Some people grow up knowing that being a firefighter is the career choice for them. However, this is not the case with many. Just because you pursued another job path or have been working in a totally unrelated field, does not mean that you can’t make the change to being a professional, career firefighter. In order to make the change, there are some things that you need to know.
Changing careers to become a firefighter is actually quite common. Making the switch from another line of work can be challenging, but it is well within reach. You must first commit to the difficult process of getting hired as a professional firefighter.
At least in the US, firefighting is a fairly competitive job to get into. It can take some time to get the necessary training, education, and experience that is needed to be a great firefighter candidate, but there are also some tricks to the process. Let’s take a look.
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Is Becoming a Firefighter a Good Career Choice?
Running into a burning building is not something that everyone is cut out for, and that’s ok. Being a firefighter is not for everyone. However, a firefighting career can be very rewarding.
A study in Chicago showed that firefighters have one of the highest levels of job satisfaction of any career (80%). Other sources say firefighters rate their satisfaction as a 9 out of 10 (higher than most other professions).
In my experience, this seems to be the case. Most firefighters enjoy their work and don’t dread coming into the fire station.
Fire fighting requires someone with excellent physical fitness, who works well as a member of a team, can handle the stress found in emergency situations, and enjoys solving all types of problems.
Firefighters do a whole lot more than fire suppression these days. When someone doesn’t know who else to call for help, they call the fire department. That’s why we need to be ready and equipped to handle a wide variety of emergencies.
From medical calls, to dumpster fires, to water leaks, to fire alarm malfunctions, to lift assists (helping someone who fell but isn’t injured to get back up), to car accidents, firefighters are ready for whatever the next call may be.
When we say that being a firefighter is rewarding, I’m talking about helping people. We have the opportunity to really help people when they need it the most.
To go home knowing that you did all you could to help someone else on what maybe was the most difficult day of their life and that you actually made a difference, is very rewarding. Not many other jobs give you this opportunity.
As I said, this career path is not for everyone, but if you enjoy helping people, working as a team, and solving physical and mental challenges, then you should look into becoming a professional firefighter.
Requirements to Become a Firefighter
The path to becoming a firefighter can be long and full of challenges. But, it is well worth the time and effort. It is the best career I can imagine and I am thankful every day for the job I have.
Once you decide that emergency services are the right field for you and that you want to work as a fire fighter, you need to start by getting the minimum training and certifications that are required to apply for the position.
Now, these basic requirements can vary a bit depending on where you are located, but throughout the US, most fire departments will require a prospective firefighter to:
- Be 18 or older (sometimes over 21)
- High school diploma or GED
- Valid driver’s license
- EMT certification (Emergency Medical Technician) (includes CPR)
- CPAT certification (or similar physical ability exam)
Those are the basics, but some may also require:
- Paramedic License
- Firefighter 1 academy certification
- Work experience as an EMT or Paramedic
- Fire Science or Fire Technology, or other college degree
- Volunteer or other firefighting experience
Some candidates may also have:
- Years of professional firefighting experience
- An Associate degree
- A Master degree
- Hazardous Materials certifications
- Experience in fire prevention or fire investigation
But these are rarely necessary and you can get hired without them.
Here is some more information about the requirements:
I recommend you do some research into the fire departments in your area (or the area that you want to work) and find out what they ask you to have before applying. Even go to your local fire house to ask some questions.
Once you find the basics that you need in your area, your first step is to complete these. EMT is usually a great place to start.
Here are some resources to help you with the EMT or Paramedic process:
- Why Do Firefighters Go to Medical Calls?
- What Is The Age Limit To Be A Paramedic/EMT?
- Do Firefighters Have to Be Paramedics or EMTs?
- Is The EMT State Exam/Test (NREMT) Hard To Pass?
Am I Too Old to Become a Firefighter?
If you are getting a later start on your firefighting career, you may be worried about age limits for new firefighters.
Some fire departments do have maximum age requirements for those applying for firefighter jobs, but many have no such requirements.
My advice to you is that if you are truly passionate about this job path to not let being older than some applicants hold you back. While it is true that some departments may not let you apply after a certain age, there are just as many that don’t care.
You may have to be more flexible with the area in which you are willing to work, to get around any of these age restrictions.
The department where I work has hired multiple new firefighters in their mid 40’s and some firefighters have even gotten hired later than that. If you can prove you are physically fit and are able to excel at the job, your age should not keep you from getting the firefighter job you want.
- Can I Become A Firefighter At 30/40/50? Am I Too Old?
- What Is the Age Limit to Become a Firefighter? Requirements
What is the Firefighter Hiring Process?
After you get the basics under your belt and are able to start applying for jobs, you need to know what to be prepared for in the hiring process.
The hiring process usually includes:
- Written exam
- Physical ability test or CPAT
- Oral board interview/s
- Chief’s interview
- Background Investigation (criminal, driving, credit, etc.)
- Medical exam
- Drug screening
- Psychological exam
- Polygraph test (Lie-detector)
- Fire Academy
- Probation period as a new firefighter
This can vary and you may not have all these steps or they may be in a different order, but these are the most common.
The hiring process can take a few months or even a few years, depending on how you do, the number of open positions, budgets, and length of time the list is valid.
Don’t get discouraged by this long and competitive process, as it is more than worth it. Just know that it may take a while before you are riding on the fire truck.
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Is it Hard to Get a Job as a Firefighter?
Yes. Becoming a paid, career firefighter, in the US, is very competitive and it is not easy. Some areas may have less competition than others, but it usually takes a while.
The reason becoming a firefighter can be so difficult is because it is such a great job.
In addition to the dynamic work and ability to help others, firefighters also enjoy a work schedule that allows for more quality time off, good benefits, and decent pay (in most areas). It is a career that is both fun, fulfilling and allows you to provide a good life for yourself and your family.
It’s no wonder this job is so competitive.
But don’t feel that because others have started this process younger, that you won’t be able to stand out as a candidate and get the job you want. If you are coming from a different career, you bring a type of work experience that can be invaluable.
Older candidates can be seen as desirable by many fire departments due to the diverse life experience they bring. Every young candidate with the same certifications and experiences will blend together. While someone with a different past or even a few more years can add desirable qualities to the fire department team.
Becoming a firefighter is hard, but that is for a reason. Put in the work and you can separate yourself as the ideal candidate and get the job you want.
How Can I Increase my Chances of Becoming a Firefighter?
Whether you are 18 years old or 50, my advice is the same – focus on the hiring process.
If you know this is the career path for you and you are passionate about a career as a firefighter, the fastest way to get hired is to focus on the hiring process itself.
This may sound obvious, but it’s not. After most people fail to get hired on a test, they just keep taking classes, certifications, and getting more educations and experience. These are all great things to do, but they don’t get you hired.
If you want to increase your chances of becoming a firefighter, you need to master the testing process.
Once you meet the minimum requirements to apply, I recommend you spend most of your time on the oral board interviews. If you can humbly sell yourself well in the interview, you can get hired with fewer qualifications, less experience, or even if you are older than the average candidate.
The interviews can be challenging and overwhelming. For some tips, read: 15 Firefighter Interview Tips: Expectations and Preparation
Making a career change can be stressful, especially when changing to a competitive job like the fire service However, for those suited to it, it is an amazing job that is unlike any other. If you put in the time and focused effort, becoming a firefighter is within your reach, regardless of past jobs or your age.