Need flexibility? Consider a high paid civil service job in San Francisco.

For effective altruists, there can be a lot of value gained by visiting the bay area and being able to have conversations, get feedback on your ideas in a rapid manner, and to find new opportunities. Barriers to doing this include cost of living and a lack of job opportunity, which can lock people in fairly undesirable positions elsewhere. This is one idea for how to gain flexibility to come to the bay sooner.

In San Francisco, the starting pay range for firefighters is $72,670.00 – $112,190.00 per year. The pay range for police officers is even higher. For firefighting, work is roughly 9-10 days per month in 24 hour shifts during which you would live, eat, and sleep at a firehouse. Applications are rolling, so you can apply any time.

To apply, you must:

  • have EMT certification which can transfer to California
  • have a California driver’s license
  • Be older than 19 (you can apply at 19, but must be 20 by the time you are hired)
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have no significant criminal background (no felonies, or recent misdemeanors)

It is very competitive, you’ll want to get much better than minimum scores on all their tests if possible, but there are more than 300 spots that will need to be filled before 2020. Selection is based on:

  • Video based social skills and human relations test
  • A mechanical aptitude test
  • A math test
  • A reading test
  • A firefighting specific physical fitness test
  • A medical and vision exam

If you already have EMT, the cost to preparing seems likely to not be very large (otherwise, EMT will take you 180 hours), and due to the way your work time is blocked into shifts it seems reasonable that firefighting/EMS work is a good way to buy yourself time to work on a startup that can’t pay you yet, start doing a master’s degree to pivot, teach yourself coding, volunteer for an EA org online, or learn other things.

There are significant risks to being a firefighter, though many of these are due to bad decisions. For example, in the past many firefighters would remove their breathing apparatus right after a fire had been put out: increasing the odds they they would inhale smoke and therefore increasing their future disease burden/ cancer risk. On the other hand, many firefighters become obese and this is likely due to the combination of sleep interruption and firehouse diet which are harder factors to control. Your odds of actually dying in a fire are pretty low and the death rate of fire fighters appears to be lower than that of the general working population.

If you are interested in this idea, I recommend sending me questions and then attending an information session if you are still interested.



  1. Effective Altruism Grants exist now! If you have good plans, try one before spending weeks training to be a civil servant.


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