job matters. 

That feeling of purpose creates fulfillment in your job that a menial office role can’t touch. 

Good Salary

We’ve discussed firefighter salaries across the US on this blog, so go back and give that post a read if you missed it. In short, firefighters earn a generous salary for the life-risking work they do.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, the average firefighter makes $25.24 per hour and $52,500 per year. In some cities and towns in the US, the salary is more like $77,000 a year, even $110,000. 

Always in Demand

Technology has made our lives so much easier, but it’s also irreversibly changed the job landscape. We need so fewer jobs anymore since robots and machines can do them. If you currently work in another industry, you might have a well-founded fear that your job could someday be taken away as technology continues to advance.

As we said before, there is no virtual way to put out a fire. So long as fires exist, your job as a firefighter will remain relevant. The BLS indicates that the field of firefighting will grow six percent between 2019 and 2029. In that decade, another 20,300 firefighting jobs will be added.

Job security is a good feeling. Even if you bounce around from fire department to fire department, the need for your job will always be there. 

Room for Advancement

You might start as a firefighter, but if you’re someone who enjoys climbing the career ladder, you can do that in this role. 

Other such job responsibilities you can take on include lieutenant, then captain. You would then become the battalion chief, then the assistant chief, next the deputy chief, and the lead chief as the highest rung on the career ladder in firefighting. 

That’s quite a long ways to go from where you are!

If the world had no firefighters, it would be a nightmarish place to live. Every day, the brave men and women who sacrifice their time and their lives to combat fires keep our world secure so it can keep going as we know it. Volunteer firefighters aren’t even compensated for their time, but they do what they do out of a sense of passion and honor.

Whether you’re trying to become a firefighter yourself or you know someone who already works in this field, they deserve thanks for keeping our lives safe! 

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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