How To Become a Fire Chief in 6 Steps (Plus Salary)
Updated February 3, 2023
A fire chief is a senior fire safety professional who manages an entire fire department. These professionals are the highest-ranking individuals on a firefighting team and are responsible for the safety of both their teams and the public. If you're interested in a management position in the fire safety industry, it may benefit you to learn the requirements for becoming a fire chief.
In this article, we explain what a fire chief is, discuss how to become one, provide a list of skills that are important for fire chiefs to have and share the position's salary and job outlook.
What is a fire chief?
A fire chief is a commanding officer in a fire department who oversees firefighting teams and leads them in their responses to accidents and disasters. Fire chiefs also often represent their community and department by promoting good values and acting as role models to the public. These professionals are the highest-ranking remembers of the fire department and often earn their roles through several years of experience in firefighting.
These professionals often handle both administrative and field responsibilities. This can mean that while they still assume the responsibilities of a firefighter, they may also manage their department by completing relevant paperwork, attending meetings and hiring new firefighters to support the team. Their primary duties may include the following:
Responding to emergency situations
Delivering speeches to the public on fire safety
Addressing employee concerns
Managing performance reviews
Handling the fire department's budget
Hiring and supervising teams of firefighters
How to become a fire chief
Professionals who aspire to become fire chiefs often dedicate years of their professional lives to working in their fire department and earning promotions. If you hope to become a fire chief, here are a few steps you can follow:
1. Meet the basic hiring requirements
To become a fire chief, most professionals first become firefighters. The minimum educational requirement to become a firefighter is usually a high school diploma or equivalent. Here are some of the other requirements:
Be at least 18 years old
Pass a physical fitness exam
Submit a drug screening test
Pass a background check
Possess a valid driver's license
2. Complete firefighting training
After you find a firefighting job, it's necessary that you fulfill any necessary training requirements. Attending a training academy can help you learn the safety protocols required for you to put out fires safely and attend to the people affected by them effectively. It can also allow you to develop some of the leadership skills required to advance within the field.
To improve your qualifications, you might want to seek additional training or earn certifications. Many fire departments require firefighters to earn an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification and a CRP certification. These certifications allow you to respond to emergencies more effectively while also providing you with the credentials to provide specialized medical assistance to those in need.
Related: Learn About Being a Firefighter
3. Consider continuing your education
To earn promotions in a fire department more quickly, it's beneficial to continue your education by earning additional EMT certifications. In addition, attend a college or university and earn an associate or a bachelor's degree in fire science, occupational safety or public administration. You can also consider double majoring in a field like communications or leadership to help you enhance your management skills. It can also allow you to succeed in a variety of roles within your department.
Related: 12 Types of Continuing Education
4. Gain field experience
Since fire chiefs have a myriad of complex responsibilities that relate to managing a fire department, these professionals often have many years of experience working as firefighters and a few years of experience working as a firefighter captain or deputy chief. Supervisors often appreciate when firefighters make an effort to achieve personal growth within their position, so try to take advantage of any development opportunities your department might offer.
In addition, make an effort to take initiative and assist others on your team. Ask your supervisor for additional responsibilities to demonstrate your dedication and express your interest in advancement. Try networking with fire safety professionals in advanced roles both within and outside of your department.
5. Earn promotions
Becoming a fire chief requires you to first earn a number of promotions. Like the military and police departments, fire departments operate using a chain of command, which begins with entry-level firefighters and ends with the fire chief. To earn promotions, continue to be conscious of career growth opportunities and share your intentions with your supervisors. This allows them to consider your credentials for promotions more carefully. It also can benefit you to earn more specialized certifications, particularly as you advance into supervisory roles, such as the Emergency Manager certification offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers.
6. Show your dedication
Demonstrate that you value your community by taking on an active role in it. Participate in local events and activities to enhance your relationship with community members. You can also volunteer in your community to show your colleagues that you care enough to try to make a difference in it.
Skills for fire chiefs
To succeed as a fire chief, consider developing the following skills and characteristics:
Communication is a vital skill for firefighters and fire chiefs because they often work in small teams that require close collaboration. Having strong communication skills allows fire chiefs to assign duties effectively and provide instructions to their teams quickly. These skills also help them in conveying important information about new policies to fire safety employees and in addressing employees' concerns. You can improve your communication by practicing active listening.
Since fire chiefs often handle community outreach efforts and fundraisers for their fire department, it's important for these professionals to have initiative. Having initiative allows these professionals to implement effective community outreach plans and share their new ideas with other professionals within their department. Consider taking initiative by finding opportunities to improve processes within your department and speaking to others in managerial positions to demonstrate your confidence.
Related: 9 Ways To Take Initiative at Work
Fire chiefs need excellent leadership skills to function as the primary supervisor in their department. These skills also help them manage all their responsibilities properly, along with the employees they're responsible for overseeing. They also help them motivate their teams and encourage them in difficult times. It may be helpful to develop your leadership abilities by researching the different leadership styles and enrolling in training courses for aspiring leaders.
Read more: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples
Since fire chiefs also have the same duties as a firefighter, it's important for these professionals to have high endurance levels and good physical fitness. These abilities help them in completing their many duties more effectively and in using firefighting equipment correctly. To maintain good endurance and physical fitness, consider committing to a regular exercise routine. You may also want to adjust your diet to include high-energy foods.
Observational skills help fire chiefs discern important details about emergency scenes and determine how to help their team members in the most effective way. Observation skills can be especially useful if you choose to pursue EMT certifications, as medical professionals often use these skills to diagnose patients quickly. To improve your observation skills, try to become more detail oriented by focusing on your surroundings and on the nonverbal actions of your team members.
Read more: Observation Skills: Definition and Examples
Since fire chiefs represent their fire station, it's important that these individuals act with integrity. This can include being honest, accountable and empathetic. Try to exercise your integrity throughout your career to further demonstrate your commitment to your community and your department by getting to know everyone who works in your department, coming to work on time and representing your department in a positive way outside of work.
Salary and job outlook expectations for a fire chief
Fire chiefs earn an average national salary of $91,172 per year. This salary may vary, depending on your location, credentials and experience. In addition, the specific fire department where you work can affect how much you may earn each year. You may be able to increase your earning potential by earning more certifications, pursuing advanced education or negotiating with your employer.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects firefighter positions, which include fire chiefs, to increase by 8% through 2030. This outlook is higher than the average for other professionals. The BLS attributes the increase to the continued need for firefighting professionals to respond to emergency incidents and combat active fires.
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
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