How to Become a Fire Chief


In addition to taking care of the fire and rescue duties of a firefighter, fire chiefs hold top supervisory positions in a firehouse. They start out as firefighters and work their way up through the ranks to become fire chiefs, through promotion from training, experience, and higher-level education. In addition to serving as a leader and enforcing municipal fire codes & ensuring public safety, fire chiefs are responsible for directing the response of firefighters to minimize danger, damage, and loss of life. During a hazardous situation, fire chiefs work with other emergency response leaders by coordinating fire control, rescue, and cleaning up debris and residue from the incident, to name a few.

Not only are fire chiefs responsible for scheduling and assigning duties to firefighters, they also train firemen in various rescue and firefighting techniques, and oversee their performance to make sure they are doing an effective job. When not training and directing firefighters, fire chiefs stay busy with managing and maintaining the fire station and firefighting apparatus.


According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2011, fire chiefs in the lowest percentile earn an approximate annual salary of about $40,500. Fire chiefs in the highest percentile earn an annual salary of almost $110,000. On average, the annual salary of a fire chief stands at $69,500.


Step 1: Start as a firefighter.

Fire chiefs usually start as firefighters and work their way up through rankings by showing optimal performance on the job, undergoing training and experience, and more often than not, obtaining higher-level education. To be an entry-level firefighter, one must have at least a high school degree or equivalent, and pass a written and physical exam. College is not required for an entry-level firefighter position, however it is highly encouraged if you plan on advancing your career and becoming a fire chief. Starting out as a firefighter will not only give you a solid understanding of the profession at a more general level, it will prepare you for other related jobs in the field should you decide this profession is for you.

Step 2: Perform well & get promoted.

If there was a ladder to demonstrate the different levels of the firefighting profession, an entry-level firefighter would be at the very bottom (whether paid or volunteer), and a fire chief would be at the very top. With that said, to become a fire chief, one must be experienced in all the duties that a firefighter is responsible for, and beyond. Firefighters may be eligible for promotion after they demonstrate impeccable leadership skills, a willingness to advance and learn, and of course, quality and efficiency on the job.

Step 3: Further your knowledge, education, and credentials.

Because fire chiefs hold many administrative duties, they must have excellent leadership skills. Successful fire chiefs are able to develop and build a diverse, loyal, and experienced team of workers. They do so by routinely training them, setting a good example by managing a fire station and equipment, and seeing the big picture in any job or situation at hand. Aspiring fire chiefs will need to obtain formal education in related subjects such as fire chemistry and combustion, safety codes, hazardous material handling, construction, and fire dynamics. After the basics are covered, they’ll need to continue to get new credentials and renew existing ones. There are many 2 and 4-year degree programs available for aspirants to take on in order to advance through the ladder and eventually become fire chief. Graduate students can take more specialized education coursework in public service administration, management, and finance. Like most other professions out there, generally speaking, the more education one has, the more open doors there will be for higher level positions in the profession.


Aspiring fire chiefs must meet the following requirements to be considered: