Few jobs are considered more essential than those performed by police officers and firefighters. Police are charged with the responsibility to protect the public from criminals and uphold the law. Firefighters are called into action not only when a fire occurs but also in situations involving traffic accidents, health emergencies and structural danger. Although these two forces often work together, salaries can vary greatly based on several factors.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics completed a salary survey in May 2010 and discovered than on average, police officers made $55,620 a year. Most of them made wages in the middle 50 percent, ranging from $40,830 to $69,070 a year. The lowest paid in the bottom 10th percentile made less than $31,700 annually, while officers in the top 10th percentile made more than $83,510 a year. By comparison, firefighters reported a national annual mean wage of $47,730 a year. The middle 50 percent of wages for firefighters was from $31,990 to $59,900 a year. In the bottom 10th percentile, they earned under $23,050 annually, but those in the top 10th percentile reported incomes over $75,390 a year.
Around the U.S.
Both firemen and policemen saw similar wage trends from state to state around the country. For example, in Texas, police averaged $50,440 a year and firefighters brought home $44,930 annually on average, both lower figures than the national average. The lowest paying state in the BLS report for police officers was Mississippi at $31,430 a year, and firefighters in Maine averaged only $31,590 annually. California was a higher paying state for both police and firefighters, paying $77,290 and $69,880 a year, respectively. However, New Jersey came out as the highest paying state in the nation, providing annual mean wages of $79,300 for policemen and $71,310 for firemen.
Most policemen and firemen worked for local governments in 2010 and made average wages of $55,710 and $48,370 a year, respectively. There were also positions in other areas of government. Working for a state government paid police officers $58,200 a year, the most of any employer, and firefighters averaged $42,880 annually. At the federal level, firemen earned $48,990 a year while police made $51,590 annually. In the private sector, police officers worked for colleges and universities for an annual mean wage of $46,560 and general medical hospitals for an average of $53,520 a year. For firefighters, jobs in colleges and universities paid $58,300 a year on average. However, the highest paying positions for firemen were in the computer systems design industry, averaging $67,920 a year.
Firefighters and police officers may enter into their fields with only a high school diploma, but many positions are now held for those with some post-secondary education. Both professions require rigorous training through an academy or fire or police department. This training commonly lasts 12 to 14 weeks for aspiring police officers and can go on for four years of apprenticeship for firefighters. Positions in management or at the federal level often require graduate degrees and a certain amount of field experience. Physical fitness is essential for police and fire professionals, and they must keep up to date with laws and regulations pertaining to their work.