How Can I Become a Certified First Responder?

A certified first responder is an integral member of the emergency medical services team. Get information about the courses and training needed to work in this field, and learn how to get certified and licensed. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified First Responder?

A certified first responder is a medical professional who provides basic medical care at the scene of emergencies and in the back of emergency transport vehicles, like ambulances. They are qualified to perform basic first aid, treat shock, stabilize injuries and use epi-pens to combat seizures, among other tasks. In order to get a job, they must be certified by the National Registry of Emergency Technicians. You may be interested in some key details about this career, provided in the table below:

Degree Required Certification program
Key Responsibilities Provide emergency medical treatment, assess emergency situations, transport patients
Licensure Requirements State licensure necessary
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 24% (for all EMTs and Paramedics)
Median Salary (2015)* $31,980 (for all EMTs and Paramedics)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Can I Help People as a Certified First Responder?

A certified first responder is the lowest of five levels of emergency medical service (EMS) providers certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). As a certified first responder, you're the first to arrive to the scene of a medical emergency or trauma, such as a car accident. It's your job to assess the patient and provide initial pre-hospital medical assistance using limited medical equipment. Managing wounds, performing CPR and treating shock are a few tasks performed by a certified first responder. Your job may also include immobilizing or transporting patients.

As a certified first responder, you would also be responsible for calling other EMS providers to the scene and assisting them with patient care as necessary. For example, you might assist emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics with basic medical care or even out-of-hospital childbirth.

Complete a Training Program

You don't need a degree to become a certified first responder, but you do need to earn certification. To do so, you must first complete between 40 and 60 hours of training. A variety of options are available through online programs and community colleges. Community organizations like the American Red Cross sometimes offer training programs for certified first responders as well.

Certification requirements vary by state, and your state EMS office can provide the details. In order to become certified through the NREMT, the training program you select must meet the national standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation. You generally need a high school diploma or its equivalent to enter such a program.

What Will I Learn?

In a certified first responder training program, you can learn how to provide pre-hospital medical care. Beyond just basic first aid and CPR, you can also learn how to assess the scene and address life-threatening injuries that relate to a patient's circulation, breathing and airway. Your training course usually includes instruction in treating muscle and bone injuries, soft tissue injuries and bleeding, as well as the proper way to lift and move a patient.

Although most of your training focuses on adult patients, you can also learn how to provide basic medical care for children and assist with childbirth. Additional instruction covers the roles of the EMS system and the emotional, safety and ethical issues surrounding certified first responder work.

Take the Certification Exam and Obtain Licensure

Completing a state-approved training program is the first step toward becoming a certified first responder. After completing your training, you should be prepared to take the certification exam as required by your state. Forty-six out of the 50 states certify at least one level of EMS provider via the NREMT, which requires you to pass a written and practical exam. Other states have their own testing standards, but every state requires certified first responders to pass an exam, complete continuing education credits and re-certify periodically.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Because certified first responders are the lowest level of the EMS team, you have room to advance your career if you'd like to continue your training. You might decide to become certified as an EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate or paramedic, which would qualify you to perform more advanced medical procedures. For instances, paramedics can administer oral or intravenous medications, and they can interpret electrocardiograms. However, it is important to note that you would have to complete additional training programs for one of these jobs. Alternatively, you could choose another career in emergency services, such as a position as a dispatcher. They answer 911 phone calls and send out ambulances, fire trucks or police, depending on the nature of the incident. The minimum educational requirement for this job is a high school diploma.

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