The Future Department of Defense Firefighter

Protecting Those Who Defend America.” – Bill Killen, Director, Navy Fire & Emergency Services, 1985 - 2004 (Retired).

Article by Deputy Chief Jacob McAfee and contributor Chris Baker

Jobs in the fire service are hard to find, and when you do, they are extremely hard to ascertain.  The standards firefighters are held to are well above traditional standards for many professions.  Firefighters are called on to help those on their worst day, to enter the building of someone we don’t know and search an otherwise un-inhabitable environment filled with smoke, toxic gases, extreme heat, and a slew of other stressors to save the life of another, even if it means putting their lives in jeopardy. We work diligently to enter someone’s private dwelling to protect personal belongings, family heirlooms, and other valuable property from being destroyed or lost.  We symbolize hope in an otherwise hopeless situation, and we do this for the member of the community we serve without hesitation.


For future firefighters earning the title “firefighter” often means going to a local fire academy or hitting the testing circuit in hopes of being invited to a Chief’s interview, possibly leading to a job offer with a City, County, or municipal fire department.  Other avenues may present themselves such as the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or even contract firefighting to get a foot in the door.  However, what if there was something more significant?  Something many may have never heard of or also thought of as an opportunity.  If you didn’t know, the Department of Defense employs civilian federal employees (firefighters) to protect the bases, installations, and airfields wherever there is a United States Military presence.  Each service the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard each operating under the Department of Defense (DOD) umbrella hire CIVILIAN federal firefighters to work and protect those who work, reside, and visit any military base/installation.  These positions are not active duty military but civilian, just working for the federal government.


In episode 1952 of the future firefighter fire engineering blog talk radio show, we had the distinct honor of interviewing Regional Fire Chief, Christopher Connelly, of the Navy Region Southwest Fire and Emergency Services.  The Navy Region Southwest encompasses six States and ten major U.S. Navy Installations with the majority of the 500+ civilian firefighters coming from California and Nevada.  To help you get to know these opportunities better and what the Navy Region Southwest Fire and Emergency Service are all about we asked Chief Connelly to educate the future fighter by answering a few questions:


  • What are the pay and benefits of a federal firefighter?
  • What are the certifications and qualifications?
  • What type of services does the DOD provide?
  • How does one apply?
  • What makes the DOD unique?


What are the pay and benefits?  The DOD offers a comprehensive benefit and salary package as a federal employee.  As a firefighter the job series is titled 0081 and provides a rank scale similar to any other municipal department; firefighter, engineer, captain, battalion chief, assistant/division chief, deputy, and fire chief.  In addition, there are fire inspectors, training officers, health and safety officers and more depending on the installation needs. Each rank is associated with a pays scale designated by a GS (General Schedule) and a numeric rank; example GS-4/GS-5, etc.  The typical GS-4 firefighter can expect to make roughly ($40,000 - $50,000) per year, not including overtime.  Within each pay grade, there are ten steps with incremental pay raises that are earned by performance or accrued each year of service until step five and then after every two years of service.  For more information on pay scales with each grade, you can visit and open the firefighter pay link.  Each employee earns a set amount of annual leave and sick leave each year that is accumulated per pay period worked (every two weeks), and just like any other fire department employees are typically allowed to do shift trades as well.  As far a health benefits and retirement there are both. Employees have the option of full health care, dental, and vision benefits as well as a three-tiered retirement under what’s called FERS (federal employee retirement system).  FERS is a defined contribution plan with employee and employer contributions, along with a thrift savings plan (TSP), and social security rounding out the holistic look of retirement.


What are the certifications and qualifications? The Department of Defense requires certifications earned through the International Fire Service Congress (IFSAC), Pro Board, or the DOD FF certification system.  For the future firefighter just trying to get in the door the minimum qualifications usually include National Registry Emergency Medical Technician and some work experience.  Based on the region where you are looking this could range to the high end of Firefighter I and II, Hazmat operations and a mix of Airport Rescue Firefighter and a range of Driver operator or hazmat technician.  Review the specific job announcement for more information when you apply for a position with the Department of Defense.


Now for the fun part, what type of services does the DOD provide? Well, the DOD delivers an all-hazards response capability, along with a comprehensive prevention and training programs. Specifically, in the Navy Region Southwest Fire and Emergency Services, they respond to wildland, structural firefighting, marine, swift water, technical rescue, hazardous materials, active shooter response, and aircraft rescue firefighting. The most rewarding experience is that you are supporting our warfighters when you serve in the DOD.  You are something truly bigger than yourself. The motto of the Navy Region Southwest Fire is “Protecting those who defend America.”  That is indeed what you are doing.  As a previous member of the DOD fire service myself at Naval Air Station Lemoore, we protected over 500 billion dollars of military aircraft alone that supported one of the largest flying missions on the west coast!


So how does one apply?  Well, Chief Connelly suggests you forge relationships with your surrounding departments if there are any.  Otherwise, go to to search for an open job announcement in the 0081 series.  Once you find open jobs, you can search for certification and other job requirements. This site also allows you to create a profile and a resume, apply and track the status of your application.


What makes the DOD unique?  The DOD offers unlimited opportunities for growth both personally and professionally.  As a DOD firefighter, you can transfer or apply for other opportunities throughout the world as long as there is a military base!  You get to see things that many people never see in their lifetime and serve the internal and external communities while protecting those that defend our freedom in the process.

“Everyday wake up with the knowledge that you will succeed, and you will succeed, there is no doubt about it!”  - Regional Fire Chief, Christopher Connelly, Navy Region Southwest Fire & Emergency Services

Facebook Page:  Navy Region Southwest Fire & Emergency Services


Listen to this Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio Show: Episode 1952: The Future Firefighter 

Jacob McAfee, MS, CFO, CTO, MIFireE is a Deputy Chief for the North Central Fire Protection District.  Jacob is a former DoD Fire Chief and has 19 years of fire service experience, where he has served in every major division of the fire service including Chief of Department. A United States Marine Corps Veteran, Chief McAfee served from 1999-2007 including two deployments to Iraq. He has worked for the DOD as a Fire Service professional for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and Navy. Chief McAfee is a registered instructor for the California State Fire Marshal’s Office and the California Specialized Training Institute. Chief McAfee completed the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) and holds Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and Chief Training Officer (CTO) credentials from the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). Additionally, he serves the CPSE as a CFO and CTO peer assessor, a peer team member for CFAI Accreditation assessments, and serves as a curricula SME and instructor Nurturing Fire Service Leaders Through Mentoring. He is the CA State lead advocate and instructor for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and currently serves on the professional development and education committee with the Institute of Fire Engineers as a Member grade. Chief McAfee is a published fire service author writing consistently for Fire Engineering magazine and Fire Rescue International and has presented nationally for ARFF operations and Leading Organization through Change. He holds Masters Degrees in Occupational Safety and Health and Emergency Management while currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Emergency Management with Capella University.



Chris Baker, has over thirteen years of experience in volunteer, combination, and career, fire departments in California.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Anthropology and Associates of Science Degree in Fire Service Command, Company Officer.  Chris is a California State Fire Training certified Fire Officer, Driver-Operator, Fire Instructor, and Lead Firefighter I Certification Evaluator.  He has over nine years of teaching experience as an Adjunct Instructor in the EMS discipline, Firefighter 1 Academy Instructor, and Fire Science Instructor in the California Community Colleges System. Chris is a member of the California Fire Technology Directors’ Association and the California Training Officers Association.  He served as a volunteer Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) for both hiring and recruitment/retention. Chris also served as a Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the FY 2018 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG).  He is a Volunteer Advocate Regional Manager, Region IX (CA, NV, AZ, HI) for the Everyone Goes Home Program through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  Chris also serves as a volunteer member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section serving in their staging area. He was a member of the 2018 and 2019 Safety Stand Down committees.  Chris is a member of the Board of Directors and Public Information Officer (PIO) for the National Fire Heritage Center located in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  He is a National Fire Service Instructor teaching at notable fire conferences across the country including the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International.  Chris is the co-host of the Fire Engineering: The Future Firefighter Podcast, and he writes blog articles published through Firefighter Nation and the Fire Engineering Training Community on mentoring the future generations of the fire service.


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