Thinking of becoming a firefighter and wondering whether you might have got started too late? After all, when you think of recruits to the fire service, you tend to think of younger people fresh from college, rather than older individuals. Is there a point when it’s no longer possible to become a firefighter? This is what you need to know.
You can become a professional firefighter after 30, 40, or even 50 at some fire departments. There are departments that have upper age limits between 28 and 40, while others have no upper age requirements for firefighters. There are usually no upper age limits to be a volunteer firefighter.
We will discuss these variations in age limits for firefighters and how they may or may not keep you from your dream career as a firefighter. Also, we will get into the reasons why some departments do have age limits. Take a look.
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Am I Too Old To Become A Firefighter At 30/40/50?
Officially, there is no maximum age to become a firefighter. You could become a firefighter at the age of 60 if a fire department was willing to hire you.
But that’s the problem – most fire departments aren’t hiring older firefighters.
However, that doesn’t mean that all firefighters start young, I know a few people who managed to get into the job in their 40’s, even though in some areas the cut off age is 35.
FDNY (Fire Department City of New York) even has an upper age limit of 29 years old!
The average age limit seems to be around 35 years old.
For example, Santa Clara County Fire Department (SCCFD) in California has an age range for new firefighter from 21 to 35 years old.
However, there are many others that have no age limit.
Seattle Fire Department is one example where there is no upper age limit.
Thus, it’s not really possible to be “too old to become a firefighter” because that’s not how the system is set up – we’ll look at why there are age requirements for fighters in just a short while.
People are becoming firefighters later than you might think. I work with a few who got hired in their mid-forties, so it’s not too late. However, you may have limited options for fire department jobs that you can apply for after a certain age.
Here is a firefighter in Milwaukee that was hired at 51 years old:
What Is The Average Age To Become A Firefighter?
Most fire departments are looking to recruit someone quite young for their roles. If they can bring somebody on board when they are a fresh-faced 21 or 22-year-old – they’ve got a blank slate to work with.
They get someone that has had no real chance to pick up any bad working habits and someone with 20-30 productive years (or more) in front of them.
That means any investment in training, etc. will provide, at least in theory, the maximum yield.
There is no official average age for recruits, though, this is probably because such data would be hard to aggregate over dozens of different fire departments in a state let alone the number nationwide. However, typically, the younger a recruit is – the better from the department’s point of view.
In my experience, most professional firefighters are hired between 25 and 35 years old, but there are definitely exceptions.
Also read: What Is The Age Limit To Be A Paramedic/EMT?
What Is The Maximum Age To Become A Firefighter?
Again, there is no official maximum age though mandatory retirement may play a part in some places – you can’t work longer than it’s legal to work, that’s for sure.
I know of firefighters who’ve started in their 40s as professional, full-time firefighters, and in some cities, they may actively encourage the older, more life-experienced applicant, because it may allow them to balance the maturity level of their firefighters.
Volunteer firefighters can start later still. One nice story of this is that of Robin Nesdale who became a volunteer firefighter in New York at the age of 56!
Sure, that’s an exception, not the rule, but it just goes to show that nothing is impossible if you want something badly enough.
One thing that you should be aware of is that there is no upper age limit for volunteer firefighters, so if you can meet the other demands of the job, you can possibly become a volunteer even if you can’t get a full-time job.
This video interviews an 85-year-old volunteer firefighter at Rockaway Township Fire Department, in New York:
Don’t worry, though, you won’t be the only volunteer who is a little older than average, it’s a very popular thing to do with generous citizens who are looking to give something back to their community, once they’ve finished working or transitioned to part-time work later in their careers.
You will, however, find that you will be around quite a few very young firefighters too, as it’s highly recommended for kids looking to pursue a career in the fire service to cut their teeth as volunteers.
They can join the service as volunteers from the age of 16 onwards. (I’ve even heard talk that some departments will accept younger applicants).
It’s fair to say that those under 18 are treated differently as volunteers when compared to those over 18. They will usually have a more restricted number of duties they carry out and are often not allowed to do shift work or attend calls (except to observe) until they are older. This is usually for safety or legal reasons.
Also read: What Age Do Firefighters Retire?
Why Are There Age Requirements For Firefighters?
The fire service doesn’t intend to discriminate based on age. The reasons they may have upper age limits are because younger people can be more likely to demonstrate the other attributes that the job demands.
This doesn’t mean that a 40-year-old can’t be fitter than a 20-year-old, for example. Of course, they can.
But in general terms, a would-be 20-year-old firefighter is going to be fitter than your average 40-year-old. They also may have more years of the productive, physical work that is expected of firefighters.
However, you are going to be expected to show the following characteristics:
Be in a good state of health and be physically fit. It might surprise you to learn that the number one killer of firefighters is not fires or even smoke. It’s coronary heart disease.
The younger you are, the more healthy that you are likely to be. Then you also need to be able to haul 75 lbs. of equipment around with you, possibly for hours, when on a call. You need to be able to climb stairs and crawl on your knees in hot conditions, and even carry someone while you do it. There is a definite advantage to being young for these things.
Be in a good state of mental health and be mentally fit. Reaction tests are a good way of gauging mental fitness and you’ll find that younger people do better than older ones in this respect.
And mental health, rather like physical health, tends to decline with age, no shame – it’s how we’re built, but it makes it harder to be a firefighter who needs to make snap decisions and ensure that they and their colleagues and the public are as safe as possible all of the time.
A long-term commitment. This is the biggest stumbling block for older people. Even if you have superb levels of mental acuity and can run a marathon with someone on your back, you have fewer productive years to offer the fire service.
That means investing in training produces a much lower return on investment. In many cases, too low of a return to be worth it.
I would point out though, that not every role in a fire department is in operational firefighting. It is possible to get other jobs in the fire service that don’t require these characteristics, as support personnel are very important too.
Is It Too Late To Become A Firefighter?
Can I become a firefighter at 30/40/50? Yes, but your employment options may become more limited as you get older. That’s because fire fighting is a physical career that puts people under immense stress and there’s a lot of training both on and off the job to carry out the work.
This means that it’s not always economic to take on older firefighters. And it’s not necessarily safe to do so either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work for the fire service as you get older, though. You will just have to do your research and see which departments will allow you to apply. You may also be allowed to become a volunteer firefighter.