When an explosion, fire or other disaster strikes, most people run away — but not firefighters. They run toward the danger.
Although firefighters are generally well-respected for their commitment, the profession doesn’t always pay well.
The average annual wage for firefighters was $53,240 as of 2018, the most recent year for which this data is available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Firefighters in a few states have annual wages topping $70,000, while firefighters in a few other states are paid less than half that.
Following are the average annual wages that firefighters receive in all 50 states, starting with the lowest paid.
Average wage: $30,370
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi’s firefighters are the lowest paid in the country, on average, earning just over $30,000.
Is there any good news for the first responders of the Magnolia State? Yes. Although earnings are low, so too is the amount of money required to live in the state. Mississippi had the eighth-lowest cost of living in the United States in 2019.
Average wage: $30,600
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019 signed a bill into law allowing firefighters and police officers to cite post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in workers’ compensation claims.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Ryan Gatti, had passed the state legislature unanimously.
Average wage: $33,520
A Kentucky fire department’s canine and her handler won the “Top Dog” award at a 2019 national competition held in Boston.
Millie, a Bowling Green Fire Department K9, and her handler, Capt. Michael Cornwell, earned the best-in-class award at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recertification event. They won the top spot by locating various fire-accelerant odors, beating out about 50 other K9 teams from across the nation.
47. North Carolina
Average wage: $35,500
Firefighters in North Carolina are seeking better benefits for colleagues who are diagnosed with cancer.
The North Carolina General Assembly is considering House Bill 520, also called the Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act. It adds nine types of cancer to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, allowing firefighters with these diseases to potentially file occupational compensation claims after spending five years or more on the job.
46. South Carolina
Average wage: $36,300
A South Carolina firefighter responded to a rescue call last year and emerged with a new family member.
Capt. Paul Bryant of the North Charleston Fire Department responded to a call by bicyclers who came across a puppy trapped under rocks. The rescued pup, who was not injured, was put up for adoption.
When Bryant learned that no one had claimed the dog, he decided it was meant to live with him. The pup’s new name? Rocky, of course.
45. New Mexico
Average wage: $36,590
New Mexico unveiled its Fallen Wildland Firefighters Memorial in 2019, honoring more than 30 wildland firefighters in the state who lost their lives in the line of duty.
The memorial features a bronze statue of a firefighter kneeling next to the boots of a fallen comrade. It’s located in Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, and is open to the public.
Average wage: $36,750
Two Maine firefighters died in the line of duty in 2019. Their names, along with that of a third colleague who passed away, were added to Maine’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Berwick Fire Department Capt. Joel Barnes died while trying to help another firefighter escape a house fire, according to WGME Channel 13.
Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell was killed in a suspected propane explosion that injured other firefighters, Channel 13 says.
43. West Virginia
Average wage: $36,820
West Virginia suffered a loss in 2019 when two Kanawha County firefighters died and three others were injured in a crash. Their truck hit a rock wall while responding to a call, reports WSAZ Channel 3.
Killed were Pratt Volunteer Fire Department Lieutenant Thomas Craigo and Assistant Fire Chief Michael Edwards. The department’s chief, the vehicle’s driver, was injured.
Average wage: $37,070
Gov. Phil Scott in 2019 signed a bill expanding Vermont’s aggravated murder statute to include the killing of a firefighter or an emergency medical provider.
Firefighters and other first responders gathered with lawmakers for the ceremonial signing of the new law.
Average wage: $37,690
A Minneapolis-made CPR tool is being put through its paces by two Twin Cities fire departments.
Called the Elegard, the device elevates the head and upper torso of a person receiving CPR, a technique that improves blood flow to the brain and heart.
The Andover and Coon Rapids Fire Departments are testing out the device, which costs about $6,500.
Average wage: $37,800
A number of firefighters in one Arkansas city have been training to become certified paramedics, which would allow them to monitor heart activity, use an IV and administer medicine.
While firefighters have emergency medical technician skills already, they don’t always have the advanced training required for paramedics. The department aims to have a certified paramedic on every call in the next three to five years, and its first class was set to graduate in August, FOX16 reports.
Average wage: $37,930
The fire department in Topeka, Kansas, also is working to give more firefighters paramedic training so they can provide advanced life support.
Paramedic certification requires 68 credit hours of education, compared with the 12 hours required for basic life-support training as an emergency medical technician (EMT), the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.
Firefighters who become certified paramedics will receive a $1,000 bonus. The department’s paramedics will receive additional pay: $2,500 in 2020 and $3,000 in 2021.
Average wage: $37,960
Salt Lake City is helping firefighters and other city workers buy homes. The city’s Community Heroes program offers down-payment assistance to qualifying firefighters as well as nurses, teachers, police officers, dispatchers and EMTs.
Qualified home buyers are eligible for zero-interest, deferred-payment loans to cover down payments or closing costs paid for with sales-tax funds from the city’s new Funding Our Future initiative, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports.
Average wage: $38,060
Firefighters don’t just save people. Whenever possible, they also save pets.
The animal-rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals awarded Georgia’s Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services Department its Compassionate Fire Department Award in 2019 for rescuing six pet rabbits from an apartment fire.
Cobb County’s firefighters carry pet oxygen masks with them on every call and used them to help the rabbits hop back to health.
Average wage: $40,280
Tennessee has a new law, the Barry Brady Act, that helps firefighters who’ve been diagnosed with cancer that’s related to their work.
The law, effective in 2019, gives eligible firefighters who get one of four job-related cancers better coverage, even if the disease was contracted up to five years after retirement. The four cancers, skin or colon cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma now can be treated as work-related injuries, provided a firefighter’s claim meets certain eligibility requirements.
Average wage: $40,310
Wisconsin firefighters face new minimum training standards as of 2019.
Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the changes bring Wisconsin more in line with neighboring states and federal requirements.
A 2015 assessment by the National Fire Protection Association found that 36% of Badger State fire departments had members who weren’t formally trained in structural firefighting.
Average wage: $40,490
A new law is helping first responders who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their work.
Previously, first responders needed a physical injury to receive help with PTSD. According to KTVB.com, Boise’s fire chief, Dennis Doan, said the new law will “save firefighter and police officer lives.”
Average wage: $41,740
In 2019, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that allows for supplemental insurance coverage for paid and volunteer firefighters with cancer under certain conditions.
And at Opelika, Alabama’s Fire Station 1 last year, new baby celebrations ensued in rapid succession. The small-town firehouse welcomed the births of seven babies in four months to its firefighters, most of them first-time fathers.
“I’m a lot more empathetic about somebody else’s child than I used to be prior to having my son,” one new father told the local CBS News affiliate.
32. North Dakota
Average wage: $42,980
Firefighters in West Fargo, North Dakota, have a new way to do their jobs. The Grand Forks Herald says that the department is using four fully equipped medic bicycles, which are Trek mountain bikes stocked with medical bags and supplies.
The bikes make it easier for first responders to maneuver through crowds at festivals and other events to help in emergency situations.
Average wage: $43,450
When Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation donated nearly half a million dollars to 136 rural fire departments in 2019, each department was given a check for $3,500 — $476,000 in all.
The money from the tribe helps buy fuel, equipment and other items needed to protect the people of rural northeastern Oklahoma, the Tahlequah Daily Press reports.
Average wage: $43,810
A Wyoming airport received almost $9 million in federal government funds to improve its ability to train firefighters in extinguishing aircraft fires, the Casper Star Tribune reports.
The Casper/Natrona County International Airport plans to use the funds to renovate its Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting training facility.
Average wage: $43,970
The new $7.2 million fire station being built in Marion, Iowa, is planned with modern firefighters and their health in mind, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports.
The station, the city’s third, will incorporate decontamination areas to remove carcinogens from firefighting gear, protecting firefighters and their living space. And the entire station will be built with a focus on nature — with floor-to-ceiling windows, outdoor patios and possibly water features and plant walls — to help support the mental health of those working there.
28. South Dakota
Average wage: $44,710
When state and local officials in South Dakota need help that goes beyond their expertise, they call on South Dakota Task Force 1. The group consists of about 90 state firefighters from four cities who provide supplemental search and rescue help in emergency response situations.
The highly trained team has specialized skills in handling hazardous materials and technical rescues, such as rescues from swift water, confined spaces and structural collapse.
Average wage: $45,150
In honor of National Firefighters Memorial Service Day last fall, flags at Arizona state buildings flew at half-mast for firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Many in Arizona were remembering the tragic 2013 Yarnell Hill wildfire, which started from a lightning strike. The fast-moving fire trapped a crew of firefighters in a box canyon, killing 19 of them. They succumbed to the 2,000-degree heat despite using their fire shelters.
Average wage: $45,440
Michigan fire departments hadn’t been receiving enough money for their work protecting the state’s many colleges and universities until last year. The state uses a formula to determine the amount departments are to receive, but for more than a decade, they’ve only received a percentage of the amounts determined by the formula determined.
A new plan enacted in 2019 changes that. The state is now ensuring that each affected department receives its entire amount due, MLive.com reports.
Average wage: $46,310
Firefighters from Norwood, Ohio, earned praise in 2019 for creating and installing a wheelchair ramp for 11-year-old Kailie Worley, who until then had to rely on family to carry her chair up and down the porch steps at her home.
After Kailie’s mother, Emily, asked a local Facebook group for advice, the firefighters, to the mother’s amazement, took on the project, reports WCPO-TV Cincinnati.
Average wage: $47,880
Four new mobile medic units hit the streets of Nebraska’s largest city in 2019, WOWT-TV reports.
Omaha’s new modern ambulances cost approximately $258,000 apiece. They have liquid suspension systems, which helps them to give patients a smoother ride, and each ambulance has a Knox Box, which works like a master key for participating businesses to allow first responders easy access to buildings.
23. New Hampshire
Average wage: $48,640
A video of a New Hampshire fire lieutenant using American Sign Language to communicate with a nonverbal boy went viral last year.
When Lt. Mike Rheault responded to a fire-alarm call in Manchester, he held a brief signing conversation with the young boy, who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak. Rheault taught the child the sign for “firefighter.”
Rheault’s parents were deaf, he told WMUR-TV, which for him meant that ASL was his first language. He has used it during about a dozen fire calls.
Average wage: $48,800
A Delaware woman, reportedly angry over “her living situation and unhappy with her life” received a 30-year prison sentence in 2019 for starting a fire that resulted in the deaths of three Wilmington firefighters. She pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder.
Some family members of firefighters injured and killed in that fire have filed a federal lawsuit against the city, WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reports. The lawsuit includes claims that understaffing and cost-cutting at the fire department contributed to deaths and injuries, the report says.
Average wage: $49,230
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed the Firefighter Protection Act in 2019, providing workers’ compensation benefits for certain work-related cancers and other illnesses, the Great Falls Tribune reports.
Montana had been one of a handful of states without such a law, which should help firefighters diagnosed with certain job-related illnesses receive compensation.
Average wage: $49,460
In part to help recruit badly needed volunteer firefighters, Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College is offering scholarships totaling at least $250,000.
The community college last year announced a pilot program that will run for two years, in 2020 and 2021, to support scholarships offering free tuition for eligible students working toward a two-year certificate.
Recipients need not enroll in fire science or EMT training courses. But active volunteer firefighters and EMTs who complete a FAFSA financial aid application and get a letter from their department are eligible for the scholarships, says WBIW.com.
Like many fire departments across the country, Indiana fire stations may have too few volunteers to staff emergency calls, the site says, adding that “some departments across the state have (volunteer) rosters in the single digits.”
Average wage: $51,100
Volunteer firefighters are getting harder to find across the country. In Missouri, one fire department is tackling the shortage with humor.
The Scott County Rural Fire Protection District posted a “help wanted” sign advertising the job honestly, noting that it features “hard labor, odd hours, low pay, cool helmet.”
Average wage: $51,110
According to the Juneau Empire newspaper, Alaska state troopers, police and firefighters have blamed the lack of a pension in the state’s retirement system as an impediment to adding new employees.
They say the state’s use of a 401(k)-style system rather than a defined benefit package means first responders are seeking work in other states, such as Washington.
Average wage: $51,510
Firefighting is a stressful profession, and a group in Virginia is seeking to help relieve some of that anxiety.
According to a report from public radio station WCVE, the Northern Virginia Federal Fire Peer Support Team has trained peer team members in suicide intervention, stress mitigation and related issues. Team members try to break the stigma around mental health care.
Average wage: $52,520
Texas is trying to help firefighters pay for treatment for cancers related to their jobs. A 2019 law is making it possible for firefighters to file for workers’ compensation covers for one of 11 cancers designated by the state to be related to firefighting.
Those cancers include cancer of the stomach, colon, rectum, skin, prostate, testes and brain as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, malignant melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.
Still, not all cancers, and not all firefighters, meet the eligibility requirements. The Texas State Association of Firefighters is pushing to include more cancers on the list, WFAA TV reports.
Average wage: $53,340
The job of fighting fires can stress first responders even when they’re not physically present at a fire. Inspired by the rigors of his dad’s firefighting job, a college student in Florida invented an innovative device that could save lives.
According to the St. Augustine Record, Blake Richardson had always heard from his father, who works for the Fernandina Beach Fire Department, that heart attacks are the leading cause of death for firefighters. So he created EaseAwake, a wearable wristband that vibrates for five seconds before the station alarm goes off.
The idea is, if a firefighter is in a deep sleep, the vibrations will wake them more calmly than the jolt of hearing an alarm, and thus would be easier on their hearts. Richardson is hoping to pursue creating the device full-time after graduating from college.
14. Rhode Island
Average wage: $55,240
Rhode Island lawmakers in 2019 approved bills to mandate time-and-a-half pay for firefighters who average more than 42 hours a week.
Gov. Gina Raimondo allowed the controversial bill to become law without her signature, the Providence Journal reports.
Average wage: $56,090
Reporting in 2019 by students of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs shows Pennsylvania’s volunteer firefighter population fell from about 300,000 in the 1970s to about 38,000 in 2018.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the report suggests that, among other options, surplus equipment could be sold to raise money to pay for more full-time firefighter salaries.
Average wage: $56,710
Firefighting is more than a job for many — it’s a calling. One Illinois firefighter was off the clock on May 1, 2019, when he heard a radio report of a single-family home on fire in suburban Lisle.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the off-duty firefighter entered the home and rescued all three family members, who were treated at the scene and released. Sometimes, off-duty doesn’t mean what the dictionary says it does.
Average wage: $60,080
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in early 2019 vetoed a bill banning the use in household goods of certain flame-retardant chemicals deemed dangerous to firefighters, who breathe them in when treated items burn. He was concerned about banning such flame retardants in car seats and mattresses, The Berkshire Eagle reports.
State lawmakers and firefighters didn’t give up, however. Lawmakers picked up the legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan support, again in late 2019.
Average wage: $61,160
Colorado firefighters are heroes in many ways, not all of them involving putting out fires. Near Christmas, responders in the town of Fountain rescued a 2-year-old dog that had climbed 20 feet up in a tree and could not get down.
KKTV-11 reports that Lily, the pup, had recently moved with her family to Fountain. After she got stuck in the tree, a firefighter climbed a ladder and lifted her to safety.
Average wage: $61,780
Firefighters risk their lives at each fire, but according to the International Association of Fire Fighters, cancer is now the leading cause of death in the line of duty for firefighters, who are exposed to many toxic chemicals through their work.
In 2019, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed two bills to improve cancer-coverage benefits for firefighters. House Bill 595 adds bladder and kidney, or renal cell, cancers to the types of cancers considered as occupational diseases for firefighters under the state’s workers’ compensation law.
House Bill 604/Senate Bill 646 honored Jesse McCullough, a firefighter in Prince George’s County who died in 2018 from metastatic colon cancer related to his job. This bill expands workers’ compensation coverage by closing loopholes relating to time served.
Average wage: $62,670
Firefighters in the Aloha State celebrated good news in 2019. According to the Associated Press, state government and the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association agreed to 2% pay increases in each of the next two years and one-time bonuses each year.
Firefighters will also receive an increase in regular raises depending on their years of service.
Average wage: $63,630
A video declaring Connecticut’s need for volunteer firefighters was nominated last year for a regional Emmy Award.
The public service announcement was shot by Matthew Troy, who is a professional cinematographer as well as a volunteer firefighter himself.
It shows the work such volunteers do and the variety of day jobs they hold. Most fire departments in the state are experiencing a volunteer shortage, the Hartford Courant reports.
Average wage: $66,330
Nine Oregon public employees have filed suit to overturn new state retirement plan cost-sharing provisions approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2019. The cuts were adopted to help reduce Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System’s $27 billion deficit.
Firefighters and other public workers stand to receive smaller benefits under the measure. The controversial provisions apply only to workers earning $30,000 a year or more.
The state’s pension system only has about 73% of the money needed to pay future benefits, according to the Salem Reporter.
Average wage: $66,830
The Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada broke ground last year on the Nevada Fallen Firefighters Memorial, on the grounds of the State Capitol in Carson City.
The memorial honors firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty. In addition to black granite walls carrying names of Nevada’s fallen firefighters, the memorial includes five live-size bronze sculptures. The $500,000 monument is being funded by corporate and private donations.
4. New York
Average wage: $73,710
The words “fireman” and “policeman” don’t represent the gender diversity of those first responders, and now New York state recognized that formally in 2019.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill changing references in state law to those professions to “firefighter” and “police officer.”
Average wage: $73,850
Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation in 2019 that allows state agencies to ban chemicals and require disclosure of harmful chemicals in a wide range of products.
A representative for the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters praised the decision, saying it “prioritizes action on some of the most dangerous chemicals that can be contributing to cancer in the fire service.”
2. New Jersey
Average wage: $76,530
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy angered some firefighters and lawmakers in the Garden State last year when he proposed taking $33 million from a hardship fund for state firefighters. Murphy wanted to transfer the money into the state’s general fund, but he changed his mind after a public outcry.
The fund is supposed to be used for burials, medical bills, health care and related costs for active and retired firefighters and their families.
Average wage: $81,580
California may pay the highest wages, but Golden State firefighters work hard for their money. And California firefighters are braced for danger ahead.
In the spring of 2019, Orange County Fire Authority Fire Chief Brian Fennessy told NBC Los Angeles that, on a scale of 1 to 10, the state’s devastating 2018 fire season scored a 10.
At that time, he anticipated the same in 2019, but according to state statistics, the 2019 fire season was milder in comparison. California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection figures for the year (as of Dec. 22) showed more reported fires but far fewer affected acres compared with 2018.
How do firefighters fare in your state? What do you think is a fair wage for this hazardous occupation? Tell us in a comment below or on our Facebook page.
Donna Freedman contributed to this post.
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