A firefighter is a rescuer extensively trained in firefighting, primarily to extinguish hazardous fires that threaten life, property and the environment as well as to rescue people and animals from dangerous situations.

Pair of firefighters extingushing a blaze using a water hose
Activity sectors
Rescue, fire protection, civil service, public service, public safety,

The complexity of modern, industrialized life has created an increase in the skills needed in firefighting technology. The fire service, also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, is one of the three main emergency services. From urban areas to aboard ships, firefighters have become ubiquitous around the world.

The skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evaluations throughout a firefighter's career. Initial firefighting skills are normally taught through local, regional or state-approved fire academies or training courses.[1] Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and pre-hospital medicine may also be acquired at this time.

Firefighters work closely with other emergency response agencies such as the police and emergency medical service. A firefighter's role may overlap with both. Fire investigators or fire marshals investigate the cause of a fire. If the fire was caused by arson or negligence, their work will overlap with law enforcement. Firefighters also frequently provide some degree of emergency medical service, in addition to working with full-time paramedics.

The basic tasks of firefighters include: fire suppression, rescue, fire prevention, basic first aid, and investigations. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include: size-up, extinguishing, ventilation, search and rescue, salvage, containment, mop up and overhaul.


Fire suppression

A fire burns due to the presence of three elements: fuel, oxygen and heat. This is often referred to as the fire triangle. Sometimes it is known as the fire tetrahedron if a fourth element is added: a chemical chain reaction which can help sustain certain types of fire. The aim of firefighting is to deprive the fire of at least one of those elements. Most commonly this is done by dousing the fire with water, though some fires require other methods such as foam. Firefighters are equipped with a wide variety of equipment for this purpose that include: ladder trucks, pumper trucks, tanker trucks, fire hose, and fire extinguishers.

Structural firefighting

See also Fire suppression for other techniques.

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 and electricity) is typically an early priority for arriving fire crews. Specific procedures and equipment are needed at a property where hazardous materials are being used or stored.

Structure fires may be attacked with either "interior" or "exterior" resources, or both. Interior crews, using the "two in, two out" rule, may extend fire hose lines inside the building, find the fire and cool it with water. Exterior crews may direct water into windows and other openings, or against any nearby fuels exposed to the initial fire. Hose streams directed into the interior through exterior wall apertures may conflict and jeopardize interior fire attack crews.

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

Some fire fighting tactics may appear to be destructive, but often serve specific needs. For example, during ventilation firefighters are forced to either open holes in the roof or floors of a structure (called vertical ventilation), or open windows and walls (called horizontal ventilation) to remove smoke and heated gases from the interior of the structure. Such ventilation methods are also used to improve interior visibility to locate victims more quickly. Ventilation helps to preserve the life of trapped or unconscious individuals as it releases the poisonous gases from inside the structure. Vertical ventilation is vital to firefighter safety in the event of a flashover or backdraft scenario. Releasing the flammable gases through the roof eliminates the possibility of a backdraft, and the removal of heat can reduce the possibility of a flashover. Flashovers, due to their intense heat (900–1200° Fahrenheit) and explosive temperaments, are commonly fatal to firefighter personnel. Precautionary methods, such as smashing a window, reveal backdraft situations before the firefighter enters the structure and is met with the circumstance head-on. Firefighter safety is the number one priority.

Whenever possible during a structural fire or flooding situation, property is moved into the middle of a room and covered with a salvage cover, a heavy cloth-like tarp. Various steps such as retrieving and protecting valuables found during suppression or overhaul, evacuating water, and boarding windows and roofs can divert or prevent post-fire runoff.

Wildland firefighting

Wildfires (known in Australia as bushfires) require a unique set of strategies and tactics. In many countries such as Australia and the United States, these duties are mostly carried out by local volunteer firefighters. Wildfires have some ecological role in allowing new plants to grow, therefore in some cases they will be left to burn.[2] Priorities in fighting wildfires include preventing the loss of life and property.


Firefighters rescue people (and animals) from dangerous situations such as crashed vehicles, structural collapses, trench collapses, cave and tunnel emergencies, water and ice emergencies, elevator emergencies, energized electrical line emergencies, and industrial accidents.[3] In less common circumstances, Firefighters rescue victims from hazardous materials emergencies as well as steep cliffs, embankment and high rises - The latter is referred to as High Angle Rescue, or Rope Rescue. Many fire departments, including most in the United Kingdom, refer to themselves as a fire and rescue service for this reason. Large fire departments, such as the New York City Fire Department and London Fire Brigade, have specialist teams for advanced technical rescue. As building fires have been in decline for many years in developed countries such as the United States, rescues other than fires make up an increasing proportion of their firefighters' work.[4]

Emergency medical services

Firefighters frequently provide some degree of emergency medical care. In some jurisdictions first aid is the only medical training that firefighters have, and medical-only calls are the sole responsibility of a separate emergency medical services (EMS) agency. Elsewhere, it is common for firefighters to respond to medical-only calls. The impetus for this is the growing demand for emergency medicine and the decline of fires and traditional firefighting call-outs[4]—though fire departments still have to be able to respond to them—and their existing ability to respond rapidly to emergencies. A rapid response is particularly necessary for cardiac arrests, as these will lead to death if not treated within minutes.[5]

The dispatch of firefighters to medical emergencies is particularly common in fire departments that run the EMS, including most large cities of the United States. In those departments, firefighters are often jointly trained as emergency medical technicians in order to deliver basic life support, and more rarely as paramedics to deliver advanced life support. In the United Kingdom, where fire services and EMS are run separately, fire service co-responding has been introduced more recently.[6] Another point of variation is whether the firefighters respond in a fire engine or a response car.[7] Either way, separate employees to crew ambulances are still needed, unless the firefighters can work shifts on the ambulances.

Specialized roles

Aircraft rescue & firefighting

Airports employ specialist firefighters to deal with potential ground emergencies. Due to the mass casualty potential of an aviation emergency, the speed with which emergency response equipment and personnel arrive at the scene of the emergency is of paramount importance. When dealing with an emergency, the airport firefighters are tasked with rapidly securing the aircraft, its crew and its passengers from all hazards, particularly fire. Airport firefighters have advanced training in the application of firefighting foams, dry chemical and clean agents used to extinguish burning aviation fuel.

Hazardous materials

Fire departments are usually the primary agency that responds to an emergency involving hazardous materials. Specialized firefighters, known as hazardous materials technicians, have training and certification in chemical identification, leak control, decontamination, and clean-up procedures.

Fire prevention

Fire departments frequently provide advice to the public on how to prevent fires in the home and work-place environments. Fire inspectors or fire marshals will directly inspect businesses to ensure they are up to the current building fire codes,[8][9] which are enforced so that a building can sufficiently resist fire spread, potential hazards are located, and to ensure that occupants can be safely evacuated, commensurate with the risks involved.

Fire suppression systems have a proven record for controlling and extinguishing unwanted fires. Many fire officials recommend that every building, including residences, have fire sprinkler systems.[10] Correctly working sprinklers in a residence greatly reduce the risk of death from a fire.[11] With the small rooms typical of a residence, one or two sprinklers can cover most rooms. In the United States, the housing industry trade groups have lobbied at the State level to prevent the requirement for Fire Sprinklers in 1 and 2 bedroom homes.[12][13]

Other methods of fire prevention are by directing efforts to reduce known hazardous conditions or by preventing dangerous acts before tragedy strikes. This is normally accomplished in many innovative ways such as conducting presentations, distributing safety brochures, providing news articles, writing public safety announcements (PSA) or establishing meaningful displays in well-visited areas. Ensuring that each household has working smoke alarms, is educated in the proper techniques of fire safety, has an evacuation route and rendezvous point is of top priority in public education for most fire prevention teams in almost all fire department localities.

Fire investigators, who are experienced firefighters trained in fire cause determinism, are dispatched to fire scenes, in order to investigate and determine whether the fire was a result of an accident or intentional. Some fire investigators have full law enforcement powers to investigate and arrest suspected arsonists.

Occupational health and safety

Direct risks


To allow protection from the inherent risks of fighting fires, firefighters wear and carry protective and self-rescue equipment at all times. 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 gases. 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 firefighter (firefighter assist and search team (FAST), or rapid intervention team (RIT), 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 controlled exit out of 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 the 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.[14]

Heat injury is a major issue for firefighters as they wear insulated clothing and cannot shed the heat generated from physical exertion. Early detection of heat issues is critical to stop dehydration and heat stress becoming fatal. Early onset of heat stress affects cognitive function which combined with operating in dangerous environment makes heat stress and dehydration a critical issue to monitor. Firefighter physiological status monitoring is showing promise in alerting EMS and commanders to the status of their people on the fire ground. Devices such as PASS device alert 10–20 seconds after a firefighter has stopped moving in a structure. Physiological status monitors measure a firefighter's vital sign status, fatigue and exertion levels and transmit this information over their voice radio. This technology allows a degree of early warning to physiological stress. These devices[15] are similar to technology developed for Future Force Warrior and give a measure of exertion and fatigue. They also tell the people outside a building when they have stopped moving or fallen. This allows a supervisor to call in additional engines before the crew get exhausted and also gives an early warning to firefighters before they run out of air, as they may not be able to make voice calls over their radio. Current OSHA tables exist for heat injury and the allowable amount of work in a given environment based on temperature, humidity and solar loading.[16]

Firefighters are also at risk for developing rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle tissue and has many causes including heat exposure, high core body temperature, and prolonged, intense exertion. Routine firefighter tasks, such as carrying extra weight of equipment and working in hot environments, can increase firefighters’ risk for rhabdomyolysis.[17][18]

Structural collapses

Another leading cause of death during firefighting is structural collapse of a burning building (e.g. a wall, floor, ceiling, roof, or truss system). Structural collapse, which often occurs without warning, may crush or trap firefighters inside the structure. To avoid loss of life, all on-duty firefighters should maintain two-way communication with the incident commander and be equipped with a personal alert safety system device on all fire scenes and maintain radio communication on all incidents(PASS).[19][20] Francis Brannigan was the founder and greatest contributor to this element of firefighter safety.

Traffic collisions

In the United States, 25% of fatalities of firefighters are caused by traffic collisions while responding to or returning from an incident. Other firefighters have been injured or killed by vehicles at the scene of a fire or emergency (Paulison 2005). A common measure fire departments have taken to prevent this is to require firefighters to wear a bright yellow reflective vest over their turnout coats if they have to work on a public road, to make them more visible to passing drivers.[21] In addition to the direct dangers of firefighting, cardiovascular diseases account for approximately 45% of on duty firefighter deaths.[22]


Firefighters have sometimes been assaulted by members of the public while responding to calls. These kinds of attacks can cause firefighters to fear for their safety and may cause them to not have full focus on the situation which could result in injury to their selves or the patient.

Long-term risks

Cardiovascular disease

Firefighting has long been associated with poor cardiovascular outcomes. In the United States, the most common cause of on-duty fatalities for firefighters is sudden cardiac death. In addition to personal factors that may predispose an individual to coronary artery disease or other cardiovascular diseases, occupational exposures can significantly increase a firefighter's risk. Historically, the fire service blamed poor firefighter physical condition for being the primary cause of cardiovascular related deaths. However, over the last 20 years, studies and research has indicated the toxic gasses put fire service personnel at significantly higher risk for cardiovascular related conditions and death. For instance, carbon monoxide, present in nearly all fire environments, and hydrogen cyanide, formed during the combustion of paper, cotton, plastics, and other substances containing carbon and nitrogen. The substances inside of materials change during combustion their bi-products interfere with the transport of oxygen in the body. Hypoxia can then lead to heart injury. In addition, chronic exposure to particulate matter in smoke is associated with atherosclerosis. Noise exposures may contribute to hypertension and possibly ischemic heart disease. Other factors associated with firefighting, such as stress, heat stress, and heavy physical exertion, also increase the risk of cardiovascular events.[23]

During fire suppression activities a firefighter can reach peak or near peak heart rates which can act as a trigger for a cardiac event. For example, tachycardia can cause plaque buildup to break loose and lodge itself is a small part of the heart causing myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack. This along with unhealthy habits and lack of exercise can be very hazardous to firefighter health.[24]


A 2014 retrospective longitudinal study showed that firefighters are at higher risk for certain types of cancer. Firefighters had mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure, at twice the rate of the non-firefighting working population. Younger firefighters (under age 65) also developed bladder cancer and prostate cancer at higher rates than the general population. The risk of bladder cancer may be present in female firefighters, but research is inconclusive as of 2014.[25][26] Preliminary research from 2015 on a large cohort of US firefighters showed a direct relationship between the number of hours spent fighting fires and lung cancer and leukemia mortality in firefighters. This link is a topic of continuing research in the medical community, as is cancer mortality in general among firefighters.[27]

Firefighters are exposed to a variety of carcinogens at fires, including both carcinogenic chemicals and radiation (alpha radiation, beta radiation, and gamma radiation).[28]

Carcinogens present at fires[28]
Carcinogen Group (IARC) Cancer site (if known)
Acetaldehyde 2B n/a
Arsenic 1 angiosarcoma (liver), lung, skin
Asbestos 1 mesothelioma and other lung cancers, larynx, gastrointestinal
Benz(a)anthracene 2B n/a
Benzene 1 leukemia
Benzo(b)fluoranthene 2B n/a
Benzo(k)fluoranthene 2B n/a
Benzofuran 2B n/a
Benzo(a)pyrene 1 bladder, lung, skin
1,3-Butadiene 1 lymphohematopoietic
Cadmium 1 lung
Carbon black 2B n/a
Chrysene 2B n/a
Dibenz(a,h)anthracene 2A n/a
Dichloromethane 2B n/a
Ethylbenzene 2B n/a
Formaldehyde 1 nasopharynx
Furan 2B n/a
Indeno-1,2,3-(cd)pyrene 2B n/a
Isoprene 2B n/a
Lead 3/2A n/a
Naphthalene 2B n/a
2-Nitroanisole 2B n/a
Polychlorophenols 2B n/a
Polychlorinated biphenyls 2A n/a
Crystalline silica 1 lung
Styrene 2B n/a
Sulfuric acid 1 n/a
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin 1 lung, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sarcomas
Tetrachloroethylene 2A cervix, esophagus, non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Toluene diisocyanate 2B n/a
Trichloroethylene 2A biliary tract, liver, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney (renal cell)
Trichloromethane 2B n/a
Triphenylene 3 n/a

Mental stress

As with other emergency workers, firefighters may witness traumatic scenes during their careers. They are thus more vulnerable than most people to certain mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder[29][30] and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.[31][32] Among women in the US, the occupations with the highest suicide rates are police and firefighters, with a rate of 14.1 per 100 000, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.[33] Chronic stress over time attributes to symptoms that affect first responders, such as anxiousness, irritability, nervousness, memory and concentration problems can occur overtime which can lead to anxiety and depression. Mental stress can have long lasting affects on the brain.[34] A 2014 report from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation found that a fire department is three times more likely to experience a suicide in a given year than a line-of-duty death.[35] Mental stress of the job can lead to substance abuse and alcohol abuse as ways of coping with the stress.[36] The mental stress of fire fighting has a lot of different causes. There are those they see on duty and also what they miss by being on duty. Firefighters schedules fluctuate by district. There are stations where fire fighters work 48 hours on and 48 hours off. Some allow 24 hours on and 72 hours off[37] . The mental impact of missing your child's first steps or a ballet recital can take a heavy impact on first responders. There is also the stress of being on opposite shifts as your spouse or being away from family.

Occupational hearing loss

Another long-term risk factor from firefighting is exposure to high levels of sound, which can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus.[38][39] NIHL affects sound frequencies between 3,000 and 6,000 Hertz first, then with more frequent exposure, will spread to more frequencies.[39] Many consonants will be more difficult to hear or inaudible with NIHL because of the higher frequencies effected, which results in poorer communication.[39] NIHL is caused by exposure to sound levels at or above 85dBA according to NIOSH and at or above 90dBA according to OSHA.[39] dBA represents A-weighted decibels. dBA is used for measuring sound levels relating to occupational sound exposure since it attempts to mimic the sensitivity of the human ear to different frequencies of sound.[39] OSHA uses a 5-dBA exchange rate, which means that for every 5dBA increase in sound from 90dBA, the acceptable exposure time before a risk of permanent hearing loss occurs decreases by half (starting with 8 hours acceptable exposure time at 90dBA).[39][40] NIOSH uses a 3-dBA exchange rate starting at 8 hours acceptable exposure time at 85dBA.[39][41]

The time of exposure required to potentially cause damage depends on the level of sound exposed to.[41] The most common causes of excessive sound exposure are sirens, transportation to and from fires, fire alarms, and work tools.[38] Traveling in an emergency vehicle has shown to expose a person to between 103 and 114dBA of sound. According to OSHA, exposure at this level is acceptable for between 17 and 78 minutes[40] and according to NIOSH is acceptable for between 35 seconds and 7.5 minutes [41] over a 24-hour day before permanent hearing loss can occur. This time period considers that no other high level sound exposure occurs in that 24-hour time frame.[41] Sirens often output about 120 dBA, which according to OSHA, 7.5 minutes of exposure is needed[40] and according to NIOSH, 9 seconds of exposure is needed[41] in a 24-hour time period before permanent hearing loss can occur. In addition to high sound levels, another risk factor for hearing disorders is the co-exposure to chemicals that are ototoxic.[42]

The average day of work for a firefighter can often be under the sound exposure limit for both OSHA and NIOSH.[39] While the average day of sound exposure as a firefighter is often under the limit, firefighters can be exposed to impulse noise, which has a very low acceptable time exposure before permanent hearing damage can occur due to the high intensity and short duration.[38]

There are also high rates of hearing loss, often NIHL, in firefighters, which increases with age and number of years working as a firefighter.[38][43] Hearing loss prevention programs have been implemented in multiple stations and have shown to help lower the rate of firefighters with NIHL.[39] Other attempts have been made to lower sound exposures for firefighters, such as enclosing the cabs of the firetrucks to lower the siren exposure while driving.[39] NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is responsible for occupational health programs and standards in firefighters which discusses what hearing sensitivity is required to work as a firefighter, but also enforces baseline (initial) and annual hearing tests (based on OSHA hearing maintenance regulations).[38] While NIHL can be a risk that occurs from working as a firefighter, NIHL can also be a safety concern for communicating while doing the job as communicating with coworkers and victims is essential for safety.[38] Hearing protection devices have been used by firefighters in the United States.[39] Earmuffs are the most commonly used hearing protection device (HPD) as they are the most easy to put on correctly in a quick manner.[39] Multiple fire departments have used HPDs that have communication devices built in, allowing firefighters to speak with each other at safe, but audible sound levels, while lowering the hazardous sound levels around them.[39]

Types of coverage and workload

In a country with a comprehensive fire service, fire departments must be able to send firefighters to emergencies at any hour of day or night, to arrive on the scene within minutes. In urban areas, this means that full-time paid firefighters usually have shift work, with some providing cover each night. On the other hand, it may not be practical to employ full-time firefighters in villages and isolated small towns, where their services may not be required for days at a time. For this reason, many fire departments have firefighters who spend long periods on call to respond to infrequent emergencies; they may have regular jobs outside of firefighting. Whether they are paid or not varies by country. In the United States and Germany, volunteer fire departments provide most of the cover in rural areas. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, by contrast, actual volunteers are rare. Instead, "retained firefighters" are paid for responding to incidents, along with a small salary for spending long periods of time on call.

Firefighting around the world

A key difference between many country's fire services is what the balance is between full-time and volunteer (or on-call) firefighters. In the United States and United Kingdom, large metropolitan fire departments are almost entirely made up of full-time firefighters. On the other hand, in Germany and Austria,[44] volunteers play a substantial role even in the largest fire departments, including Berlin's, which serves a population of 3.6 million. Regardless of how this balance works, a common feature is that smaller urban areas have a mix of full-time and volunteer/on-call firefighters. This is known in the United States as a combination fire department. In Chile and Peru, all firefighters are volunteers.[45]

Another point of variation is how the fire services are organized. Some countries like Israel and New Zealand have a single national fire service. Others like Australia, the United Kingdom and France organize fire services based on regions or sub-national states. In the United States, Germany and Canada, fire departments are run at a municipal level.

Atypically, Singapore and many parts of Switzerland have fire service conscription.[46][47] In Germany, conscription can also be used if a village does not have a functioning fire service. Other unusual arrangements are seen in France, where two of the country's fire services (the Paris Fire Brigade and the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion) are part of the armed forces, and Denmark, where most fire services are run by private companies.[48]

Another way in which a firefighter's work varies around the world is the nature of firefighting equipment and tactics. For example, American fire departments make heavier use of aerial appliances, and are often split between engine and ladder companies. In Europe, where the size and usefulness of aerial appliances are often limited by narrow streets, they used only for rescues, and firefighters can rotate between working on an engine and an aerial appliance. [49][48] A final point in variation is how involved firefighters are in emergency medical services.

Communication and command structure

The expedient and accurate handling of fire alarms or calls are significant factors in the successful outcome of any incident. Fire department communications play a critical role in that successful outcome. Fire department communications include the methods by which the public can notify the communications center of an emergency, the methods by which the center can notify the proper fire fighting forces, and the methods by which information is exchanged at the scene. One method is to use a megaphone to communicate.

A telecommunicator (often referred to as a 000 Operator) has a role different from but just as important as other emergency personnel. The telecommunicator must process calls from unknown and unseen individuals, usually calling under stressful conditions. He/she must be able to obtain complete, reliable information from the caller and prioritize requests for assistance. It is the dispatcher's responsibility to bring order to chaos.

While some fire departments are large enough to utilize their own telecommunication dispatcher, most rural and small areas rely on a central dispatcher to provide handling of fire, rescue, and police services.

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 (FEMA) has established a National Incident Management System.[50] One component of this system is the Incident Command System.

All radio communication in the United States is under authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); as such, fire departments that operate radio equipment must have radio licenses from the FCC.

Ten codes were popular in the early days of radio equipment because of poor transmission and reception. Advances in modern radio technology have reduced the need for ten-codes and many departments have converted to simple English (clear text).


Many firefighters are sworn officers with command structures similar to the military and police. They do not have general police powers (some firefighters in the United States have limited police powers, like fire police departments, while certain fire marshals have full police powers, i.e. the ability to make warrantless arrests, and authority to carry a firearm on and off-duty), but have specific powers of enforcement and control in fire and emergency situations.

The basic unit of an American fire department is a "company", a group of firefighters who typically work on the same engine. A "crew" or "platoon" is a subdivision of a company who work on the same shift. Commonwealth fire services are more likely to be organized around a "watch", who work the same shift on multiple engines.[51]


New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Operational Rank Membership Type Insignia
Commissioner NSW Government Senior Executive Service Officer
Assistant Commissioner NSW Government Senior Executive Service Officer
Chief Superintendent NSW Government Public Service Officer
Superintendent NSW Government Public Service Officer
Inspector NSW Government Public Service Officer
Group Captain Volunteer
Deputy Group Captain Volunteer
Captain Volunteer
Senior Deputy Captain Volunteer
Deputy Captain Volunteer
Fire Fighter Volunteer


New rank structure of 2015.

Higher Cadre
Middle Cade
Sergeant-Major (only in Brussels)
Basic Cadre
Senior firefighter (only in Brussels)


Ranks amongst Canadian firefighters vary across the country and ranking appears mostly with larger departments:


Probationary Firefighterno rank
Second Class Firefighterno rank
First Class Firefighterno rank
Captain2 silver epaulette stripes
District Chief2 gold stripes
Platoon Chief3 gold stripes
Division Commander3 thick and 1 thin gold stripes
Deputy Fire Chief4 gold stripes
Fire Chief5 gold stripes


Firefighter/Firefighter Instructorno rank
Interim Lieutenant1 white stripes
Lieutenant/Lieutenant Instructor2 white stripes
Captain3 white stripes
Operations Chief1 thick yellow stripes
Division Chief1 thick and 1 thin yellow stripes
Assistant Chief1 thick and 2 thin yellow stripes
Deputy Chief1 thick and 3 thin yellow stripes
Fire Chief1 thick and 4 thin yellow stripes plus star


Fire Chief Deputy Fire Chief Assistant Chief Battalion Chief Training Officer Captain Lieutenant Firefighter Probationary Firefighter
Rank Epaulettes No Insignia No Insignia
Rank Pins No Insignia No Insignia


Ranks are divided between Company Officers and Fire Department Officers, which can be subdivided between Active Officers (Field Officers) and Administrative Officers each. The active officers are the captain, and two or three lieutenants, these three active officers are distinguished by their red helmets.


Most fire brigades in Commonwealth countries (except Canada) have a more "civilianised" nomenclature, structured in a traditional manner. For example, the common structure in United Kingdom brigades is:

RankCollar/epaulette markingsHelmet colour/patternForm of address
Firefighter TraineeRedYellow helmet, often with the Trainee's surname written across to allow trainers to identify themNone
Firefighter DevelopmentNoneYellow helmet with a red diamond indicating the Firefighter is capable of responding to fire calls, but is in the final stage of their trainingNone
FirefighterNoneYellow helmet with no marking indicates a "competent" (fully trained) firefighter.None
Crew ManagerTwo chrome bars on blueYellow helmet with two 12.5mm horizontal black stripesCrew
Watch ManagerTwo impellers on blueWhite helmet with one 12.5mm horizontal black stripeWatch (informally “Sub”, because of the former UK rank of Sub-Officer)
Station ManagerThree impellers on blueWhite helmet with one 19mm horizontal black stripeSir/Ma'am (informally “Governor” or “Guv”)
Group ManagerOne impeller inside wreath on blueWhite helmet with one 12.5mm and one 19mm horizontal black stripesSir/Ma'am
Area ManagerOne chrome bar and one impeller inside wreath on blueWhite helmet with two 19mm horizontal black stripesSir/Ma'am
Deputy Chief Fire OfficerOne chrome bar, one impeller and one large impeller inside wreath on blueWhite helmet with one 38mm horizontal black stripeSir/Ma'am
Chief Fire OfficerTwo impellers and one large impeller inside wreath on blueWhite helmet with one 38mm horizontal black stripeSir/Ma'am


Rank Epaulettes[52]
Direct translation of Danish ranks Emergency Director/
Emergency Chief
Deputy Emergency Director/
Deputy Emergency Chief
Department Chief/
Area Chief
Area Manager Fire Inspector Deputy Fire Inspector/
Station Master
Emergency Master/
Fire Master
Deputy Emergency Master/
Deputy Fire Master
Part-time Team Leader with instructor skills Part-time Team Leader Fire Assistant/
Emergency Assistant
Equivalent in London Fire Brigade Commissioner Deputy Commissioner Assistant Commissioner Deputy Assistant Commissioner Group Manager Station Manager Station Officer Sub-Officer no equivalent no equivalent Firefighter


French civilian fire services, which historically are derived from French army sapper units, use French Army ranks. The highest rank in many departments is full colonel. Only the NCO rank of major is used in both the Paris Fire Brigade and the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion; since 2013 it has been abolished in the other fire departments.

Ministry of Interior
  • Director General of Civil Security and Crisis Management
  • Director of Fire Protection
  • Comptroller General
Civilian Fire Services (Professional Fire Fighters Class A+)
  • Comptroller General
  • Colonel senior class/Colonel
Civilian Fire Services (Professional Fire Fighters Class A)
  • Lieutenant Colonel
  • Commandant
  • Captain
Civilian Fire Services (Professional Fire Fighters Class B)
  • Lieutenant senior class/Lieutenant first class/Lieutenant second class
Civilian Fire Services (Professional Fire Fighters Class C)
  • Adjutant with three years time-in-grade gets the insignia and title of Chief Adjutant
  • Adjutant
  • Sergeant with three years time-in-grade gets the insignia and title of Chief Sergeant
  • Sergeant
  • Chief Corporal
  • Corporal
  • Sapper


In Germany every federal state has its own civil protection laws thus they have different rank systems. Additionally, in the volunteer fire departments, there is a difference between a rank and an official position. This is founded on the military traditions of the fire departments. Every firefighter can hold a high rank without having an official position. A firefighter can be promoted by years of service, training skills and qualifications. Official positions are partly elected or given by capabilities. These conditions allow that older ordinary firefighters have higher ranks than their leaders. But through this ranks are no authorities given (Brevet).

Professional Fire Fighters (Middle Technical Grades) of Rheinland-Pfalz

Completed vocational training in a technical occupation suitable for the fire service. Basic firefighter training.

während der Laufbahnausbildung
Professional Fire Fighters (Upper Technical Grades) of Rheinland-Pfalz

Bachelor of Engineering and two years departmental training.

Professional Fire Fighters (Higher Technical Grades) of Rheinland-Pfalz

Master of Engineering and two years of departmental training.

BrandreferendarBrandratOberbrandratBranddirektorLeitender Branddirektor
Leitender MinisterialratLandesfeuerwehrinspekteur
Helmet insignia of Rheinland-Pfalz
Company LeadersUpper Technical Grades, Battalion ChiefsHigher Technical Grades, Fire Chiefs


Firefighters in Indonesia form part of the civil service of local governments and wear variant forms of uniforms worn by civil servants and employees.

Rank category Rank category number Rank in Indonesian Equivalent rank
(with US General Schedule and UK Civil Service paygrade)
Rank in English
(Regional Fire Service personnel only)
Commissioners General IV/e Pembina Utama Permanent Secretary
Senior Executive Service Level III
Commissioner General
IV/d Pembina Utama Madya Director General
Senior Executive Service Level III,
Pay Band 3 A7
Deputy Commissioner General
IV/c Pembina Utama Muda Director
Senior Executive Service Level IV,
Pay Band 2 A7
Superintendent General
IV/b Pembina Tingkat I Deputy Director
Senior Executive Service Level V,
Pay Band 1 A7
Fire Director
IV/a Pembina Assistant Director
GS-15, Grade 6 A6
Senior ranked officers III/d Penata Tingkat I Senior Executive Officer 1st class
GS-14, Grade 7 A5
Chief Superintendent
III/c Penata Senior Executive Officer
GS-13, Grade 7 A4
III/b Penata Muda Tingkat I Higher Executive Officer
GS-12, A3
Battalion Chief
Junior ranked officers III/a Penata Muda Executive Officer 1st class
GS-11, A2/B6
Fire Captain
II/d Pengatur Tingkat I Executive Officer 2nd class
GS-10, A2/B6
Fire Lieutenant
II/c Pengatur Executive Officer
GS-9, A1/B5
Divisional Inspector
Senior clerical officials II/b Pengatur Muda Tingkat I Administrative Officer Class 1
GS-8, B4
Station Sub-officer
II/a Pengatur Muda Administrative Officer Class 2
GS-7, B4
Sergeant Major
Junior clerical officials I/d Juru Tingkat I Higher Clerical Officer 1st class
GS-6/GS-5, B3
I/c Julu Higher Clerical Officer
GS-4/GS-3, B3
I/b Julu Muda Tingkat I Clerical Officer
GS-2, B2
Leading Firefighter
I/a Julu Muda Administrative Assistant
GS-1, B1


The Vigili del Fuoco, (literally the word "Vigili" comes from the Latin word "Vigiles", which means "who is part of certain guards") have the official name of Corpo nazionale dei vigili del fuoco (CNVVF, National Firefighters Corps).

The CNVVF is the Italian institutional agency for fire and rescue service. It is part of the Ministry of Interior's Department of Firefighters, Public Rescue and Public Protection. The CNVVF task is to provide safety for people, animals and property, and control the compliance of buildings and industries to fire safety rules. The Ministry of the Interior, through the CNVVF, adopts fire safety rules with ministerial decrees or other lower rank documents. The CNVVF also ensures public rescue in emergencies that involves the use of chemical weapons, bacteriological, radiological and materials. Since 2012 the Corps uses its own rank titles (dating from 2007) with matching military styled insignia in honor of its origins.

In 2016 the CNVVF has been committed in forest firefighting activities together with the regional forest agencies, following the suppression of the National Forest Guards, which were merged into the Carabinieri (firefighters were integrated into the CNVVF). .

Directors general
Dirigente generale capo del corpo
Dirigente generale
Dirigente superiore
Primo dirigente
Direttore vice dirigente
Vice direttore
Substitute Fire Directors
Sostituto direttore antincendi capo
Sostituto direttore antincendi
Fire inspectors
Ispettore antincendi esperto
Ispettore antincendi
Vice ispettore antincendi
Non-commissioned officers
Capo reparto esperto
Capo reparto
Capo squadra esperto
Capo squadra
Enlisted firefighters
Vigile coordinatore
Vigile esperto
Vigile qualificato
Vigile del fuoco
Volunteer firefighters
Funzionario tecnico antincendi
Capo reparto volontario
Capo squadra volontario
Vigile volontario


In Iran, every city has its own fire department, but ranks are the same in the whole country, and are as follows:

RankPersianCollar/epaulette markingsCollar/epaulette markings (in Persian)
Volunteer Firefighter Iآتش نشان داوطلبOne yellow barیک خط زرد
Volunteer Firefighter IIآتش نشان داوطلب دومTwo yellow barsدو خط زرد
Volunteer Firefighter IIIآتش نشان داوطلب سومThree yellow barsسه خط زرد
Firefighter Iآتش نشانOne silver barیک خط نقره ای
Firefighter IIآتش نشان دومTwo silver barsدو خط نقره ای
Firefighter IIIآتش نشان سومThree silver barsسه خط نقره ای
Head Firefighter Iسرآتش نشانOne flame and one gold barیک شعله و یک خط طلایی
Head Firefighter IIسرآتش نشان دومOne flame and Two gold barsیک شعله و دو خط طلایی
Head Firefighter IIIسرآتش نشان سومOne flame and Three gold barsیک شعله و سه خط طلایی
Master Firefighter Iسر آتش یارOne flameیک شعله
Master Firefighter IIآتش یارTwo flamesدو شعله
Master Firefighter IIIآتش یار دومThree flamesسه شعله
Master Firefighter IVآتش یار سومFour flamesچهار شعله
Chief Firefighter Iآتش پادOne empty gold wreathیک حلقه گل طلایی خالی
Chief Firefighter IIآتش پاد دومOne gold wreath with a flame insideیک حلقه گل طلایی با یک شعله درونش
Chief Firefighter IIIآتش پاد سومOne gold wreath with a flame inside and a silver bar below themیک حلقه گل طلایی با یک شعله درونش و یک خط نقره ای زیر آنها
Chief master Firefighter Iفرآتش پادOne gold wreath with a flame inside and two silver bars below themیک حلقه گل طلایی با یک شعله درونش و دو خط نقره ای زیر آنها
Chief master Firefighter IIفرآتش پاد دومOne gold wreath with a flame inside and three silver bars below themیک حلقه گل طلایی با یک شعله درونش و سه خط نقره ای زیر آنها
Chief master Firefighter IIIفرآتش پاد سومOne gold wreath with a flame inside and four silver bars below themیک حلقه گل طلایی با یک شعله درونش و چهار خط نقره ای زیر آنها


In Ireland, the traditional brigade rank structure is still adopted. Below is the common structure for most brigades, Cork and Dublin Fire Brigade have additional ranks:

RankHelmet colour/markings
FirefighterPlain Yellow Helmet)
Leading Firefighter/Driver Mechanic in retained brigadesYellow Helmet with one 12.5mm horizontal black stripe
Sub OfficerYellow Helmet with two 12mm black stripes
Station OfficerWhite helmet with one 19mm horizontal black stripe
Assistant Chief Fire Officer?
Senior Assistant Chief Fire OfficerWhite helmet with one 38mm horizontal black stripe
Chief Fire OfficerWhite helmet with two 38mm horizontal black stripe


Japanese Fire Department's rank insignias are place on a small badge and pinned above the right pocket. Rank is told by stripes and Hexagram stars. The design of the insignias came from older Japanese style military insignias. Officers and Team Leaders could wear an arm band on the arm of fire jacket to show status as command leader. Sometimes rank can be shown as different color fire jacket for command staff. The color whites and gray are reserved for EMS. Orange is reserved for rescuer.

One Star with one stripe across
Assistant Fire Sergeant
Two Stars with one stripe across
Fire Sergeant
Three Stars with one stripe across
Fire Lieutenant
One Star with two stripes across
Fire Captain
Two Stars with two stripes across
Battalion Chief
Three Stars with two stripes across
Assistant Chief
One Star with solid background
1st Assistant Chief
Two Stars with solid background
Deputy Chief
Three Stars with solid background
Fire Chief
Four Stars with solid background


Grand-Ducal Fire and Rescue Corps of Luxembourg.


# Rank Abbreviation Rank (English) Grade Epaulet
Shoulder board Collar badge
Penguasa Bomba (Fire Superintendent)
1 Ketua Pesuruhjaya Bomba KPjB Chief Fire Commissioner JUSA A
2 Pesuruhjaya Bomba PjB Fire Commissioner JUSA B
3 Timbalan Pesuruhjaya Bomba TPjB Deputy Fire Commissioner JUSA C
4 Penolong Kanan Pesuruhjaya Bomba PKPjB Senior Assistant Fire Commissioner KB 54
5 Penolong Pesuruhjaya Bomba PPjB Assistant Fire Commissioner KB 52
6 Penguasa Kanan Bomba I PgKB I Senior Fire Superintendent I KB 48
7 Penguasa Kanan Bomba II PgKB II Senior Fire Superintendent II KB 44
8 Penguasa Bomba PgB Fire Superintendent KB 41
Penolong Penguasa Bomba (Assistant Fire Superintendent)
9 Timbalan Penguasa Bomba TPgB Deputy Fire Superintendent KB 38
10 Penolong Kanan Penguasa Bomba PKPgB Senior Assistant Fire Superintendent KB 32
11 Penolong Penguasa Bomba PPgB Assistant Fire Superintendent KB 29
Pegawai Bomba (Fire Officer)
12 Pegawai Bomba Tinggi PBT Leading Fire Officer KB 26
13 Pegawai Bomba Kanan I PBK I Senior Fire Officer I KB 24
14 Pegawai Bomba Kanan II PBK II Senior Fire Officer II KB 22
15 Pegawai Bomba PB Fire Officer KB 17 / 19 No Insignia


HoofdcommandeurFire Chief
Adjunct-HoofdcommandeurDeputy Fire Chief
CommandeurDivision Chief
HoofdbrandmeesterBattalion Chief
BrandwachtFire Fighter
Algemene / AspirantfunctiesTrainee

New Zealand

In New Zealand, rank is shown on epaulettes on firefighters' station uniform, and through colors and stripes on firefighter helmets. As the nation only has a single fire department, the New Zealand Fire Service, ranks are consistent through the country.

Trainee Firefighter (TFF)plainfluro-green
Firefighter (FF)plainyellow
Qualified Firefighter (QFF)one baryellow, one red stripe
Senior Firefighter (SFF)two barsyellow, two red stripes
Station Officer (SO)one impellerred, one blue stripe
Senior Station Officer (SSO)two impellersred, two blue stripes
Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO)impeller between two ferns below one impellerwhite, one blue stripe
Chief Fire Officer (CFO)impeller between two ferns below two impellerswhite, two blue stripes
Assistant Area Commander (AAC)three impellerssilver
Area Commander (AC)one impeller below a crownsilver, one blue stripe
Assistant National Commander (ANC)three impellers trefoil below a crownsilver, two blue stripes
Deputy National Commander (DNC)silver crossed sword and baton below an impellerblack
National Commander (NC)silver crossed sword and baton below a crownblack


Starszy strażak
Senior Firefighter
Section Leader
Private 1st Class
Starszy sekcyjny
Senior Section Leader
Młodszy ogniomistrz
Junior Firemaster
Starszy ogniomistrz
Senior Firemaster
Staff Sergeant
Młodszy aspirant
Junior Aspirant
Sergeant 1st Class
Master Sergeant
Starszy aspirant
Senior Aspirant
Sergeant Major
Aspirant sztabowy
Staff Aspirant
Command Sergeant Major
Młodszy kapitan
Junior Captain
Second Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
Starszy kapitan
Senior Captain
Młodszy brygadier
Junior Brigadier
Lieutenant Colonel
Starszy brygadier
Senior Brigadier
Chief Brigadier
Brigadier General
Generał brygadier
General Brigadier
Major General

Russian Federation

In the Russian Federation, the decals are applied symmetrically on both sides of the helmet (front and rear). The location of the decals on the special clothing and SCBA is established for each fire department of the same type within the territorial entity. The following ranks are used by State Fire Service civilian personnel, while military personnel use ranks similar to those of the Police of Russia, due to their pre-2001 history as the fire service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation before all firefighting services were transferred to the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

RankHelmet colour/markings
FirefighterThe all color helmet with the applied number, indicating the fire station
Head of fire brigadeThe all color helmet with the applied number, indicating the fire station, underlined by line 50 mm wide and 5 mm thick
Head of duty shift fire stationThe all color helmet with the applied a circle, inside which the applied number is indicating the fire station
Deputy Head of the fire stationThe all color helmet with the applied a triangle, inside which the applied number is indicating the fire station
Head of the fire stationThe all color helmet with the applied a square, inside which the applied number is indicating the fire station
Commanding staff of the fire departmentThe all color helmet with the applied a circle, inside which the applied a rhombus


Tunisian firefighter's ranks are actually the same as the army, police and national garde.

United Kingdom

London Fire Brigade
Rank titleRank marking
Leading Firefighter
Station Officer
Station Manager
Group Manager
Deputy Assistant Commissioner
Assistant Commissioner
Deputy Commissioner
Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning

United States of America

In the United States, helmet colors often denote a fire fighter's rank or position. In general, white helmets denote chief officers, while red helmets may denote company officers, but the specific meaning of a helmet's color or style varies from region to region and department to department. The rank of an officer in an American fire department is most commonly denoted by a number of speaking trumpets, a reference to a megaphone-like device used in the early days of the fire service, although typically called "bugle" in today's parlance. Ranks proceed from one (lieutenant) to five (fire chief) bugles. Traditional ranks in American fire departments that exist but may not always be utilized in all cities or towns include:

no bugles
3 chevrons
1 bugle
2 either traditionally side by side
or less usually crossed bugles
Battalion Chief/District Chief
2 either side by side
or more traditionally crossed bugles
Division Chief or Assistant /Deputy Asst.


3 crossed bugles
Deputy Chief/Commissioner
4 crossed bugles
5 crossed bugles

In many fire departments in the U.S., the captain is commonly the commander of a company and a lieutenant is the supervisor of the company's firefighters on shift. There is no state or federal rank structure for firefighters and each municipality or volunteer fire department creates and uses their own unique structure.

Still, some other American fire departments such the FDNY use military rank insignia in addition or instead of the traditional bugles. Additionally, officers on truck companies have been known to use rank insignias shaped like axes for Lieutenants (1) and Captains (2).

Firefighter equipment

A partial list of some equipment typically used by firefighters:


Although people have fought fires since there have been valuable things to burn, the first instance of organized professionals combating structural fires occurred in Ancient Egypt. Likewise, fire fighters of the Roman Republic existed solely as privately organized and funded groups that operated more similarly to a business than a public service; however, during the Principate period Augustus revolutionized firefighting by calling for the creation of a fire guard that was trained, paid, and equipped by the state- the first truly public and professional firefighting service. Known as the Vigiles, they were organised into cohorts and also served as a night watch and city police force.

The earliest American fire departments were volunteers, including the volunteer fire company in New Amsterdam, now known as New York.[54] Fire companies were composed of citizens who volunteered their time to help protect the community. As time progressed and new towns popped up throughout the region there was a sharp increase in the number of volunteer departments. The first career fire department was not established in the United States until 1853 in Cincinnati, Ohio (Cincinnati Fire & EMS Department). Many large cities began establishing paid, full-time, staff in order to try facilitate greater fire-related call volume. St. Louis Fire Department followed Cincinnati four years later and became the second established career fire department in the country followed by other large cities like New York (FDNY). City fire departments draw their funding directly from city taxes and share the same budget as other public works like the police department and trash services. Aside from big city fire departments, many populated suburbs and towns have career fire departments. The primary difference between a municipality department and a City department is the funding. Municipal fire departments do not share their budget with any other service and are considered to be private entities within a jurisdiction. This means that they have their own taxes that feed into their budgeting needs. Another main difference is the structure of the department. City fire departments have the mayor at the top of the chain whereas municipal departments have elected board officials who help maintain and run the department along with the chief officer staff.


Funds for fire-fighting equipment may be raised by the firefighters themselves, especially in the case of volunteer organizations. Events such as pancake breakfasts and chili feeds are common in the US. Social events are also used to raise money, including dances, community fairs and car washes.

Notable firefighters

  • James Braidwood (firefighter) (1800–1861), founder of the municipal fire brigade in Edinburgh, 1824
  • John Decker (1823–1892), chief of the New York City department during the 1863 draft riots
  • Raúl Gándara-Cartagena (1895–1989), first and longest-serving Puerto Rico commonwealth fire chief
  • James J. Kenney (1869–1918), Berkeley, California, politician, the city's first fire chief
  • Louis R. Nowell (1915–2009), Los Angeles, California, City Council member, a firefighter for 23 years
  • Chip Prather (born 1953), second chief of the Orange County, California, Fire Authority
  • Vladimir Pravik (1962-1986), Soviet firefighter who worked in the Chernobyl disaster, died on 11 May from acute radiation sickness
  • Joseph Pfeifer, New York City, New York, Chief of counterterrorism and emergency preparedness, was the first to make an official report of 9/11 and headed the operations at WTC

See also


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