Climbing the Ladder: Discover Fire Department’s Ranks and Salaries

Posted by | February 16, 2021 | News

Public fire departments were initially founded as paramilitary organizations; therefore, fire departments across the United States tend to follow military ranks and structure. A fireman spends a certain amount of time, determined by the department, at each level. In many cases, firefighters need to take exams and partake in interviews with superiors to rise in ranks. Depending on the size of the municipality that the fire department is part of, the positions might vary based on the town’s needs; however, for the most part, fire departments follow the following ranks:

Probationary Firefighter

A firefighter’s journey begins as a Probationary Firefighter. As a Probationary Firefighter, you serve as the newest member and lowest ranking of the department. Sometimes referred to as “probies” or “rookie,” these members are “at-will” employees and the department could terminate the individual at any time due to any reason. This position is very much a learning role and closely monitored by senior firefighters. Probationary officers tend to stay in the “temporary” role for 6-12 months. The department heads then determine if the candidate is a good fit in both temperament and skills for a fire service career.  

According to zip recruiter, the average salary of a Probationary Firefighter is $44,117 per year. 


While the term “Firefighter” is a common term used for anyone within the fire department, “Firefighter” is also a rank. A Firefighter is the most hands-on position in the fire department. This role is responsible for fire suppression, search, and rescue. The responsibilities of a Firefighter vary depending on the type of company they belong to. For example, a firefighter in an Engine Company is responsible for providing water to the scene of a fire, identifying the fire’s location, and suppressing it. The department trains members of a rescue company to be knowledgeable in building construction, rigging ropes, rescues from buildings and vehicles, among other emergency protocols and procedures. Learn more about the different types of companies here

Pay for a Firefighter ranges significantly based on the location of the department and years of experience, but on average, Firefighters make around $53,000 per year, according to salary.com

Driver Engineer or Fire Equipment Operator 

The Driver Engineer manages the technical aspects of fire safety and rescue. As the name suggests, the Driver Engineer is responsible for driving the apparatus (for example, the fire engine or ladder truck). Depending on what type of company they are in, they also would be in charge of operating either the aerial ladder or the fire pump. The Driver Engineer or Equipment Operator is the expert on the apparatus and should know all the equipment’s technicalities inside and out. This position does frequent safety checks of their apparatus and makes sure it is maintained and cleaned. 

When the Lieutenant is not available, the department will expect the Driver Engineer or Fire Equipment Operator to step in and assume this role. 

On average, a Driver Engineer can expect to make $97,011 per year (according to zip recruiter). For a large metropolitan area like Cambridge, MA, a Driver Engineer can expect to be paid upwards of $114,894. 


The Lieutenant is responsible for the administration and supervision of the fire company. This position is a leadership role and might perform tasks such as implementing the station’s goals and objectives as well as managing schedules and shift task priorities. In addition to these leadership responsibilities, the Lieutenant will also perform duties as an officer to bring fire suppression and medical care to their town or city citizens. 

According to Glassdoor.com, a Lieutenant can make anywhere between $53,000 to $125,000 per year. 


The Captain is the leader of a company of firefighters assigned to a specific firehouse. This position is responsible for ensuring the station house, fire trucks, and equipment are within the department’s maintenance standards. During a fire alarm, the Captain is like the department’s quarterback and will make determinations based on the fire’s nature, condition of the structure, and the water supply source to direct their company accordingly. This role also may be in charge of training and drills. 

A fire captain’s salary ranges greatly, but according to salary.com the 50th percentile of fire captain salary is $81,819. 

Battalion Chief

The Battalion Chief typically oversees numerous firehouses and companies. This role is responsible for planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, and supervising the activities of an assigned shift, including the management of personnel, fire prevention and training activities, and oversight of significant programs. A Battalion Chief also oversees the captains of the various companies and fire stations. 

According to salary.com, a Battalion Chief can expect to make a starting salary of around $86,000 per year. 

Assistant Chief

The Assistant Fire Chief supports the Fire Chief or Commissioner. This role performs various technical, administrative, and supervisory work in planning, organizing, directing, and implementing firefighter and officer training, fire prevention, suppression, and emergency medical services. 

According to salary.com, an Assistant Fire Chief for a large metropolitan area like New York City should expect to make around $93,454. 

Fire Chief

The Fire Chief is the leader and commander of an entire fire organization and is the highest-ranking officer. This role is in charge of tasks such as supervising other officers and firefighters at an emergency scene and recruiting, training, and equipping them for their respective duties. A fire chief is directly responsible for the efficient operation of battalions and/or stations and has authority over all personnel, apparatuses, and activities. 

A fire chief’s salary ranges greatly. The national average is around $92,302 per year with $150,000 per year being on the higher end of the salary range. 

To learn more about specific open fire department positions, visit RedBlueJob’s fire job board and discover your dream job. 

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