Firefighter EMT vs. Paramedic: What’s the Difference?

If you are looking into an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) career or Paramedic, then chances are you may be torn between the two. While both of these titles are honorable and almost serve the same purpose, there are still some differences to look into that may help you determine which title you choose. So, if you are not sure what the difference is between an EMT and Paramedic, then keep on reading!

There is only one big difference between an EMT and a Paramedic, their education level and responsibility. A Paramedic requires more training and deals with high-risk emergencies, while the EMT training can be completed in about 160 hours.

So, if you are torn between choosing between the two careers, there’s no need to worry. This article will provide you with enough information to make an honest decision and select a job that best fits your long-term goals.

What’s the Difference?

Now that you have a small idea of the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic, it’s time to dig a bit deeper. While the education level is a significant difference between the two positions, there are some tasks that a Paramedic can do that an EMT is not qualified to do.


An EMT usually learns their skills by taking a course. Instead of a college degree, you can get your certification and training through your local fire department or community college. The EMT course will consist of lectures, hands-on training, field training, asthma and allergen response, and CPR certification.

Firefighter EMT vs. Paramedic: What's the Difference?

In some cases, being an EMT is also an extension of a firefighter’s daily duty. While they are likely to assist with fire, they can also provide medical attention in an emergency. This is why in some large cities, you’ll find EMTs stationed in fire stations alongside firefighters.


A Paramedic is expected to provide more advanced care and usually goes to a high-risk emergency scene. Paramedics are expected to know about cardiology, anatomy, physiology, and specific medical procedures. The training to become a Paramedic is much more advanced than its counterpart, and while a degree is not required, the training can take anywhere from 6 weeks to two years, depending on the program.

As you can see, it all comes down to the level of training. While they are both great career paths, an EMT is considered a more basic position than a Paramedic. The path you choose should be based on how much time you have for training and whether you want to do this long-term or short-term.

What Does an EMT Do?

Before you decide to go down the path of an EMT, it is vital to note what it is that they do. You must have a good understanding of what exactly the day-to-day tasks of an EMT consist of before deciding to become one. Here are just a few key responsibilities.

  • Moving patients between facilities when necessary. In cases like this, an EMT either moves a patient from an emergency scene or between medical facilities. A great example is nursing home patients who are considered to have high-risk medical conditions and need to move from a nursing home to a hospital.
  • Stabilizing a patient. If there is an emergency, an EM transports the patient from the scene to the hospital. During this time, they are expected to keep the patient stable and the injury under control. This includes CPR and various tests that have to be communicated with emergency room personnel.
  • Respond to 911. This is by far the most obvious but still important to know. During this time, an EMT may be dispatched by 911 to tend to an emergency at which the EMT will provide medical assistance.
  • Provide CPR to a patient. This is very important and will be one of the first things you learn during training. An EMT is expected to provide CPR to unresponsive patients at the scene or en route to the hospital.
  • Ensuring patient safety during transport. This is another important responsibility for an EMT. As an EMT, you must restrain a patient safely to prevent more harm on the way to the hospital.

As you can see, an EMT’s responsibility is quite substantial, and these are just a few of the tasks that they do daily. If you are considering a career in medicine, this is a great first step for you to learn the basics of medicine and what this field offers.

How to Become An EMT

If you are looking to become an EMT, then you do not need to worry about obtaining a four-year degree because it is not required. A High School Diploma or equivalent is sufficient enough education for you to sign up for the training program.

One of the requirements for becoming an EMT is obtaining a CPR certification and completing the training program, which averages 150 hours. This program can be taken at a local college in your city or through a fire department. Once the program has been completed, the applicant is expected to take and pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician’s exam.

Firefighter EMT vs. Paramedic: What's the Difference?EMT Training

If you are still considering going down this path, it is important to familiarize yourself with the training process. Prior medical experience or knowledge is not required to obtain an EMT certification, just a high school diploma. EMT training includes:

  • Preparation for the course. In this part of the course, you will learn some of the basics of being an EMT, such as legal ramifications, ethics, lifting and moving patients, and basic anatomy.
  • Managing a patient’s airway. In this part of the course, you will be trained to manage a patient’s airway when they cannot breathe.
  • Patient assessment before transport. Assessing a patient is an integral part of the job. During this part of the training, a trainee learns to evaluate the patient to provide the doctors and nurses at the hospital with enough information for proper care.
  • Preparing for medical emergencies. As an EMT, you will be the first person on the scene. This often requires rigorous mental preparation for often tragic events. During this part of the training, you will be trained on handling emergencies ranging from an overdose to respiratory failure.
  • Dealing with trauma. This part of the training will teach you to deal with trauma from a scene and the best practices for safe transport.

As you can see, the training for an EMT is fundamental and straightforward, which gives you an idea of what the day-to-day activities of an EMT may consist of.

What Does a Paramedic Do?

A Paramedic is usually the lead on an ambulance or emergency transport. They are at the top of the food chain when working on the scene in emergencies concerning injured people. Paramedics are also authorized to work in air ambulance helicopters when they are expected to transport a patient to another city. Here are just a few key responsibilities that a Paramedic responds to frequently.

  • Stabilizing a patient while in transport. Like an EMT, a Paramedic is expected to stabilize a patient while transporting them to the hospital.
  • Deliver babies when necessary. Suppose a woman is being transported to the hospital by a Paramedic and she is in labor. In that case, the Paramedic is expected to deliver the baby if the woman is in distress. The Paramedic will then keep the baby and mother stable until they arrive at the hospital.
  • Stabilize a collapsed lung. If a patient has a collapsed lung, then the Paramedic is expected to stabilize the patient by sticking a needle in the patient’s chest. This reinflate’s the lung and buys time for the patient en route to the hospital.
  • Providing medical care at the scene. If the emergency scene is catastrophic, then the Paramedic may need to provide medical treatment at the scene of the emergency.
  • Administering intravenous drugs. Since paramedics have more training than EMTs, they can administer IV drugs and medication en route to the hospital. This is important when transporting emergency patients who may be in extreme pain. Paramedics are specially certified for this task.
Firefighter EMT vs. Paramedic: What's the Difference?

As you can see, a Paramedic job is much more demanding and brings a great deal of responsibility. A Paramedic will be in high-stress situations and will likely deal with high-risk medical emergencies.

Paramedic Training

Universities and Community Colleges around the country offer paramedic training. Paramedics are highly emergency medicine providers and an integral part of the first responder team. Paramedic training can be competitive and consume a large amount of time during the process. That process includes many different components.

  • Associate’s degree or some college. Paramedics need college-level biology, math, and English to be accepted into a paramedic program. This is due to the intense rigor and leadership skills required by somebody in this position.
  • State qualifications and licensing. If you’re looking into becoming a paramedic, check your state licensure qualifications. States require a final licensing exam before becoming a paramedic due to the nature of the job.
  • Types of courses needed. Some of the courses required are the prerequisites to becoming a nurse. Paramedics need to study anatomy and physiology, advanced pediatric and adult life support, and basic trauma life support. This job isn’t for the faint of heart.
  • Pharmacology. This is listed separately from the other courses due to the nature of the qualification. Paramedics must take a pharmacology class or class to learn about the different drugs they can administer in emergencies. Many of these are controlled substances or can have fatal reactions with other medications.
  • Basic firefighter training. Because paramedics are attached to a fire department more often than not, they will need to go through firefighter training in conjunction with a paramedic’s formal education. This can be intense and rigorous.

As you can see, being a paramedic is more intense and in-depth than being an EMT. The schooling and the job training are higher and are more time-consuming. Also, being a paramedic has a lot higher level of responsibility.

More tips on EMTs HERE.

So, What’s Best?

The truth is that this all depends on what you want to do in the long term. If you are interested in a medical field career, becoming an EMT is a great place to start. You will learn the basics and get a small taste of what the medical field offers.

If you already have your mind made up and have time to go through more vigorous training, then a Paramedic career may be the best fit for you. A career as a Paramedic is suggested for those who want to work in the medical field long term.

Q&A Section

How much does an EMT course cost?

This depends on where you decide to take the course. However, this cost can range anywhere from $1,000 to USD 1,750.

How old do I need to be to become a paramedic?

The minimum age requirement for you to become a paramedic is 18 years old.

How much does a paramedic course cost?

State requirements vary, but typically a paramedic course can last 1-2 years and cost in the range of $3,000 to $13,000.

Does a paramedic have to have an Associate’s degree?

It’s not a requirement for a paramedic to have a degree, but it is highly encouraged due to the job’s nature. Paramedics with at least an Associate’s or 2-year college degree are more competitive in the job market than ones without.

Related Questions

1.Can a nurse work as an EMT or Paramedic?

Yes. So saying, these two jobs are entirely different in terms of what they can take care of, and the duties. Paramedics and EMTs are first responders and have a different mindset than nurses. Nurses are used to receiving orders from a doctor or other medical staff, and EMTs or Paramedics sometimes have to make independent decisions based on the patient’s needs at the moment, oftentimes without a doctor’s input.

2. What is the most challenging thing about being an EMT or Paramedic?

When asked this question, many EMTs and Paramedics stated it wasn’t the job itself that was most difficult, or even dealing with death or astonishing trauma but knowing they were the most knowledgable person in the ambulance in terms of medical care. That knowledge can be extremely stress-inducing at times.

Related Articles

FSOT Guide: What to Expect and How to Prepare.

To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.

Free civil service guide. Click here to learn more:

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.