If you’re thinking of undergoing training or receiving certification to become a firefighter, you already know that attending to medical emergencies is part of your prospective job description.
In fact, in most fire departments, firefighters may be called on in a situation simply to provide emergency medical care, even when there is no fire involved.
This might have led you to ponder the difference between a paramedic vs firefighter.
You might also be wondering, Are all firefighters paramedics?
The short answer is: you can be a firefighter without being a paramedic, but increasingly, the majority of fire departments also require recruits to have EMT certification (a level below paramedics).
Beyond that, being a paramedic is optional, but it’s preferred.
However, there are differences between paramedics and EMTs as well. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Paramedic?
In order to comprehend the difference between a paramedic and a firefighter, it can be helpful first to understand what a paramedic is.
Paramedics are medical professionals who respond urgently to an emergency or accident.
They are responsible for administering emergency medical aid to injured people.
They are trained medical professionals who possess great knowledge of human anatomy, drugs, medicines, and emergency procedures.
Typically, paramedics work in pairs and travel in ambulances, as swift mobility is an essential part of their job.
How Are Paramedics Trained?
Those who train to become qualified and certified paramedics undergo at least 1,800 hours of training, learning, testing, and shadowing.
In order to respond effectively to a wide range of emergencies, paramedics are required to have a broad scope of knowledge about various branches of medical science, such as physiology, cardiology, general medicine, and even mental health.
What Are Paramedics Qualified to Do?
After successfully undergoing their extensive training, a paramedic is certified to administer intravenous injections and drugs, diagnose patients, use a defibrillator, care for wounds and provide pain relief.
If the patient is in a serious condition, the primary responsibility of a paramedic is to ensure that he or she is stable until he reaches a medical center such as a hospital or clinic, where specialist treatment can be received (as paramedics are not doctors).
The patient is also treated immediately for pain.
In order to be a successful paramedic, one has to be able to think quickly and adapt to difficult situations.
They must also have the capability to speak to patients gently and calmly in order to stave off panic and ensure that they feel cared for and safe.
What Is a Firefighter?
What do you think of when you imagine firefighting? No doubt an orange-suited man or woman wearing reflective stripes, sliding down a pole, jumping off a fire truck, climbing up ladders, and putting out massive fires with their long and heavy hoses.
You wouldn’t be wrong — all of that is definitely part of fire service responsibilities.
However, with more time that passes, the more firefighters’ responsibilities are expanded; they have to perform numerous other duties besides just fighting the fire.
In fact, most of these duties involve medical emergencies.
Here is a list of responsibilities in the fire service:
- Extinguishing fires;
- Responding on an urgent basis to other emergencies, such as roadblocks, car crashes, and floods;
- Administering emergency medical care to victims of fires and other accidents;
- Responding to chemical and/or biological threats which might be fire hazards (or otherwise);
- Searching for and rescuing potential fire victims;
- Enforcing fire safety standards (such as inspecting fire extinguishers) and removing fire hazards in industrial areas and buildings;
- Filling out and filing reports and other paperwork related to accidents;
- Promoting the importance of fire safety.
Additional Duties of a Firefighter
Responding to fires and providing other emergency services is not all that firefighters have to do.
They are also responsible for carrying out rigorous maintenance on their own firefighting equipment and machinery to ensure they work properly in an emergency.
Another one of their continual responsibilities is attending academic and fitness training to ensure that they are in good shape, both physically and mentally.
Furthermore, community outreach is also part of what a fire department does.
Firefighters arrange numerous educational awareness programs about fire prevention and give talks and demonstrations about the same in businesses and educational institutions.
Not only that, but they also perform charity and fundraising activities for their area.
And of course, many firefighters (in fact, most) are also trained to provide services in a medical emergency, meaning most of them are also trained paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians.
In fact, you won’t find many firefighters in this day and age who have only fire service training and are not trained to provide medical care.
But as we said before, there’s a difference between those as well.
What Is an EMT?
An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) is a qualified emergency healthcare provider with certification one tier below paramedics in terms of medical knowledge and capabilities.
What Are the Differences Between an EMT and a Paramedic?
Where paramedics undergo 1,800 hours of training, EMT training is around 150 hours.
As such, EMTs mostly act as aides and assistants to paramedics in serious emergencies.
But this does not always mean that EMTs can’t provide more advanced medical help if there are insufficient paramedics, or no paramedics, on-site.
One easy way to distinguish EMTs and paramedics is in the procedures each group is allowed to perform.
A paramedic is permitted by their qualifications and certifications to conduct procedures that “break the skin,” meaning to administer drugs intravenously or intramuscularly (i.e. via injection).
EMTs, on the other hand, are not qualified to do this: they perform external procedures such as giving CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), administering oxygen and insulin, dressing wounds, etc.
And now the most important question:
Do Firefighters Have to Be Paramedics?
The short answer: no, but…
Firefighters are first responders, meaning they are the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency.
And any first responder needs to be able to give first aid treatment as well as CPR.
In recent times, the number of fires that firefighters are called upon to fight has actually decreased (thanks to greater awareness of fire safety).
Rather, 60-80% of emergency calls that fire departments respond to involve a medical emergency, and not a fire-related one.
So, providing EMS (emergency medical service) makes up the bulk of what a firefighter does on the job (and yes, this does sometimes involve driving an ambulance!).
So, the higher your medical aid certification, the more valuable you will be as a firefighter.
This is why, even if being a paramedic is not required, most fire departments today require that their employees undergo training to be an EMT, as a general rule.
Firefighter EMTs are much more likely to save lives (or at least prevent major damage, in most cases) when the situation calls for it.
Working with police and ambulance services is also an essential part of modern fire service, and being EMT trained definitely helps in that regard.
So, if you, as a firefighter, want to add significant value to your job, you should get a paramedic license. And, also because — not to be crude, but realistic — it will increase your annual salary.
So, most firefighters are expected to have some medical training when they are recruited. Furthermore, the majority of firefighters will undergo further training to upgrade their medical skills.
Can You Be a Paramedic Without Being a Firefighter?
Yes, absolutely. While firefighters are increasingly expected and/or required to have emergency medical skills, the same is not true for paramedics.
If you want to be a paramedic, you will not be required to undergo any fire service training at all or learn fire suppression and response in any way.
However, once again, if you want to be a firefighter, you should prepare yourself to receive medical training in order to respond effectively to a wider range of situations.
Should Firefighters Be Paramedics?
The general consensus is that yes, they should be.
Some people opine that firefighters should not be allowed to have the double qualification of being a paramedic.
The logic for this is usually that having both firefighter-paramedics and paramedics at an emergency might cause confusion or lead to a power struggle.
However, it’s hard to deny that in a day and age where fires are increasingly less common, and medical staff is stretched thin, the value of a firefighter paramedic is very high.
Not to mention, in the midst of an ongoing emergency situation, it’s better to have too many trained medical caregivers than too little.
The more people at the scene who have medical training, the more patients can receive emergency care.
Whether that’s a firefighter paramedic or just a regular paramedic is beside the point; the two professions are both invaluable in society.
We hope that your questions about paramedic vs firefighter have been resolved. You don’t have to be a paramedic to be a firefighter, but you will very likely require EMT basic certification — check with your local fire department.
We applaud you for your noble career aspirations. May you reach them all!