How Much Do Fire Captains Make?

by Wilhelm Schnotz; Updated September 26, 2017
Fire captains command teams of firefighters in emergencies.

While the rank system employed by firefighting departments isn’t nearly as structured as that in the armed forces, fire captains hold an approximate level of authority as their counterparts in the Army and Air Force, serving as upper-middle management to supervise lieutenants and firefighters. Specific job duties vary by department, but fire captains frequently oversee all operations at a station, including staffing and maintenance of equipment. Fire captains often report to a battalion chief, an assistant fire chief or a fire chief.

Base Salary Range

A fire captain’s salary depends on the size of his station and the area in which he works, as well as his time with the force, with well tenured captains earning more than others. Fire captains’ salaries varied greatly around the country, but annual base salaries for the position varied between $60,605 and $72,716 as of May 2008, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In most fire districts, firefighters who work more than an amount of hours specified by their contract also receive overtime pay in addition to base salaries.

Salaries Around the Nation

A fire captain’s year-end take-home earnings often exceed his base pay. In some large metropolitan areas, captains report much larger average annual earnings than indicated by base-pay salary surveys. Fire captains who work in Chicago received the largest average annual salary of $100,140 as of May 2011, according to Salary Expert. Captains in Los Angeles and New York also reported significantly higher salaries at $99,752 and $91,280. Fire captains in Atlanta reported the lowest average annual salary at $52,404. Half of the cities’ captains received annual salaries between $64,064 and $87,017.

Comparison to Other Fire Department Salaries

Fire captains traditionally supervise lieutenants who in turn supervise the ranks of firefighters. Because of this, captains tend to earn salaries that are much higher than rank-and-file firefighters’ earnings in their department. Nationwide, firefighters received a median annual salary of $41,349 as of May 2011, according to Salary.com. Captains still earn much less than a fire chief, the head of a city’s fire department. Chiefs received base salaries between $78,672 and $104,780 as of May 2008, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Fire Captain Job Duties

Although their primary job responsibility is to command single-unit and multiple-unit response teams that respond to fires or other emergencies, fire captains are also in charge of day-to-day business inside their fire station. This includes staffing, upkeep of firefighting equipment, and developing and implementing ongoing training sessions. Fire captains also represent their department in district meetings and handle the administrative records for the department they oversee.

2016 Salary Information for Firefighters

Firefighters earned a median annual salary of $48,030 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, firefighters earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,670, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $64,870, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 327,300 people were employed in the U.S. as firefighters.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images