Why do so many firefighters have a ‘Type A’ personality?

You must be a certain type of person – driven, competitive, organized – to be drawn to a career in firefighting.

By Megan Wells, FireRescue1 Contributor 

In a recent conversation with a retired fire chief, I asked if there were similarities between the firefighters he’d worked with over the years. Without hesitation, the retired chief said, “All firefighters are so damn Type A.”

He might be on to something. 

What are common traits of Type A personalities?

Personality types were first researched by Meyer Friedman, M.D. and RH Rosenman, M.D., who were trying to find a correlation between mental state and physical health.

Friedman and Rosenman monitored patients with heart conditions in a hospital waiting room. Unlike most patients, who waited patiently, some people seemed unable to sit in their seats for long. They tended to sit on the edge of the seat and stood up frequently. This observation began to outline the Type A personality. 

Since the label Type A was created, further research has defined what it means to be Type A. According to Simply Psychology, people with a Type A personality are typically:

- Competitive

- Self-critical

- Have high work involvement

- Extroverts

- Feel a constant sense of urgency

- Concerned with time management

- Organized

Do these traits sound familiar? It turns out Type A is relatively common at the fire station. 

Type A and firefighters

One volunteer firefighter in the Boston area wrote a document highlighting, in his opinion, common personality traits he sees with the firefighters in his crew. Many of his observations follow suit with how a Type A person is characterized – many firefighters are extroverts, many firefighters feel the need to be in control, and firefighters are quick to blame themselves.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has a similar opinion on the characteristics of firefighters: “The personality traits or characteristics of emergency responders have been described as action-oriented risk takers, even to the point of being obsessive compulsive in many cases.” 

Making Type A traits work for you 

Having a Type A personality can be rewarding for firefighters. According to a white paper written by Macrothink Institute, personality traits like extroversion, openness and conscientiousness may contribute to the risk-taking needed in the fire profession. For firefighters who have not had their turn at “the big one” yearn for the opportunity and are eager to step up to the occasion when it arises. A more timid personality type may not share this sense of urgency or high work involvement. 

The USFA has written about harnessing the typical characteristics of a firefighter and channeling them toward productivity, “In the fire service, we want people who will run toward the fire, but recognize that there are responsibilities with that.” These responsibilities include knowing when taking a risk is helpful or harmful. Maintaining helpful communication with your crew is another crucial responsibility while on the scene. 

FireRescue1 also details what it takes to be a firefighter

- Organization. Firefighters must be able to organize a great deal of information in a short period of time under extreme mental, physical and psychological conditions. 

- Extraversion. Being a firefighter requires a great deal of public and personal contact. A wide range of interpersonal skills is imperative. 

- Time management. Fighting fires will make up a tiny fraction of your time spent on duty. Being a firefighter requires more skills than   just fighting fires like: Knowledge of city policies, ability to inspect equipment routinely, understanding safety practices, and ability to tackle administrative responsibilities, to name a few. 

Take the quiz: Are you Type A?


Word of warning for Type A

Type A traits can contribute to stress, which is a double-edged sword for this already stressful occupation. It’s not surprising that firefighters have an increased risk for stress-related health issues like high blood pressure. Running on high adrenaline in high-stress situations too frequently is unhealthy, and it’s important to find an outlet to help cope with stress, such as yoga, running, meditating, fishing or camping.

It makes sense why Type A personalities are drawn to a career in firefighting –  Type A traits are practically copied from a firefighter’s job description. If you are Type A, it’s important to understand what positive and negative habits accompany your personality traits. 

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