If you have ever been at the scene of a medical emergency (or been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy…) then you may have noticed that firefighters sometimes arrive before the paramedics.
You may be wondering why this happens, or whether the two roles are similar or not. So, what really is the difference between a paramedic and firefighter? Do they have different qualifications? Luckily, we have all of the answers for you in this handy guide.
What’s the difference between a paramedic and a firefighter?
A paramedic and a firefighter are two different professions, but both work in the emergency services. A firefighter will respond to fire hazards, extinguish fires and answer other emergencies, whereas a paramedic provides medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.
However, a firefighter can also be an EMT or a Paramedic, and will be able to provide a range of medical and emergency services.
What is a firefighter?
A firefighter is a trained and qualified emergency responder who will serve and protect the public, life and property.
Firefighters control, subdue and extinguish fires, but may also respond to other emergency situations such as search and rescues, or car accidents, where patients may need to be cut out of their vehicles or assisted to safety.
To be a firefighter, you will have to undergo extensive training, be physically fit, and able to communicate effectively and work in a team environment.
What is a Paramedic?
A paramedic is a qualified professional, whose purpose is to provide advanced emergency medical care for critical patients.
Paramedics will be called to the scene of an emergency to provide fast-acting, emergency medical care to those involved, and transport them to the nearest hospital or medical center.
Paramedics can therefore administer advanced medication, drugs, and offer injections and IV treatments to those in need, whereas other medical responders are unable to make the judgement and decisions to offer medication.
They may also provide CPR, bandage and treat wounds, or offer life support to very injured or sick patients.
As such, paramedics also need to be fully trained and qualified, but also very calm people with good communication skills and the ability to build relationships with their patients and the next of kin.
Can you be a firefighter without being a paramedic?
Yes, you do not have to be both. You can be a firefighter without being a paramedic, and you can train to be a paramedic, without also being a firefighter. However, there is some confusion in this area, as many firefighters will also be trained as EMTs.
EMTs are emergency medical technicians, which is similar to a paramedic in the fact that they provide medical care in emergencies, but they are not as qualified or able to administer the same level of care.
Due to the nature of modern day living, there are not as many fires these days as there once were. This is because of building regulations, as more and more structures are built with the utmost care and safety in mind.
There are more sprinklers, fire extinguishers and early fire identification protocols, which means that fires do not often get to the point where firefighters are necessary.
In addition, building supplies are far safer these days, and are made with flameproof and flame-retardant materials so they do not burn as easily or as quickly.
However, we do still need firefighters in the city to ensure the safety of the people and the environment. The decline in fires just means that a lot of firefighters are also trained as EMTs, in order to respond to other emergencies.
Therefore, when there are no fires to fight, firefighters will double up as EMTs to provide emergency medical treatment and respond quickly to a scene. This also helps firefighters upskill, and improve their knowledge and qualifications.
In this sense, many firefighters may upskill from EMTs to Paramedics after extensive training and passing their assessments. But, this does not mean that all firefighters are paramedics, and vice versa, it depends on the individual.
On the other hand, paramedics are often not trained to fight fires unless they double up as a firefighter. Your average paramedic will not have had any firefighting training, and therefore will not respond to fire service calls or know how to deal with a fire out of control.
Whilst firefighters are often trained in a few emergency medical treatments, this does not happen for paramedics, as they are only trained in medical services, not fire services.
For example, the purpose of training firefighters to be EMTs deals with the issue of what they do when there are no fires to respond to, whereas paramedics always have medical emergencies to respond to.
This means that it would not make sense for a paramedic to be away from emergency patients for hours or days on end trying to suppress or put out a raging fire.
Therefore, unless a paramedic works for a fire department, and is fully trained in both fire fighting and medical care, they will not be the ones to call to fight fires. But, a firefighter can be trained as an emergency medical technician, and go on to become a paramedic if they wanted to!
Are there paramedics in the fire department?
As mentioned before, there will be paramedics in the fire department, as firefighters can double up and train in two roles.
In addition, many fire departments will employ paramedics as firefighters so often respond to medical and emergency calls. Therefore, it is beneficial to have a paramedic available in case any emergency treatment and life support is needed.
It may also interest you to know that some fire departments, depending on the location, make it a requirement for firefighters to have medical training in order to apply for a firefighting role, due to the nature of the job.
This is due to the fact that firefighters these days will respond to medical emergencies from 60%-80% of the time, making this the majority of how they spend their time, whereas fires are the minority.
However, not all people agree that this should be the case. If lots of firefighters need to also be EMTs or paramedics, then this makes it more difficult to care for patients in some instances, as who has the final call?
Who is qualified enough to provide the best care for an injured or very sick patient?
In addition, when visiting an emergency room, there may be more firefighters, EMTs and paramedics than actually fully trained doctors, which poses a problem about resources.
With firefighters and EMTs in abundance, it can be hard to provide fully comprehensive training, and care for patients, who may need a doctor or paramedic over an EMT.
Other people argue that firefighters who have trained to become paramedics should get paid more, which makes sense as they would have spent time and money gaining their qualifications and experience, whereas an EMT would not have.
On the other hand, by training firefighters to respond in emergency situations and provide medical care does make sense, as the more experience, knowledge and skills they have, the more chance they have of saving lives and preventing medical emergencies.
The answer seems that most firefighters should have a high level of training, or even double up as paramedics in order to provide the best help and emergency response that they can. So, what is the difference between a firefighter EMT and a firefighter paramedic?
What’s the difference between a firefighter EMT and a firefighter paramedic?
As demonstrated in this guide, most firefighters will double up as emergency responders, called EMTs. These are Emergency Medical Technicians, who are able to provide emergency care such as CPR and life support in life threatening or medical situations.
To become and EMT, you would have to complete around 150 hours of training, in skills such as CPR, allergy care, administering insulin and oxygen, as these are the people first on the scene, who will need to do everything they can to preserve life before taking someone to a hospital for advanced treatment.
As such, EMTs are not qualified to provide certain medical care, as this is left to more trained and experienced medical professionals.
For example, they would arrive at an emergency, where someone has severed a finger, the EMTs would wrap the wound, prevent further bleeding and transport the patient to the hospital for treatment, and reattachment.
The difference with Paramedics is that they are more trained than EMTs and can therefore provide further medication and treatment. This is why EMTs often accompany paramedics and assist the paramedic, rather than administer the treatments themselves.
In this sense, a paramedic has around 1,800 hours of education, experience and courses about all levels of anatomy, medicine, physiology and cardiology, and will be able to perform life saving treatments at the scene of a medical emergency.
They can also administer injections and invasive medications, whereas EMTs are not permitted to.
EMTs and paramedics are paramount in medical emergencies as they are the first responders, and often the ones to save the lives of those in critical conditions or situations. Without EMTs and Paramedics, many people would not survive before making it to the hospital after an accident.
This is why firefighters often choose to train as EMTs and Paramedics as these skills are so incredibly important in the field.
Both EMTs and Paramedics are so valuable to society, and are essential in emergency medical responses, and so a firefighter would need these skills. This is why many firefighter roles require EMT training or Paramedic training in order to be successful.
Are there ambulances in fire departments?
Yes, there are now ambulances in fire departments, as they are part of the role of a firefighter. Firefighters respond to emergency medical calls, and will therefore need to be equipped to provide the best care and services to those in need.
Therefore, there will be ambulances in fire stations if needed.
However, firefighting trucks and vehicles are often still deployed as the favored vehicle and some departments will deploy an ambulance with EMTs and Paramedics on board to transport patients to the hospital quickly, rather than call a private company to do so.
But this does depend on the particular county or location, as some places will have contracts with outside companies to provide ambulance services to patients in need of care.
This is often to preserve resources in case of multiple emergencies, and allows the fire fighters to provide an efficient service to all people.
So what really is the difference? Well, paramedics are trained solely to handle medical emergencies and provide treatment and medication to those in a critical or injured state.
On the other hand, firefighters have a dual purpose, where they are trained to put out and suppress fires, but also respond to emergency calls as EMTs.