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Firefighter

Kaitinei Ahi

Alternative titles for this job

Firefighters control and put out fires, help rescue people and animals, and educate the public about fire safety and fire prevention.

Pay

Firefighters usually earn

$43K-$64K per year

Station officers usually earn

$64K-$88K per year

Source: NZ Professional Firefighters Union, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a firefighter are poor due to high competition for limited positions.

Pay

Pay for firefighters varies depending on experience, responsibilities and performance.

  • Trainee firefighters usually earn $43,000 a year.
  • Firefighters with two years' experience or more usually earn between $53,000 and $64,000.
  • Station officers can earn between $64,000 and $88,000.

Firefighters also receive allowances for driving, training others, tools and meals. 

Source: New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union, '2017 Market Rate Review for Firefighters and Officers Employed on the NZPFU Collective Agreement, 9 June 2017', 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Firefighters may do some or all of the following:

  • educate the public about fire prevention
  • install and inspect smoke alarms or fire extinguishers in homes, boats, aircraft and businesses
  • put out fires and prevent fires from spreading
  • operate vehicles such as firetrucks and helicopters
  • investigate the causes of fires and chemical spills
  • attend accidents or emergencies such as car accidents, chemical spills and natural disasters
  • provide first aid 
  • carry out search and rescue operations 
  • help plan and develop evacuation schemes for commercial buildings
  • maintain and service fire fighting equipment.

Skills and knowledge

Firefighters need to have knowledge of:

  • different types of fires and chemical spills and how to deal with them
  • different methods for rescuing people from dangerous situations
  • how to check, maintain and use firefighting equipment
  • relevant fire safety legislation
  • fire safety precautions, and how these relate to buildings and building construction
  • how to handle dangerous goods
  • how to identify potential fire dangers and risks and eliminate or reduce them
  • first aid
  • how to educate people about fire prevention.

Working conditions

Firefighters:

  • are usually rostered to work four days on, then four days off, which include weekends and public holidays. They work 12 hour shifts, either 8am to 8pm or 8pm to 8am
  • are based at fire stations, New Zealand Air Force bases and airports
  • may work in dangerous conditions involving fire, poisonous smoke and chemicals 
  • travel nationally and internationally to attend emergency events, peace-keeping activities or war zones.

What's the job really like?

Firefighter video

Sam checks out a career as a firefighter – 8.55 mins. (Video courtesy of NZ Fire Service)

Sam: Hi, I’m Sam, I go to Otago Girls’ High School in Dunedin, I’m Year 13 and I’m here to learn more about careers in firefighting.

Clinton: The NZ Fire Service employs around 1800 full-time firefighters around the country – and a growing number of these are women.

Clinton: Sam is about to have an insight into the high-octane life of a professional firefighter, by jumping on board the fire truck, along with station officer Kate Hill and her crew in the Dunedin seaside suburb of St Kilda.

Sam: Hi, I’m Sam!

Kate: Hi, I’m Kate Hill. Welcome to the fire station.

Kate: I’ve been a Station Officer for just a short while actually, I’ve been acting in the role for a fair few years and its actually been in the last two weeks that I’ve been promoted to station officer as a permanent position, so it’s a role that I’m quite looking forward to grabbing by the reins and running with.

Kate: Hey guys, this is Sam. Sam’s going to be riding along with us for the day. She’s very interested in becoming a firefighter, so this is our crew for the day – this is Josh…

Sam: Hey!

Kate: …this is Cam who will be driving…

Cam: How’re ya going?

Kate: …and Andre.

Sam: Hey.

Clinton: Five minutes later, Sam is kitted out ready for action.

Sam: Hey!

Kate: Oh wow! Fabulous, suits you!

Kate: Being a station officer is basically looking after the truck – the crew on the truck – running the day-to-day activities and just broadly to ensure operation readiness of myself, my crew, of the appliance and working with the community to aid in risk-reduction.

Kate: OK, so around here we’ve got quite a few ladders, as you can see, pop and have a look if you like…

Kate: Multiple ladders for multiple jobs?

Sam: So what’s the wooden one for – wouldn’t it burn?

Kate: A lot of people think that because it’s wooden, but we use wooden ones because it doesn’t conduct electricity.

Sam: So, what do you usually do now?

Kate: Well next we usually do some drill, which is training, and we’re actually off to city station to do that, because we’ve got another crew waiting for us, so we’ll head off now.

Sam: Awesome.

Clinton: On the way to the central fire station, Kate and her crew make a detour to help out Edna, an elderly woman who needs the battery on her smoke alarm changed.

Kate: So what we’re doing here is what we do quite often, is to check people’s smoke alarms. So today what we’re going to do is we’re going to change this battery.

Clinton: But suddenly, the crew gets an emergency call-out.

Kate: OK, we’ve got a fire in South Dunedin.

Kate: Let’s go!

[Sirens blaring.]

Kate: So it looks like we’ve got a rubbish fire – at this point we’re not too sure how big or how small – it might not be anything but what I want you to do is hang back with the driver and I will let you know if you can come forward, OK?

Sam: Yep, sweet as.

Kate: For a young woman joining the fire service, it’s not for every woman – you’ve got to be a little bit of a tomboy. You’ve got to be able to get your hands dirty and not worry about it.

Clinton: At the scene, Kate, her crew and Sam head around the back of the house, where a man has been burning a big pile of rubbish.

Clinton: The fire is already out, but he still gets a stern warning from Kate.

Kate: So they’re not actually allowed to have that fire going but we have told him if he does it again then we will contact the regional council.

Clinton: Next, they return to Edna’s house to finish changing her alarm battery.

Kate: So we’ll just set this up over here.

Clinton: The new battery is finally in place. Good work Sam…

Clinton: Now it’s on to the Dunedin central Ssation, where she meets the man in charge of recruitment.

Craig: Hello.

Sam: Sam.

Craig: Sam?

Kate: This is Craig Geddes.

Craig: Craig Geddes.

Craig: Yeah, there is that perception that you need to be big and strong and yes that is important, but the female firefighter can equally foot the role with their male counterparts. From an education point of view, they certainly can deliver the message to the community. Then obviously we’ve got a number of female firefighters in the career rank but also a much larger representation in the volunteer ranks and we’d like to see that continue to grow.

Kate: You do have to go to the gym to work out and make sure you are fit and strong because genetically woman don’t have that upper body strength naturally, so you do have to work out to get in shape.

Clinton: Sam’s about to get a serious work out climbing the 70-metre tall training tower.

Kate: Now I hope you’re not scared of heights!

Sam: Nah!

Clinton: Next, Sam is about to help Kate and the crew cut up a car.

Kate: What we’re going to simulate here is there’s somebody stuck in the driver’s seat and we’re going to basically take off these two doors.

Clinton: Out come the hydraulic powered jaws of life, and mechanical spreader.

Kate: Now the trick here is to never fight the tools as well – the tools are always stronger than what you are and never standing on the inside because things have the tendency of moving in.

Sam: Yeah.

Kate: The ambulance may say that their injuries – well that they may have spinal injuries so they may want to get them out of the top, out of the roof, so we’re going to get rid of the roof.

Kate: And traditionally how we do it is we crush these to start with, so we make them smaller so the cutters can actually get through them, because at the moment they’re quite wide.

Sam: Yep.

Clinton: After the pillars are crushed and cut, with Sam’s help.

[Sound of machinery cutting car]

Clinton: …this car becomes a convertible.

Clinton: Sam’s firefighting adventure then starts to heat up, with the help of one of Kate’s colleagues, Amy.

Kate: Sam, this is Amy.

Clinton: Amy’s going to show Sam how to put out a fire using a powder extinguisher.

Amy: Come in…

Amy: …aim!

Clinton: Amy has just started as a full-time firefighter, but she’s a seasoned volunteer.

Amy: So that’s how we do it.

Amy: Started with the volunteer brigade, 40km north of here in Waikouaiti about four years ago and that’s where I got my taste for the fire service.

Clinton: Now it’s Sam’s turn on the extinguisher.

Amy: Originally I worked in hotel management, prior to this, but, yeah, decided I wanted to do the best job in the world! For other young women that are wanting to get into the fire service, go for it.

Amy: And there you go!

Sam: Sweet as!

Kate: I think Sam went really well. She was very keen, very eager. For this job you have to be practically minded and I felt that she certainly was that. She’s very capable, very enthusiastic. When she’s got out and had a bit of life experience I think it would be very valuable for the fire service to have someone like Sam.

Sam: I’ve had an awesome experience – Kate and the guys have been awesome, letting me do as much as possible and telling me how things work and stuff. Firefighting is definitely something I would consider when I leave school.

Clinton: The New Zealand Fire Service has two recruitment rounds each year, usually in March and July. Candidates must pass literacy, numeracy and fitness tests. A medical exam, and undergo a police background check. NCEA Level 1 English, maths and science may be helpful to pass pre-entry testing. Firefighters must be able to relate well to people from different cultures, lifestyles and age groups, and must enjoy working in the community. For more information about careers with the New Zealand Fire Service, visit fire.org.nz/jobs

Entry requirements

To become a firefighter you need to:

  • be a permanent resident or citizen
  • be 18 years of age or older
  • pass a police check
  • pass literacy, numeracy and problem solving tests
  • pass medical, physical fitness and psychological tests.

To begin work as a trainee firefighter you need to pass a 12-week training course.

To become a firefighter for the New Zealand Air Force you need to:

  • be a permanent resident or citizen
  • be 17 years of age or older
  • pass medical,physical fitness, colour vision and psychological tests
  • be free from criminal convictions
  • hold 10 credits in NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy
  • hold a Class 1 or 2 full manual drivers' licence.

Air force firefighters then complete:

  • 12 weeks of basic military training at the RNZAF Base Woodbourne near Blenheim
  • 12 weeks of fire and rescue training at the Linton Military Camp near Palmerston North
  • seven weeks of driver training
  • seven weeks of advanced fire trade training.

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.

Secondary education

No specific secondary education is required for community firefighters, but physical education to at least NCEA Level 1 is useful.

Ten credits in NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy are required for air force firefighters. 

Personal requirements

Firefighters need to be:

  • good communicators
  • able to relate well to a wide range of people and cultures
  • confident and able to remain calm in emergencies
  • good at solving problems and making decisions
  • patient and helpful
  • disciplined, honest and reliable
  • able to work as part of a team.

Useful experience

Useful experience for firefighters includes:

  • volunteer firefighting
  • working with people from a diverse range of communities, ethnicities and backgrounds
  • being part of a team such as a sports team
  • involved in community-based activities such as coaching sports
  • teaching, training or coaching experience.

Physical requirements

Firefighters need to have excellent fitness and health and must be strong as the job is physically demanding. They also need to have good hearing and eyesight, normal colour vision and no breathing problems.

Find out more about training

Fire and Emergency New Zealand 
0800 347 373 - media@fireandemergency.nz - www.fireandemergency.nz
New Zealand Air Force
0800 136 723 - www.defencecareers.mil.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Limited intakes for new firefighters

Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the New Zealand Air Force run a limited intake of firefighters up to two times a year. There is high competition for these roles. 

The number of firefighter roles usually stays steady. According to 2017 Fire and Emergency New Zealand, there are around 1700 career firefighters and 11,000 volunteer firefighters. 

Women encouraged to apply

Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the New Zealand Air Force are committed to diversity, and want to increase the number of women and have more of a mix of cultures on their staff.

Improve your chances by volunteering

Chances of getting a job are best for those who volunteer as firefighters or who have experience working in community organisations such as civil defence or St John Ambulance.

Most firefighters employed by Fire and Emergency New Zealand

The largest employer of firefighters is Fire and Emergency New Zealand. Other organisations that employ firefighters include airport authorities and the New Zealand Air Force.

Sources

  • Defence Careers website, accessed July 2018, (www.defencecareers.mil.nz).
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand 'Annual Report June 2017', 30 June 2017, (www.fireandemergency.nz).
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand website, accessed July 2018, (www.fireandemergency.nz). 
  • Manch, T, 'A Day in the Life of Wellington Firefighters', 27 July 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupation Outlook Fire Fighters', accessed July 2018, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
  • Moore, R, 'Demand for Firefighter Recruits Growing', 15 July 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
  • Redmond, A, 'Volunteer Firefighting not for the Faint of Heart, or Weak of Limb', 25 July 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Firefighters may move into management roles to become senior firefighters, station officers or air force officers.

Firefighters may also progress to jobs in areas such as:

  • training 
  • fire investigation
  • fire protection
  • fire risk management. 
One firefighter abseils down a building with a patient in a stretcher, while two firefighters look from the building's window

Firefighters practise rescuing people from buildings

Last updated 9 August 2019