Firefighting – Jobs and Skills in Demand

by Ainoura Oussenbec

January 3, 2019

In the middle of a rainy winter, the Rogue Valley residents are already thinking, with trepidation, about what may come next summer. This is because during the last two summers, the Rogue Valley experienced unusually long wildfire seasons. Last summer the smoke filled the Valley as early as in the middle of July and did not fully clear up until September. The Rogue region ended up on national news more than once for having the most polluted air in the nation. Several prominent businesses that heavily depend on tourism, including the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, reported revenue and job losses directly related to the wildfires and smoke. These businesses worry that now the public perception about the Rogue Valley may have been damaged, and that tourists may chose other vacation destinations next summer and beyond.

During the endless smoky days of last summer, no other occupation was in demand and on people’s minds like firefighters. Many residents and communities seemed eager to learn all about fire safety and prevention, a necessary skill set in a region prone to wild forest fires. Firefighting is an occupation but firefighting and fire-preventing skills may be what many locals, especially in rural areas, could benefit from if frequent wildfires are going to be our new “normal.”

Professional Firefighters – the Demand Remains High in the Rogue Valley

Firefighters control and extinguish fires or respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk. Duties may include fire prevention, emergency medical service, hazardous material response, search and rescue, and disaster assistance.

About 3,900 firefighters were employed in Oregon in 2017, with 321 located in the Rogue Valley. These are professionals employed mostly in local government entities such as cities and counties. During the active wildfire seasons, many more able-bodied men and women join the firefighting forces as temporary workers. Oftentimes, construction workers or students sign up because of the pressing need and good pay.

According to OED’s 2017 to 2027 employment projections, the number of professional firefighters in the Rogue Valley is expected to increase by 20.6 percent, well above all occupations combined. No other region in the state is expected to increase the number of firefighters so significantly. The second fastest growing region, the Mid-Valley, is forecasted to see growth of only 10.2 percent, by comparison.

Firefighters’ Wages Start High in the Rogue Valley

Statewide, firefighters’ wages start around $17 per hour with average wages of $32 per hour. In the Rogue Valley, the starting wages are some of the highest in the state at about $22 per hour, but the average is somewhat lower at $30 per hour or $61,867 annually. Interestingly, the starting wages for firefighters can be as low as around $12 per hour, in the Mid-Valley and some Eastern Oregon counties. The highest starting wages are in the Portland Metro area. With experience and depending on location, firefighters’ wages can go up to $49 or $50 per hour or well over $100,000 annually.

Education Requirements are Minimal

The typical entry-level education for this occupation is some postsecondary training (non-degree). Those with an associate's degree have a competitive advantage in the labor market. Rogue Community College in Grants Pass offers one- to two-year-long training in Fire Prevention and Safety Technology that can lead to an associate’s degree. In addition, the candidates need to be in excellent physical shape. This requirement can be more intimidating than formal training for some candidates, especially women. Yet, for the right person, firefighting can be a truly rewarding career.

In recent years, local governments have been increasingly reaching out to residents with community programs and information about fire safety and prevention. While the Rogue Valley may have enough professional firefighters, it may take the entire Rogue “village,” properly trained in the basics, in order to help better cope and possibly even prevent devastating wild forest fires in the future.

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