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Firefighter in full turn out gear with a pickhead axe. This firefighter is dressed to demonstrate the gear. When dressed properly, the Nomex hood should be tucked inside the turnout jacket, the regulator hose and connection are placed outside of the hood, and it is properly aligned over the face, so as to not impair vision and to protect the head and neck from superheated environments.

A firefighter, or fireman, is a person who is trained and equipped to put out fires, rescue people and pets, aid and assist during natural disasters and, increasingly, provide emergency medical services. The fire service, also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, is one of the emergency services.

Fire fighting is the process and profession of extinguishing fires. Firefighting and firefighters have become ubiquitous around the world, from urban areas to wildland areas, and on board ships. Not all firefighters are paid for their services. In some countries, including the United States, Canada, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand, there are often paid, or "career" ("professional" is falling out of popular usage due to the perception that non-paid volunteers would thus be termed "unprofessional"), firefighters working alongside volunteer and "call" or "retained" (firefighters who are paid for the specific time they are responding to emergencies) firefighters. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the use of retained firefighters (who are part-time, but are paid when on duty) rather than volunteers is standard. In Germany, volunteer fire departments are standard – even the biggest German city, Berlin with more than 3 million inhabitants has voluntary fire fighters. There are only 101 cities that have a career fire service, in German called Berufsfeuerwehr.

The three main goals in firefighting are (in order) life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. Firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation. As such, the skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evolutions throughout a firefighter's career. In the United States, the preeminent fire training and standards organization is the National Fire Protection Association (or NFPA). Often initial firefighting skills are taught during a local, regional, or state approved fire academy. Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and Paramedicine may also be taught at this time.

Firefighters work closely with other emergency response agencies, most particularly local and state police departments. As every fire scene is technically a crime scene until deemed otherwise by a qualified investigator, there is often overlap between the responsibilities of responding firefighters and police officers such as evidence and scene protection, initial observations of first respondents, and chain of evidence issues.Template:Citation-needed The increasing role of firefighters in providing emergency medical services also brings firefighters into common overlap with law enforcement. One example of this is a common state law requiring all gunshot wounds to be reported to law enforcement agencies.

Most career (full time, paid) firefighters in North America are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters

Fire fighting tasks

Fire fighting has several basic skills: prevention, self preservation, rescue, preservation of property and fire control. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include size-up, extinguishment, ventilation, and salvage and overhaul. Search and Rescue, which has already been mentioned, is performed early in any fire scenario and many times is in unison with extinguishment and ventilation.


Prevention attempts to ensure that no place simultaneously has sufficient heat, fuel and air to allow ignition and combustion. Most prevention programs are directed at controlling the energy of activation (heat). Fire suppression systems have a proven record for controlling and extinguishing unwanted fires. Many fire officials recommend that every building, including residences, have sprinklers. Correctly working sprinklers in a residence greatly reduce the risk of death from a fire. With the small rooms typical of a residence, one or two sprinklers can cover most rooms.

In addition, a major duty of fire services is the regular inspection of buildings to ensure they are up to the current building fire codes, which are enforced so that a burning building can sufficiently resist fire damage.


Firefighter exiting a structure fire.

Self-preservation is critical. The basic technique firefighters use is to know where they are, and to avoid hazards. Current standards in the United States recommend that firefighters work in teams, using a "two-in, two-out" rule whenever in an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) environment.

Tools are generally carried at all times and are important for not only forcible entry but also for self rescue. A Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) delivers air to the firefighter through a full face mask and is worn to protect against smoke inhalation, toxic fumes, and super heated gasses. A special device called a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is commonly worn independently or as a part of the SCBA to alert others when a firefighter stops moving for a specified period of time or manually operates the device. The PASS device sounds an alarm that can assist another fighterfighter (Firefighter_Assist_and_Search_Team), in locating the firefighter in distress.

Firefighters often carry personal self rescue ropes. The ropes are generally 30 feet long and can provide a firefighter (that has enough time to deploy the rope) a partially controled exit out an elevated window. Lack of a personal rescue rope is cited in the deaths of two New York City Firefighters, Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran, who died after they jumped from a fourth floor of a burning apartment building in the Bronx. Of the four firefighters who jumped and survived only one of them had a self rescue rope. Since the incident the Fire Department of New York City has issued self rescue ropes to their firefighters.

In the United States, 25% of fatalities to firefighters are caused by vehicle accidents while responding or returning from an incident. Many firefighters are also injured or killed by vehicles while working at an incident (Paulison 2005).


Rescue operations consist of searching for and removing trapped occupants of hazardous conditions. Animals may also be recovered, if resources and conditions permit. Generally triage and first aid are performed outside, as removal from the hazardous atmosphere is the primary goal in preserving life. Search patterns include movement against room walls (to prevent rescuers from becoming lost or disoriented) and methodical searches of specific areas by designated teams.

Many fire departments follow a "two-in, two-out" rule, which states that:

a) teams made up of a minimum of two firefighters will enter and leave hazardous areas together (to prevent single rescuers from becoming lost);
b) for every team of two (or more) rescuers currently inside a hazardous area, another team of two (or more) rescuers will be stationed (or "staged") immediately adjacent to the entry to the hazardous area, ready to immediately enter should the first team require assistance.

Such teams are commonly known as Rapid Intervention Teams (abbreviated RIT). The only time it is permissible for a team of firefighters to enter a burning structure without RIT in place is when they are operating in what is known as "Rescue Mode". Rescue Mode occurs when firefighters have arrived at the scene, and it is readily apparent that there are occupants trapped inside who need immediate rescue. At such a time, firefighters may enter the structure proceed directly to the recsue scenario, and RIT can be established as soon as possible.

Searches for trapped victims are exhaustively detailed, often including searches of cupboards, closets, and under beds. The search is divided into two stages, the primary and secondary. The primary search is conducted quickly and thoroughly, typically beginning in the area closest to the fire as it is subjected to the highest risk of exposure. The secondary search only begins once the fire is under control, and is always (resources and personnel permitting) performed by a different team than that which did the primary search.

Rescue operations may also involve the extrication of victims of motor vehicle crashes (abbreviated MVC). Here firefighters use spreaders, cutters, and hydraulic rams, tools more commonly known as the Hurst tools to remove metal from the patient, followed by actually removing the patient, usually on a backboard with collar, and transferring to a waiting ambulance crew in the cold zone. More technical forms of rescue include subsets such as rope rescue, swiftwater rescue, confined space rescue, and trench rescue. These types of rescue are often extremely hazardous and physically demanding. They also require extensive technical training. NFPA regulation 1006 and 1670 state that a "rescuer" must have medical training to perform any technical rescue operation. As such, firefighters involved in rescue operations have some kind of medical training as first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or nurses. And they have kick ass jobs.

Communication and command structure

A company of firefighters.

Firefighters are trained to use communications equipment to receive alarms, give and receive commands, request assistance, and report on conditions. Since firefighters from different agencies routinely provide mutual aid to each other, and routinely operate at incidents where other emergency services are present, it is essential to have structures in place to establish a unified chain of command, and share information between agencies. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has established a National Incident Management System. One component of this system is the Incident Command System.


Buildings that are made of flammable materials such as wood are different from so called "fire-resistant" buildings such as concrete high-rises. Generally, a "fire-resistant" building is designed to limit fire to a small area or floor. Other floors can be safe simply by preventing smoke inhalation and damage. All buildings suspected of being on fire must be evacuated, regardless of fire rating.

While sometimes fires can be limited to small areas of a structure, wider collateral damage due to smoke, water, and burning embers is common. Utility shutoff (such as gas, electricity and water) is typically an early priority of arriving fire crews. Whenever possible, movable property is moved into the middle of a room and covered with a heavy cloth tarp. Firefighters are often forced to open holes in the roof or floors of a structure (called "vertical ventilation") or open windows or walls (called "horizontal ventilation") to remove smoke and heated gases from the interior of the structure.

Fire control

Fire control consists of depriving a fire of fuel, oxygen, and/or heat. Firefighters are equipped with a wide variety of equipment to accomplish this task. Some of their tools include extrication equipment, ladder trucks, tanker trucks, pumper trucks, and ambulances. Very frequent training and refresher training is required.

History of fire brigades

The history of organized combating of structural fires dates back at least to ancient Egypt. Today, fire and rescue remains a mix of paid, call, and volunteer responders. See article history of fire brigades.

Firefighting worldwide

Traditions, protocol, and trends in firefighting vary from country to country. For more information on national firefighting procedures, see article Firefighting worldwide.


In popular literature, firefighters are usually depicted with Dalmatian dogs. This breed originated in southern Europe to assist with herding livestock and run along with horses, and in the days of horse-drawn fire vehicles, the horses were usually released on arrival at the fire and the Dalmatians would lead the horses to a safe place to wait until the fire was out. Dalmatians also filled the role of protecting the horses' feet from other dogs as equipment was being transported to the fire scene.

In reality, most fire dogs were mutts pulled from the street (and thus cheaper to acquire). In addition, Dalmatians have a reputation for skittishness and congenital defects, such as deafness due to inbreeding.

Fire hydrants are referred to in some regions as "fire plugs". This term originated with the advent of the first municipal water systems, in which the "pipes" were often actually hollowed out logs. For firefighting purposes, cobblestones were removed from the street or sidewalk to access the wooden water main. A hole was drilled into the log and then "plugged" with a wooden plug or stake. In the event of a fire, firefighters would locate the "fire plug" and unplug it to obtain water.

See also

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