If you have been at the scene of an accident or emergency recently, or even have just happened to see one on TV, you may have noticed that there are firefighters present as well as the usual paramedic staff.
Even if there appears to be no fire in sight, these firefighters are on hand, administering medical help and even driving ambulances in some instances.
This may have led you to wonder what the difference is between these two professions, and indeed, to ask: if I want to train as a paramedic, do I need to also be a firefighter? And vice versa.
The fact of the matter is that these two noble professions remain distinct from each other, but are also more interchangeable than they have been in the past.
Whilst you can be a paramedic without being a firefighter, most firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians (or EMTs) these days for reasons that we will discuss in this article.
Read on to find out what exactly the difference is between firefighters and paramedics, and why both are so vitally important to the safety and security of our society.
What Exactly Is A Paramedic?
Let’s start by clarifying what a paramedic is and does. These guys are the first responders you would most expect to see at the scene of an accident or emergency, administering medical help to those in need.
They are trained medical professionals with extensive knowledge of the human anatomy, medicines, drugs and emergency procedures.
Paramedics will have undergone a minimum of 1,800 hours of training, courses, educational learning, examinations and shadowing in order to become fully qualified.
They have to have a broad scope of knowledge so that they are able to help no matter what the emergency may be, meaning they have knowledge of cardiology, physiology, general medicine and mental health.
They are qualified to diagnose patients, administer drugs and intravenous injections, use a defibrillator, dress wounds and give pain relief.
A key role of a paramedic is to provide immediate care and pain relief in order to transport patients with serious conditions to hospital safely, where they can be treated by specialists and surgeons if necessary.
The primary aim of sustaining life and minimizing discomfort for patients until a doctor can take over is a huge responsibility for paramedics.
Therefore, they need to be quick thinkers, adaptable to all situations and, crucially, they must be able to talk to patients calmly and make them feel safe and cared for.
Paramedics generally work in pairs and travel in ambulances, because being mobile and able to arrive quickly at any scene is a key part of their job.
What Is A Firefighter?
The job of a firefighter has evolved considerably over the years. Traditionally, we think of firefighters as sliding down poles, hanging off fire trucks, climbing up ladders, and dousing ferocious flames with jets of water from long hoses until they subside.
While this kind of heroic fire fighting is still very much a part of what the profession involves, firefighters these days have to perform many other duties as well.
As upstanding and respected members of society, firefighters have to:
- Perform lots of charity work and raise funds for their city or area.
- Be on hand to respond to many different emergencies, such as fires, car crashes, road blocks, chemical spills, floods and water rescue.
- Do lots of educational outreach work, giving talks and demonstrations about safety and fire awareness in schools and businesses.
- Perform safety checks on buildings and industrial areas,
- Carry out maintenance on their own equipment and machinery so that it is in the best possible condition should an emergency occur.
- Undergo continuous fitness and academic training to stay on top of their game both physically and mentally,
- Perform practice drills regularly.
- Fill out and file paperwork and reports
- Work with police and ambulance services to deliver medical assistance and general assistance during emergencies
Because of this last point, many firefighters are also trained EMTs and paramedics so that they can deliver expert medical assistance whenever it is needed.
What Is An EMT?
EMT stands for Emergency Medical Technician, and it is the qualification one tier beneath paramedics in terms of medical knowledge and training.
EMTs undergo an average of 150 hours of training in order to be able to assist paramedics at serious incidents and to provide excellent medical help to those in need.
As a general rule it is understood that whilst paramedics are qualified to conduct procedures that ‘break the skin’, like giving injections and administering drugs, whereas EMTs only perform procedures that do not ‘break the skin’, such as dressing wounds, CPR, administering oxygen and insulin and helping with allergies.
However, this rule is by no means fixed, and EMTs often provide more advanced medical help if it is needed and they are the only medical professional on hand.
Are All Firefighters EMT Trained?
These days, almost all firefighters are EMT trained, and indeed, it is fairly hard to progress in the force without this qualification. This is because so much of what firefighters do involves them helping out at ‘other emergencies’ rather than purely fire-based emergencies.
Fires are actually much more rare than they were in the past, and whilst it is still vitally important to have a specialist force at the ready when they do happen, it is also a waste of talent and resources to not double-up on responsibilities and widen firefighters’ skill set in other areas.
Medical emergencies occur far more frequently than fires, so the more qualified professionals on hand to help out, the better.
Why Are Fires More Rare Than They Used To Be?
These days, about 60-80% of the emergency calls that fire departments respond to are medical emergencies. By contrast, fewer and fewer of their call-outs are fire related, and this is due to a number of reasons:
- People are more fire safety conscious thanks to greater educational and awareness training. When we learn about fire risks we become more careful, and when we are taught about the signs of fire we become more vigilant. This means that less accidents happen in the first place.
- Fire detection systems are more advanced than ever, so smoke alarms and heat detectors provide earlier warnings of potential fires, giving people time to get to safety before the problem becomes serious. This means that when fires do occur they can be subdued more quickly.
- Buildings have to meet better fire regulation standards. They must be fitted with automatic sprinklers systems, and have easily accessible fire extinguishers and blankets. Employees and residents also often have to perform fire drills to practice how to evacuate a building safely.
- The materials we use to make buildings are more fire resistant, with interiors and exteriors made from non flammable materials wherever possible. Unlike the wooden structures that used to line the streets, flameproof cladding and coating is used on almost all new builds these days. These materials also have to go through far more rigorous testing at factory level, and meet national standards in terms of flame resistance and inflammability.
- The layout of our towns and cities are more fire safe so that flames cannot jump from building to building like they used to in the old days. Architects and city planners take wind patterns and climate patterns into consideration when designing building complexes and town centers, because we have learnt from the mistakes of the past.
Why Do We Still Need Firefighters?
Because we have improved fire safety regulations, preventions and awareness, there are far fewer fire emergencies than there used to be. However, fires unfortunately do still occur.
Global warming and climate change has meant that forest and bush fires have become more devastating and more prevalent than ever before. And the abundance of electricity, gas and chemicals in our homes and places of work, means that there are always accidents and outbreaks.
For this reason, it is absolutely essential that communities have fully funded and fully staffed fire departments, and that the specialist skills and knowledge needed to tackle fires are never taken for granted or neglected.
Are All Firefighters Paramedics?
As well as being trained EMTs, it is also common for firefighters to train as paramedics, especially in smaller towns and cities where fires occur infrequently. However, not all firefighters are paramedics as this involves many hours of training and assessments.
Those that are firefighter paramedics can perform a dual-role within society, and are able to be of vital and expert assistance in a wider range of situations.
In small towns and rural areas this makes a lot of sense because people know that they can call the fire department whatever their emergency may be, and the other emergency services know that they will be able to receive excellent assistance and back up whenever necessary.
Are All Paramedics Firefighters?
It is much more rare for a paramedic to also be a trained firefighter. This is because medical emergencies occur very frequently, and medical staff are often incredibly busy and overworked.
Resources are stretched to the maximum in order to meet the demand and keep people safe. Professional paramedics therefore have little opportunity or inclination to train as firefighters on top of their existing responsibilities.
It is for this reason that you do not see paramedics working the hoses or specialist equipment at the scene of a fire. The machinery and equipment used by firefighters in the case of a fire is highly powerful and requires extensive training in order to be used safely.
Only trained firefighters should attempt to handle this equipment, otherwise it could result in causing more harm than good.
Are Firefighter Paramedics Paid More Than Firefighter EMTs?
The exact salary of firefighters and paramedics really depends on the state and city that they are working in. In general however, the greater your level of training, expertise and responsibility, the higher your salary will be.
Trained EMTs earn an annual salary of around $36,000
Professional paramedics, with greater medical training, earn a salary of around $43,000 annually
EMT firefighters earn approximately $48,000 per year, which reflects the fact that they have a dual-role, combining firefighting and medical training.
A firefighter paramedic has even more training and qualifications, and therefore earns an average annual salary of around $57,000.
As you can see, the amount that any first responder is paid relates to the extent of their training and skill set. The more you invest in training and qualifications, the higher your salary will be.
Should Firefighter EMTs Be Paid More?
There is a certain level of debate surrounding how much firefighters get paid, especially as many fire departments are propped up by volunteer firefighters these days, who get paid nothing at all.
Some people argue that firefighters should not be paid more for their EMT training as it is part of their primary job these days, rather than an added extra.
However, most people agree that having the dual-responsibility of firefighting and medical training should of course be compensated with a greater level of pay.
Should Firefighters Double As Paramedics?
There is also a debate surrounding whether or not firefighters should be able to double as paramedics. Those who argue against this doubling up say that it causes confusion at the scene of accidents and makes it difficult for paramedics to do their job.
There is a potential power struggle if firefighters and paramedics both appear at an emergency and attempt to approach the scene differently. It is also hard to decide who has the higher authority in this situation and who should defer to who.
However, the vast majority of people agree that any emergency situation will benefit from as many trained professionals being present as possible. The more people who have medical training, the more patients who can receive expert care and attention.
The sharing of these duties makes logical sense in an age when fires are less frequent and medical staff are over stretched.
Though neither profession is better than the other, the combination of both is powerful and necessary and helps our society to be a safer and happier place.