With unemployment high, many people with jobs are grateful to get their weekly paychecks, but that feeling alone doesn’t take the stress out of the daily grind.

To get a sense of the most stressful jobs in America, looked at 21 different factors that can cause stress on the job, and ranked 200 professions by how significantly these demands factor into the average workday. Factors that weighed into stress levels included work environment, job competitiveness, opportunity for advancement and even perceived risk of unemployment. CareerCast has also included a range of unemployment each profession faces around the country, a number which contributes to perceived risk of unemployment.

Here are the most stressful jobs in America:

1. Firefighter

Stress Rank: 200
Stress Score: 110.936
Unemployment: 0%-4%
Hours Per Day: 11
Time Pressure: Very High
Competition: Low

“Firefighters frequently work irregular or unusual hours, or remain on call throughout the night. They risk heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation, and serious injury while on the job, and even the state of anticipation preceding a major threat can be highly stressful in itself. Firefighters are also sometimes required to spend long hours outdoors in bad weather,” says LINK

As if there was ever a question about it! I’ll bet those commercial fishing guys are weeping in their beers now! Seriously, this list may or may not reflect the reality of the situation, but there is a certain amount of truth in it. Objectively speaking there are many jobs that are technically “harder” than being a firefighter on a daily basis. I’ll give you one: jackhammer operator. How do I know this? Because my friend and neighbor Fireboat John had me operating one all day today.

I woke up late this morning as I was in between day and night shift. To my utter horror, I looked outside I saw a dumpster in John’s driveway. I remember him saying something about breaking up his back patio the other day. I began to shake out the cobwebs and think back if he invited me to help. Of course he did. So I put on my concrete breaking clothes (pretty much what I always wear) and staggered over to help. I spent most of the morning and afternoon jackhammering and helping him haul the concrete away. At least he got a dumpster this time.

But in the context of this list operating a jackhammer, day in and day out, every day, is just killer work. It will eventually kill you if you do it long enough. But it is what it is. Generally unskilled labor. Anyone can do it as long as they can operate the equipment. You can do it as long as your body holds out as well. But it is hard.

On the other hand, firefighting is different in significant ways. For one, you never know what you will face. Ever. When the bells ring you are called out for whatever emergency strikes. For example, last night our ladder made three serious fires in the course of their shift. They spent over four hours in service. That means they were working at 100% capacity the entire time. The stress and wear on their bodies in those four hours is close to what the jackhammer operator experiences in many shifts. We do this year round in biting cold and searing heat. The fireground danger is constant and unpredictable.

So while firefighters may not be fighting fires constantly, the build up to every incident big or small leaves us in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. You can never really relax when your gear is on the truck. When you do sleep during the long night shifts it’s not real sleep. You are usually in a semi-conscious state that only leaves you more tired when your tour is over. The day and night shift rotation takes a physical toll on you as well.

Then there is the mental aspect of the job. Firefighters need to be able to compartmentalize. I don’t know how many deceased people I have encountered during my career. Sometimes it’s hard to go home at the end of a particularly bad shift. The circumstances are always different. There are times when bad things simply happen and someone has to be there to keep society functioning. Often we have to break the news to family members that their loved one has passed. Tragedies involving children are tremendously difficult – as anyone can imagine – especially for firefighters with kids of their own. So while we may cook big dinners with our buddies and co-workers, unlike the jackhammer operator we never know what our shift has in store for us.



  1. Wyatt Earp says:

    Philadelphia Blogger is #2.

  2. Old NFO says:

    Interesting to note that no military jobs were on there… Flight Deck operations are right up there with firefighting… I’ve done both, and in both cases you NEVER know what is going to happen next…

  3. Wyatt Earp says:

    Fifth? I demand a recount!

  4. NFO- I think military jobs were deliberately left out. For sure they are the hardest of them all.

    Wyatt- surprised you guys even made the list!

  5. Dustoff says:

    Well Capt. Speaking about jobs.
    Tomorrow is it for me. I’ll hang up my bunkers/IV’s and put on a flightsuit.

    It’s been a 20 year blast.
    I wonder where flightnurses rank on this list?

    PS… I’ll still be around.

  6. Best of luck Dusty. Be safe and please keep in touch!

%d bloggers like this: