Being a firefighter takes stamina, strength and courage. It’s a perilous job in which they risk their safety daily to safeguard other people’s lives and property. Given their importance to the communities they serve, you’d think that professional firefighters would be well-paid. Unfortunately, firefighter salaries are typically not that great. In New York City, for example, beginning firefighters earn a wage that is barely livable by Big Apple standards. On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of cities compensate their firefighters at a more appropriate level.
5 Denver, Colorado
Denver’s fire department is included in the list because of its top reported pay rate of $157,000. The department’s starting salary, however, is a relatively mediocre $47,000 annually. The range results in an average salary of just over $100,000 grand per year. Because this is likely a statistical anomaly, Denver didn’t rank higher on the list. However, the reasonable cost of living in Denver, along with upside salary potential, earns the city fifth place on the list.
4 Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, California
Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz are additional proof that Northern California appreciates its firefighters. Although Santa Rosa offers a higher starting salary of nearly $73,000—as opposed to $68,000 for Santa Cruz—the latter city’s firefighters max out at nearly $91,000, nearly $4,000 per year more than the top pay in Santa Rosa. The parity in pay between the two cities results in a tie for the country’s fourth-best-paid fire departments.
3 San Francisco, California
Oakland’s fire department brethren across the Bay also earn a respectable wage. A rookie in the San Francisco Fire Department can expect to earn more than $77,000 annually. With the pay scale topping out at nearly $108,000, the average SFFD salary is above $90,000 a year. Firefighters in the city, however, also work an average of 49 hours per week and have to contend with one of the country’s most expensive metro areas in which to live. Nevertheless, San Francisco firefighters do well enough to come in third on the list.
2 Oakland, California
Oakland has the highest starting salary for firefighters among the departments surveyed. New recruits start out at more than $83,000 per year. The highest reported salary is $92,000. While this is lower than the top pay in a few other departments, the fact that all firefighters are making over $80,000 earns Oakland second place honors. One of the reasons Oakland firefighters earn so much is because they work hard—and long. Most are on the job 52 hours a week.
1 Anchorage, Alaska
Not surprisingly, given the cost-of-living differential in Alaska, Anchorage’s municipal fire department has the best-paid firefighters in the country. According to a survey of fire department pay scales, published in 2012 by “EMS World Magazine,” rookie firefighters start at just over $70,000 per year. The top firefighter salary comes in at $100,000 above the starting rate. This range dictates an average pay rate of more than $121,000 a year for the firefighters who serve in Alaska’s largest city.