Fire departments can be very different in different areas. However, there are some common things that apply to almost every firefighter. If you’re thinking about joining the fire service then we have to warn you, there’s a lot to learn. However, we’ve put together a great list of some of the things you should know to help you get the job you want and to help you excel in it once you are hired.
The 35 things all firefighters should know consists of:
- 25 things that all firefighters should know to get the most out of their career
- 10 things to consider before becoming a firefighter (this will help you get the best start to your career)
Whether you have been a firefighter for years or you are just researching this as a potential career choice, the information contained in this article can be very useful. Keep reading.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide
25 Things All Firefighters Should Know
Now, we’ll take a look at some of the other essential qualities that you’ll need once you’re on the job.
1. Always Respect The Public
Firefighting isn’t a hero’s job or a role that allows you to tell others what to do, it’s a job that focuses on service. Your job is to help people solve their problems be they fire-related, medical-related, or whatever. You won’t be able to do this if those people don’t trust you and relate to you.
That means you always need to talk to the people that you interact with from the public with respect and courtesy. That’s how your build relationships that matter and relationships that last.
2. Safety Is Always Your Goal
You’d be forgiven if you think from watching TV shows that firefighting is all about danger and sacrifice. While, it is true that firefighters may occasionally lose their lives in the commission of their duties – they’re not expected to die for their work.
The number one priority for you as a firefighter is safety – that is your own safety, your crew’s safety, and the public’s safety. You need to step back for a second before you go rushing into a situation and ask, “Is this the safest way to do this?” and if it’s not, change your plan.
This article has some good firefighter safety tips.
3. You Need To Be A Team Player
There may, somewhere out there, be a job in which covering yourself in personal glory is the objective of the day, that job is not firefighting. You’re not in this for credit, you’re in it to save lives and property and to do so safely.
The only way to achieve that is to become an effective and productive member of a firefighting team. That team will have your back when things go wrong, and they expect you to have theirs. If you can’t play for a team, you have no business in the fire service.
This article discuss the importance of teamwork as a firefighter.
4. You Must Be Accountable For Your Actions
The fire service is not a place for children and that means you have to take full responsibility for your own actions, you don’t pass the buck. When you make mistakes as a firefighter, you own them, you learn from them and you grow.
You also understand that there is a chain of command for a reason and that you must follow all reasonable orders and ensure that the officer who gave them is aware that they have been carried out. Accountability is a huge part of successful teamwork too.
5. You Must Respect The Job
Firefighting is not a joke. Not only do firefighters save lives every day but they are respected and well-liked members of the community, when people see a firefighter, they automatically trust them and want to work with them.
There are huge numbers of people around the country who would love to be a firefighter but who will not get there. That means you need to uphold the standards of the job and demonstrate your pride in being a member of the firefighting profession – that means showing true professionalism and working hard at what you do.
6. Show Up Early
The fire service is not for the semi-committed. You need to get to work at least 30 minutes before you’re due to go on shift. This gives you time to work out what you will be doing and to get familiar with any equipment that you’re going to be called upon to work with during the day.
Some will tell you that this is for noobs. We’re telling you that the best firefighters never stop doing this – if you want to be in top form when you’re called upon to act against a fire, you should be properly prepared and this is how you do it.
7. Get Out In Front Of Things
The word “proactive” is thrown around a lot nowadays but it’s exactly what you need in the fire service. Nobody wants to have to boss you around like a recalcitrant child in front of some homework, they want to see you throw yourself into the work.
When the phone rings – you just answer it. When there’s someone at the door – open it. These things might seem small, but they mark you out as someone who genuinely cares and doesn’t leave all the heavy-lifting to others.
8. Get Yourself A Mentor
The best way to learn is to learn from an old hand. That doesn’t mean you need someone to hold your hand every step of the way, but it does mean that you want to find someone you can trust to talk the big learning experiences through with.
Ideally, they’ll be someone in a position that you aspire to in the future – that way they can help you mold and shape your career with the fire service. You’ll need to seek out a mentor and they will play a different role than your supervisor.
This article talks about the goals of mentoring in the fire service and how to achieve them.
9. Be Social
When you are new, you want to show up and introduce yourself to everyone that you see. That means a handshake and a straightforward, “Hi, I’m Firefighter YOURNAME. It’s nice to meet you, today,” when meeting other firefighters. This is an important way to begin developing relationships with your peers.
However, when it comes to officers, you should always use their rank to address them. So, you’d say something along the lines of “Hi captain, I’m firefighter YOURNAME. It’s nice to meet you”. That shows you’re offering respect for their status and service.
This also applies to all firefighters when interacting with the public. You should be friendly and approachable. You are there to serve them.
10. Get To Know The Senior Firefighter
As soon as you begin work in any fire department, you want to know who the senior firefighter is and introduce yourself. Then you want to get them to run you through the basics – where you will sleep, what kind of housework they’d like you to do, that kind of thing.
Don’t bother your officers with these questions, the senior firefighter lays out the basics, the officers are dealing with bigger things and aren’t going to have time to tell you where they’d like you to clean. Respecting the hierarchy of the fire station is important too.
11. Learn To Have Fun
Sure, it’s a serious job and there are plenty of tasks that aren’t always fun while you’re doing them – nobody’s all that delighted to mop a floor (though a pro-tip is to always project happiness when asked to do anything, nobody likes the guy that begrudges the small stuff, either) – but overall, it should be fun.
You get to work with some of the finest people. You serve the public in a way that almost no other profession can. Learn to laugh and learn to smile. You’ll fit in better for it too.
12. Take Care Of Your Physical Fitness
The number one cause of death in fire departments in America today is not fire but heart disease. To be precise, it’s heart attacks. Now, it’s not possible to prevent every heart attack in the world but many can be prevented.
Running up and down stairs is a great way to stay fit but you also need to eat right, meditate and work out to ensure that your body can cope with the enormous strains that you’re going to put on it when things get tough. Your life will be much longer and happier for it.
Here is a look at the fitness requirements for the FDNY:
For more information on firefighter fitness, read: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained
13. Take Care Of Your Mental Health
Running up and down stairs ought to help with the physical fitness, but you need to ensure that you keep your brain in tip top form too. You don’t fight fires with your back, you fight them with your mind.
Sign up for every class that you can to learn more. Get firefighting books and read them. Spend time talking to other more experienced firefighters and come to understand that experience and what their insights are. You can’t afford to stop learning as a firefighter until the day you retire.
The other side to mental health is learning to manage your stress. There are many different ways to do this, but find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help when you need it.
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance is an organization that is working to provide firefighters with the resources they need to manage their mental health and stress.
14. Ditch Your Ego
What nobody needs is the firefighter who brings swaggering overconfidence to the job. These people are dangerous. Once they start thinking they know it all because they’ve “been there and bought the t-shirt”, they stop thinking.
That means you have to treat every day like a rookie to some extent. There’s a never-ending learning curve to being a firefighter and even after 20+ years, you will still encounter brand new situations and need to approach them with a fresh mind.
15. Report Your Stress
Being a firefighter is not easy. Unless you live the most charmed life in the history of the service, you are going to witness trauma during your career. You will get up close to death and horrific injuries and it’s nothing like the experience of seeing this kind of thing on TV.
You will, over time, gain some ability to handle this but everyone feels stress, and sometimes, it can get too much. People will respect you much more if you report feeling overstressed to your officer and get some help for it, rather than if you let yourself burn out while trying to keep it all inside.
Your fellow firefighters want you to be healthy and happy, as does your family. Here is another resource to help firefighters manage their stress.
16. Get Up Early And Go To Bed Late
If you’re the new firefighter in a team, then you’re in charge of making life easier for everyone else. Get up half an hour before your crew rises and ensure there’s a hot cup of coffee waiting for everyone. Do some chores and a little reading on the job.
In the evening, let everyone settle down and then secure the station and get a little more reading done. Stay ahead of the curve.
17. Never Be Afraid To Ask Questions
Nobody expects you to be psychic or to know everything. If you don’t know something – ask. You won’t look stupid if you ask, but if you mess up because you didn’t ask, you probably will look stupid.
The firefighters around you have experience and training too. They have skills that you don’t and vice-versa.
When you ask somebody for the advice or opinion, you’re not being rude or weak, you’re asking them to demonstrate their expertise and that’s a compliment.
Smart people in every walk of life know that the key to success is asking questions.
18. Always Check Your Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is extremely important to your safety as a firefighter. You need to learn how it all goes together and you need to check it before and after each job and each shift to ensure that it’s all in working condition.
Then you check all the other equipment that you’re going to be working with that day. If you’re not prepared to fight fires, you better believe that the fire is prepared to fight you and without working PPE it might just win.
This article goes into detail about how you need to be inspecting your PPE.
19. You Need To Wear Your PPE
We know that PPE is not always the most comfortable of things. In fact, when you throw a self-contained breathing apparatus into the mix a firefighter might be running around with up to 50lbs of gear on! But here’s the thing – your PPE can only do the job of protecting you if you are wearing it.
It is of no use to you in your locker. It’s no good anywhere but on your body. You want everything on and everything working so that you have the best chance of coming back from the next job. Your team is counting on you.
This article covers ways to combat a fire department culture that is resistant to using the proper PPE.
20. Know Your Riding Position And Responsibilities
You may be a team, but you all have individual tasks to carry out. When you start with a crew, your officer will ensure that you are assigned a specific position and that position will come with individual duties that you are expected to carry out when you arrive at an incident.
You have to learn these duties and you have to certain that you know what is needed from you before you head out to an incident. If it sounds a lot like homework, that’s because it is.
21. Get A Turnover From The Off-Going Crew
You never want to go on shift without getting a report from the person on the shift before you in the same role. You want to know if they’ve had any problems or issues. Whether they’ve asked for equipment to be replaced or repaired and what the status is.
Then when you finish your shift, you need to give the next person through the door a similar rundown, their life may depend on this – so, don’t rush it, this is part of your overall responsibility to your fire department.
This seems obvious to many firefighters, but it is often overlooked.
22. You Can’t Rush Acceptance
We know, you want to fit in, and you want to feel like a “real firefighter” on day one in the station. That’s not how it works. Everyone will want to see how you work and how you fit in before they start to feel like you’re a full member of the team.
You need to demonstrate that you can get along with anyone, work hard at anything and that you listen when the chips are down. As you build a level of respect, your team will come to embrace you – you can’t rush this process, it’s as old as the service itself.
23. You Lead By Example
Leadership isn’t a function of rank. Other people will follow you when they have the confidence that you can do a job well and they can trust you to do it. That means you never ask people to tackle something that you can’t do yourself and that you can’t do well.
Leading by example means being ready to step up to the plate when it’s expected of you and to ensure that you give 100% to everything that’s asked of you. If you set the standard of excellence, everyone around you will want to emulate that.
24. Respect Seniors Firefighters
It can often be a rough time when you first join a fire department and you realize that you’re not an authority on firefighting, in fact, you occupy the lowest rung on the ladder. However, if you learn to respect and get on with your seniors then you’ll find things get much easier for you.
These guys have seen more than you and done more than you and that means, they can teach you things, assuming you’re willing to listen and learn. You can offer your opinion in discussions but be prepared to step back and rethink when others talk.
25. You Pay It Forward
Finally, you remember all 35 of these lessons and you pay them forward. When someone else approaches you about becoming a firefighter, you can offer them the help and assistance that others gave you when you were getting started.
That’s what it really means to be a firefighter, to be part of a strong community that cares for and develops each other to ensure the safety of each other and the safety of the public.
That’s what this website is about; me paying forward all the help, knowledge, and guidance I have been given over the years and continue to learn from those more experienced than I.
10 Things To Consider Before Becoming A Firefighter
Let’s start with 10 things that everyone should consider before they make their decision to become a firefighter. These 10 things will help you make an informed decision about becoming a firefighter and position you to make the most out of this incredible career.
1. Learn About The Fire Service
It might sound obvious but if you want to join the fire service, when you get to the interview, they’re going to want to know why. Joining the service ought to be based on an informed decision and that means – knowing your stuff.
You should have an understanding of the big issues facing the firefighter of today and where the service is heading too. It will make you stand out from the competition and give people confidence that you really want the job.
For more information about the fire service and being a firefighter, here are some links to more of our articles, all written by me, a professional firefighter:
2. Get Yourself an EMT Certification
There are still a few fire service jobs where you can get an EMT qualification on the job, but they’re few and becoming fewer. 90% of fire departments will want you to have a basic EMT qualification as a bare minimum for hiring.
Many others will give a strong preference to those would-be firefighters who are fully qualified paramedics. The truth is that there are fewer fires to fight in the 21st century and firefighters spend much of their time attending medical emergencies when they’re not putting out fires.
Here are some tips for EMT or Paramedic School:
For more information about firefighters and medical emergencies, read:
- 7 Reasons Why Firefighters Show Up at Medical Emergencies
- Why Do Firefighters Go to Medical Calls?
- Do Firefighters Have to Be Paramedics or EMTs?
- What is a Firefighter Paramedic? The Job Explained
- Why Do Firefighters Respond to Car Accidents?
3. Volunteer Your Time
You don’t have to volunteer in a fire-related role, but volunteer work shows that you are capable of thinking beyond your own needs and care about the needs of others. That’s the crux of a firefighter’s job after all – serving a community.
Volunteering your time for almost any cause can help you learn to serve others and you’ll also learn skills that will benefit you as a firefighter. One especially relevant way to volunteer is to become a volunteer firefighter.
This shows you are committed, while also giving you a good idea of what being a firefighter is actually like. You may be able to practice some of your EMT skills too and that’s always a good thing.
Here is a look into what it is like to be a volunteer firefighter:
For more information on volunteering, read:
- How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter: A Guide
- U.S. Fire Administration – Info about which fire departments hire volunteers
4. Your Background Investigation Is Important
Bluntly, you won’t get a job as a firefighter if you don’t pass the background investigation and that means you need to prepare for it.
You’ll need to provide in-depth detail on past employment, the schools you attended, your family and friends, significant others, your credit history, your driving record, past drug use, your military history, and almost every certificate, license, etc. that you own.
It is vital that this is completed in full (it can run to 20+ pages) and you will normally only get a week to do it. False statements or inaccurate statements will lead to rejection. So, it’s best to get this together before they need it.
They may check the accuracy of the information you provide by having you take a polygraph (lie detector) test.
In this video a firefighter talks about the background investigation and some tips for getting through it:
Read: Can You Be a Firefighter with Past Drug Use?
5. Learn Some Fire Science/Technology
It’s usually not required that you have a fire science degree to become a firefighter, but ask yourself; if you were on the hiring team and you had to choose between an applicant who understood fire technology and one who didn’t, who would you pick?
Many of the firefighter candidates that you will be competing against will have college degrees, especially in fire science or fire technology. So getting some higher education is a great idea.
Learning fire technology at your local community college will help demonstrate your commitment to your future career and you’ll get deep insight into some of the big problems that firefighters face on the job, today.
Here is another firefighter’s opinion on college degrees for firefighters:
For more information on firefighters and college, read: What Should Firefighters Major In? Firefighter College Degrees
6. Stay Clean
We don’t mean hygiene (though that’s definitely important) but we do mean in your behavior across the board. When it comes to predicting the future, the only tool that hiring managers have is the past. It may be flawed but it’s better than anything else.
You want to keep your credit record in good standing, avoid arrests and traffic tickets, don’t get into vehicle accidents, and stay out of trouble at school.
All of these things will show up on your background investigation. These things will help the department know that you’re not a risk when they offer you a job.
This article talks about what you can expect on a firefighter background check so that you are prepared.
7. Get Some Life Experience
Firefighters don’t just fight fires and treat people in emergencies, they do a lot of basic housework around the fire station. If you can show that you’re competent and willing to clean a toilet, sweep a floor, change the oil in a car, etc. then you’re in a good position.
If you can also show that you have the skills to deal with people (customer service skills are paramount in any job which interfaces with the public) then you’re golden.
Get out and get work experience in a variety of different roles and when you head to the fire service, you’ll have a lot more to offer.
8. Visit Your Local Fire Station
You don’t have to volunteer at the fire department, but you ought to at least interact with it. Find out if there’s a cadet/junior firefighter/fire explorer program and sign up if you’re able. If not, go to an open day or two – talk to firefighters about the career and ask for their advice.
Get networking and learn what’s good and what’s bad about the fire department they work for, try not to accept every comment at face value, mind you, but do get the big picture. This will really help when you’re asked, “Why do you want to work here?” because you’ll be able to answer it based on reality.
This article has some good information about making a good first impression when visiting a fire station/house.
9. Learn The Language
No, not English or Spanish, though they can both definitely help when applying for a job. Learn the language of firefighting.
If you can get comfortable with the basic acronyms and equipment names, etc. that you will come into contact with, in daily working life – you’re going to sound more credible in your interviews.
This article is a great start to learning some terminology and this article has some firefighter slang you may run across.
10. Practice Firefighter Tests
Yup, take the tests. You can fail, it does not matter. This isn’t about getting a perfect score, at least to start with, as it is about helping you to identify what you don’t know. Then you can go back and learn the things you didn’t know and try again. This allows for much more efficient practice and studying.
You should also take the physical test because that really does require some intense preparation, particularly if you’re not a college athlete. So, sign up for any tests at your local fire department and see what more you need to do before you’re good enough to get in.
For information on firefighter tests, read:
- Firefighter Written Test: What to Expect and How to Prepare
- The 14 Best Firefighter Exam Prep Books and Tools
- 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT
We hope that our 35 things all firefighters should know guide has been useful to you, whether you are considering a career in firefighting or whether you’re looking to develop your abilities as a firefighter. The job is hard, but it’s also incredibly rewarding when you know what you’re doing.
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