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A career as a first responder can be both exciting and rewarding. By definition, first responders are those who run toward danger when tragedy or medical emergencies strike, helping others and saving lives along the way. If you’re curious about your options for becoming a certified first responder, keep reading to learn more about the various choices available.
5 of the Best First Responder Jobs
- Law Enforcement Officer
- Search and Rescue Officer
- Emergency Management Specialist
Those classified as first responders are typically first on the scene when it comes to accidents, 911 calls, medical emergencies, and natural disasters. While the job can be physically demanding and emotionally stressful, it also can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. First responders are carefully trained to be able to quickly assess a situation, provide first aid or more complete medical care and keep a situation stabilized until backup can arrive. You can find first responders in the public sector–or in private or even not-for-profit organizations. In addition, many people work other “day jobs” and volunteer as first responders in a variety of capacities.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians often deliver life-saving emergency medical care at the scene of an accident.
Salary – Median salary for this first responder role is around $32,000 per year.
Hours – Keep in mind that an emergency medical responder is always on call, so the hours are irregular and working conditions can be highly stressful.
Required Experience – You can find good EMT jobs at entry level, so there’s no professional experience required. You just have to complete the appropriate training program. However, to become a paramedic, which is the highest level of emergency medical responder level, you are required to have experience at both the basic and intermediate levels.
Required Education/Certifications – Emergency responders function at three different levels: basic, intermediate and paramedic. Basic EMTs provide non-invasive medical care, like bandaging and assessing vital signs, while intermediate EMTs can also provide care that includes administering IVs and endotracheal intubations. Paramedic EMTs generally have the highest capabilities and may administer drugs, read test results, clean wounds and conduct manual defibrillation.
A paramedic EMT generally has at least two years of training.
In general, in order to become an EMT at any level, you must be trained and licensed and meet any other program requirements for your particular state, which will include CPR training and certification. EMTs must have a high school diploma or GED–they typically will complete a state-approved training course and then sit for a national certification exam.
Pros and Cons – This is a fast-paced and high-stakes position, though it offers the tremendous reward of literally saving lives. Becoming an EMT/paramedic can sometimes also open the door to other careers for paramedics within the medical field, so it can often be a good stepping stone.
2. Law Enforcement Officer
Police officers are typically the first resource people contact during an emergency. Law enforcement officers support individual and societal safety by enforcing the law, establishing order and keeping public streets safe from violence.
Salary – Police officer salaries can range anywhere from $38,000-80,000 per year, depending on geography, years of experience, specialized skills, and training. The demand for law enforcement officers is expected to remain steady for the foreseeable future.
Hours – Like many first responder roles, law enforcement jobs can be physically demanding, emotionally stressful and come with long, irregular hours.
Required Experience – There’s no specific previous experience required. Becoming a police officer requires a highly specific and specialized training program, and all officers will receive this training as students in the police academy.
Required Education/Certifications – All law enforcement officers must complete police academy training and pass all appropriate corresponding examinations. Some specific positions may also require a bachelor’s degree.
Pros and Cons – Police work can often be dangerous, demanding and unpredictable, but if your priority is helping people and enforcing the law, it’s a great place to start. In fact, becoming a law enforcement officer is one of the very best ways to serve a community.
3. Search and Rescue Officer
Search and rescue officers help find missing individuals in the midst of tragedy and natural disaster. Search and rescue teams also come in many types, including urban, K-9, dive and mountain–so each comes with its own unique set of qualifications and challenges.
Salary – While many search and rescue teams are composed of volunteers only, there are some opportunities for professional search and rescue officers. Salaries will range widely depending on which type of position you choose.
Hours – Search and rescue officers work on an on-call basis, so hours are likely to be irregular and unpredictable.
Required Experience – For a paid search and rescue position, your best bet may be to get the type of first responder job that is often called upon to search for missing people, such as firefighter, law enforcement, National Park Service, FEMA, etc.
Required Education/Certifications – Though most specific types of search and rescue organization will have specialized training and certification, there are a few core skills that anyone seeking a career in search and rescue should have, including the following:
- Wilderness survival skills
- Strong navigational skills
- First aid skills
- Leadership and quick decision-making
- Rope and climbing experience
In addition, most professional search and rescue jobs will require a bachelor’s degree–appropriate degree options include everything from law enforcement to emergency medical response and environmental conservation.
Pros and Cons – This position carries the obvious benefit of being able to save other people’s lives. Its biggest con, however, is that so few paid positions exist. Most search and rescue officers work as volunteers and are responsible for providing all their own equipment. In addition, as with so many first responder jobs, the work is physically demanding, sometimes dangerous and comes with long and unpredictable hours.
4. Emergency Management Specialist
An additional way to enter the first responder field is by joining groups devoted to emergency preparedness across the globe. Organizations like the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency respond to disasters and crises all over the world, lending immediate aid and assisting in cleanup and recovery activities. In addition, at times these organizations may help communities anticipate and prepare for crises in order to minimize damage.
In general, an emergency management specialist will work with municipalities to anticipate and prepare for a wide range of disasters–both man-made and natural. These specialists prepare and review disaster preparedness plans and coordinate with other first responders to deliver a consistent response.
Salary – According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the median salary for emergency management jobs is roughly $64,000 per year.
Hours – Like many other first responder jobs, an emergency management position will require some long and irregular hours and stressful situations. Depending on the nature of the position, there may also be some travel requirements.
Required Experience – Entry-level positions in emergency management are available, as long as you possess the required education and certifications.
Required Education/Certifications – To become part of the emergency management team at any government agency or non-governmental organization, you must meet the program requirements set forth by that particular organization. A bachelor’s degree is typically required for an emergency management position, and many colleges now offer degree programs specific to emergency management and homeland security. Once you’ve earned your degree, you also should consider certification through the National Association of Safety Professionals, which offers the Specialist in Emergency Management certification. Continuing education is also required for these types of positions, which is usually available through FEMA.
Pros and Cons – This is one of the more “regular” jobs within the first responder category. In the absence of disaster, emergency management specialists focus on making and testing plans and protocols and building relationships with other first responders, municipalities, etc. However, in the event of an emergency situation, the hours are long, resources are often in short supply, and conditions could be dangerous.
Firefighters are often called upon to address a variety of emergency situations–not just fires. As a firefighter, you may be the first to arrive at an accident scene and have the opportunity to begin putting out a fire, rescue people from burning buildings, or even extract people from vehicles involved in accidents. Firefighters also work closely with other first responders, including EMTs, police and other emergency personnel.
Salary – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for firefighter jobs hovers around $47,000 across the United States. Firefighters are essential for public safety, so they are always in demand, and the number of firefighter jobs is expected to continue growing for the foreseeable future.
Hours – A full-time firefighter works an average of 56 hours per week, divided into 24-hour shifts. Many firefighters will work 10 24-hour shifts per month.
Required Experience – No specific previous experience is needed to become a firefighter since specific training is provided through a firefighter academy program.
Required Education/Certifications – To become a firefighter, you typically need to pass a physical test and complete an EMT training course. You must also have at least a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver’s license.
Pros and Cons – Being a firefighter can be tremendously rewarding, though it can also be extremely dangerous. The work hours are irregular, though the upside is that firefighters usually have about 20 days off per month because of their unique shift cycles.
8 Organizations to Consider Joining as a First Responder
Depending on the specific career path you choose, first responders also have several options when it comes to professional organizations, foundations, and other communities to support. To get you started on where to look for more information, we’ve outlined a few of them below.
- National Fallen Firefighters Foundation – This non-profit organization honors the memory of fallen heroes and works to educate the firefighting community in order to prevent firefighter deaths and injuries.
- ExpertVoice – This online community is a network of experts who have a passion for their careers and wish to share their knowledge with others. By partnering with top industry brands, ExpertVoice offers top pro deals to law enforcement officials, military veterans (including active duty), EMTs, firefighters, and other first responder members.
- First Responders Children’s Foundation – The foundation helps provide financial support to children who have lost a parent in the line of first responder duty.
- American Ambulance Association – This professional organization advocates for health care policy and research that promotes excellence in ambulance services.
- The Leary Firefighters Foundation – This non-profit organization exists to help fund technology, training, and equipment for firefighters across the U.S.
- American Trauma Society – This society advocates for the highest standards of trauma care, which leads to the best possible patient outcomes.
- Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation – This foundation provides equipment, training, and support to first responders. A portion of all purchases from Firehouse Subs goes to support the foundation.
- National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians – This is a national professional organization representing all EMTs and paramedics.
First Responder Gear
One of the first tasks of any new emergency responder is ensuring that he or she has the appropriate gear needed to be successful. You’ll need highly specialized tools in many cases and getting the right personal equipment for your own safety and success often falls to you. Below we’ve outlined some of the most commonly used pieces of equipment within the first responder community.
- Appropriate clothing – tactical boots, trauma pants, etc.
- Flashlights/Pen Lights
- Personal Protective Equipment – including masks and gloves
- First Aid Surgical Kit
- Trauma Shears
- Gun Holsters
First Responder Jobs
A career as a first responder can be highly rewarding, and there are many different careers to consider. If you’re not quite ready to fully jump into a full-time first responder career, you also have the option of serving in a volunteer capacity–perhaps as a volunteer firefighter, a volunteer search and rescue officer or a volunteer for an emergency relief organization.
Do have experience as a first responder? Sign up for ExpertVoice today and share your experiences with others. You'll be able to meet other first responders, and partner with popular brands in the industry. Let your voice be heard today!