3 Key Difference between a Firefighter and EMT’s

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Most of the time when people thing of 911 they they think of firetrucks and ambulances. Most people thing that ambulances have just the EMTs, while the fire trucks have the Firefighters.

But what you might not realize is that both Firefighters and EMT’s can ride on Ambulances, Fire Trucks and other vehicles depending on the State and City setup.

So is there a difference between an EMT and a firefighter and do they do the same job?

EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) is a single Certification for a person to work in an emergency setting to treat and/or transport people to the hospital. Firefighters have a certification to focus on the Fires, Vehicle accidents or other Hazardous situations. While they often work in the same circles, the requirements for EMS and Firefighters are very different.

It’s important to know, depending on where you live, that since there are less fires these days, many Firefighters are also EMTs (or paramedics) and respond to Medical 911 calls as well as Other Safety Calls.

Let’s talk more about the differences between Firefighters and EMT’s, especially when it comes to a 911 call.

What does a Firefighter do that an EMT does not?

For a Fire Fighter, the job description is broad and encompassing. This can include everything from Fires, Search and Rescue, Vehicle Extractions to teaching basic public safety, running lift assist calls to the local nursing home and staging out for safety when there is a casualty event.

To sum it up better, firefighters will go most anywhere and do most anything to help others avoid injury, ailment, death as well as treat all three of those things. They are the ‘swiss army knife’ of emergencies. Often times the 911 call are not black and white. Everything from vehicle accidents with multiple people trapped to removing snakes out of homes can lead to a Firefighter dispatch. And maybe even the infamous cat calls, which we cover in more detail here (Will a Firefighter rescue a cat from a tree?)

The calls can be VERY strange and odd with no way of a generic job description can describe.

What does an EMT do that a Firefighter does not?

EMT is a single certification that stands for Emergency Medical Technician. This allows an individual to operate and respond in an ambulance to emergency medical and trauma situations.

Because EMT’s are trained in the medical field, and fall under a medical directive (meaning, a list of what they can and cannot do), the job is more clear.

EMT’s respond to an emergency call when they are on an Ambulance, help triage and stabilize patients when working in Hospitals and Medical Facilities, and provide basic safety and care when at Festivals, Schools and Parks. Their role is important but is strictly medical and patient care.

This means they can help with bandaids, basic medical administration and CPR- but they aren’t putting out your car fire.

EMT’s are also on other transportation vehicles like Air Ambulances or Boat Ambulances where there is no need for a Firefighter (as Firefighters would have their own transportation with their own equipment in those specialized instances) .

Is an EMT just an Ambulance Driver?

No, an Ambulance Driver can be anyone with a valid drivers license who has based the driving course for that area. A driver may not have any life saving or medical skills. However, an EMT with a medical certification could also drive- doing two jobs to help with emergency care. EMT’s have a medical certification that teaches and allows them to do basic life saving skills.

Single Cert and Double Cert Fire and EMS

Many States and Cities are requiring their Fire Stations to have the Double Certification of both EMT and Firefighter, which can be confusing.

Single certification EMTs do not typically ride on a fire truck since they are not certified in fire suppression. If they have a Double Certification (meaning both an EMT cert and a Firefighter Cert) then they can do both the role of a Firefighter and EMT.

You call for a heart attack, and the Fire Station rolls up. You call for a funny smoke smell, and the EMT is walking through your door.

Many Fire Stations are doing a better job about creating a ‘third’ uniform, to better show that the workforce is trained in many instances. But it’s hard to create a third vehicle that isn’t a Fire Truck or Ambulance (as those trucks cost a lot of tax payer money!) See more about Why do firetrucks come with ambulances?

Do Firefighters need to be EMTs?

These days and age the industry for first responders is rapidly evolving. Fires are happening less and less. But that doesn’t mean firefighters should be cut back. Firefighters have transitioned to more and more medical care driven.

This allows firefighters to preform the same tasks and treatment as someone who is on an ambulance. This is done while still remaining operationally ready for fires, vehicle accidents or any other hazardous situations.

Now it is standard for Fire Departments to require an EMT certification but most prefer a paramedic certification (paramedic is the next step up).

Are their jobs for Single Certification EMTs?

Sure there are tons of jobs. Especially in the private sector for ambulances. Private sector means they are a private company that is contracted out from the municipality in the area.

This often allows the citizens to be provided for in a faster fashion. Also it is often times cheaper for a municipality(City, Town, County) to pay a private ambulance company to provide care for their area, rather than outfit the fire department with ambulances, staff and equipment. This can be inter-facility from hospital to hospital or 911 focused.

Not everybody wants to go the firefighter/EMT route. But often times single certification EMTs won’t make nearly as much money as a firefighter/EMT or paramedic. Single Cert EMT’s also won’t have as much stress. It’s a catch 22 when it comes to your budget and life demands.

And that is mostly because generally there scope of practice is limited to basic life support (BLS). If they possess a certification as a paramedic then there scope of practice expands to advanced life support (ALS).

What is the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic?

The biggest difference between an EMT and a Paramedic is the scope of practice and the skills each are allowed to perform. EMTs provide BLS skills like administering oxygen and dressing wounds. While a paramedic can establish IVs, intubate with advanced airways and administer medications via IV.

EMT School

EMT school is approximately six months in length along with a certain amount clinical hours. This equips the student with knowledge on assessing a patient and providing BLS treatment.

Often times once on the job the EMT will be partnered with a paramedic to assist with patient care.

Paramedic School

Paramedic schooling however is a year plus. Also EMT is a prerequisite. The knowledge and scope of practice is much larger and requires more training in the emergency settings such as ambulance clinicals and hospital clinicals.

Should you become a Paramedic? (Pros and Cons)

the course tends to be a much faster paced and self study type of schooling. Schooling for a paramedic is significantly longer as well as more challenging.

Should you become a firefighter after EMT?

A career as an EMT is honorable and respected but its limiting. Eventually pay will cap out and be sub par to the rest of the first responder industry.

EMT in my opinion is a great start but plan to further your career whether that be as a single cert paramedic, firefighter or both.

5 tips for Firefighters who are fed up

I will say that is common for someone who strictly works on an ambulance has a higher chance of burnout then if they were to be on a fire truck.

This is why it seems the common route is EMT and fire school, get on with a fire department that will hire those certifications and then request the department to pay for your paramedic schooling.

Dive into more on the Pros and Cons of being a Firefighter

Summing it up

It seems the easiest way to answer this in the most broad way is that most paid firefighters are EMTs but not all EMTs are firefighters. This is due to the fire service needing to adapt to higher medical emergencies and less fires. The world is growing fast so its natural progression of the fire service to become as well rounded as possible.

This allows the fire service to stay more relevant and most importantly to provide the best service possible for citizens in distress. Whether that be medical or fire.

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