Fire Academy 101: What to Expect, How to Prepare and Succeed

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Are you considering becoming a firefighter, but aren’t quite sure what to expect from a fire academy, what fire academy is like, and how to prepare for it? You’re not alone – many others have posed the same questions. 

Fire Academy students can expect to complete about 600 hours of training total, over the course of anywhere from 10 to 24 weeks. Fire Academy is comprised of academic classes, physical conditioning, EMT knowledge, and manipulative firefighting skills. 

To prepare for fire academy, students should meet the basic requirements of the academy, save for the costs, begin getting more physically fit, start waking up earlier, begin planning meals, and set expectations for themselves and their families. 

You don’t have to walk into fire academy blind or not knowing what to expect – we’ve got a complete guide for you right here. Welcome to fire academy 101 – your crash course on fire training before the actual academy!

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: Can You Fail the Fire Academy? Yes, Here’s How

How Long is the Academy?

Note: There is a difference between a college fire academy and a fire academy that you are put through after you get hired by a fire department. They both may cover much of the same education, skills, and training, but they may have different schedules, expectations, standards, and costs.

We get it: you have a life, and fire academy is undoubtedly a big-time investment. You’re probably wondering just how long fire academy takes, and what the academy and training is like during that time period.

After all, when getting ready to embark on a new experience, it’s only natural to want to know what you’re getting into. 

So, just how long is the fire academy? How is all that time spent – and what is training like? Let’s find out. 

Training Program Length

The length of the fire academy varies per program and can even vary per person. 

A department hiring academy is usually full-time, which means 40+ hours per week. But many college Firefighter 1 academies allow prospective students to attend part-time. 

This is great for those that still need to work during the firefighter training process and can only attend part-time. Because fire academies can be either part-time or full time, the length of fire academy can vary. 

Fire Academy students can expect their program to last anywhere from 10 to 24 weeks, depending on how often they attend. 

Students that attend an academy full time will most often complete the program in 10 to 16 weeks. Students that attend part-time will take a bit longer to complete the program – anywhere from 16 to 24 weeks. 

Whether you are in a part-time or full-time fire academy, firefighting students can expect to complete at least 600 hours of training total. 

Also read: How Much Does It Cost To Become A Firefighter? Firefighter Answers

What is Firefighting Training Like? 

firefighter training with live fire

Since fire academy students can expect to complete about 600 hours of training over the course of 10 to 24 weeks, they often wonder what that training is like and what it entails. 

Firefighting training will be a different experience for every student. However, in a broader sense, firefighting training varies per academy and location. These aspects are important to keep in mind as we continue discussing what firefighter training is like.

To really break down what firefighting training can be like, we’ll discuss a few different aspects of it – what firefighting training teaches, an overview of what firefighting training is like, a typical day in the fire academy, and a typical day in live fire sessions. 

Firefighting Training Topics 

A fire academy is set up to teach students the skills and knowledge of the Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 Certifications. 

Some academies may break firefighting training into two parts, one for each certification. So, for example, 300 hours of training would be devoted to the Firefighter 1 Certification, and 300 hours of training would be devoted to the Firefighter 2 Certification. 

However, some states – like California – wrap both certifications together. So, during training, students would learn a mesh of both Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 instead of completely separating the two certifications. 

The states that wrap both certifications together often only refer to the training as Firefighter 2 Certification. In that instance, the Firefighter 2 Certification would include all the skills and knowledge of both certifications – it’s just not separated into two parts or called two separate things. 

Firefighter 1 Certification

During Firefighter 1 Certification, fire academy students can expect to learn and train for 300 hours on topics like: 

The Firefighter 1 Certification is often referred to as the basic or “bare minimum” firefighter training. 

Firefighter 2 Certification

While learning for the Firefighter 2 Certification, fire academy students can expect to spend another 300 hours training on topics like: 

  • EMS First Responder (basic First Aid) skills
  • EMT skills and assessments
  • Advanced firefighting knowledge and skills

The Firefighter 2 Certification wraps everything together and gives fire academy students all the knowledge and skills to pass the state firefighter test. 

What It’s Like – An Overview

Firefighting training is comprised of three main parts: in-class education, manipulative firefighting drills, and physical fitness. 

Because so much of firefighting training has to do with physical training and training drills, it’s usually a very rigorous and physically challenging program. 

Firefighting Training is Very Physical 
person doing pushups or plank

Fire Academy students can expect to do a lot of physical activity throughout the training process and will need to be physically and medically fit.

Take the Chicago Fire Department’s Firefighter Training, for example.  In their preparation guide, the Chicago Fire Department explains just how much physical activity fire academy students can expect to take part in. 

Students at the Chicago Fire Department academy will participate in physical conditioning and physical activity for approximately 2 hours at a time, 4 to 5 times a week. That’s about 2 hours of physical conditioning almost every day of the academy!

The Chicago Fire Department notes that physical conditioning can include exercises like core-training, running, stair-climbing, lunges, burpees, and other activities. 

It makes sense why fire academy students need to complete so much physical conditioning – during training.  On the job, firefighters will have to transport heavy equipment, patients, and other items. And often equipment and patients need to be transported in uncertain or risky conditions and terrain.

Students can also expect to be tested on their physical conditioning and abilities several times throughout training. Physical ability is important!

Discipline is Needed

You will soon see just how important discipline is during firefighting training. 

Not only is discipline necessary to complete all the physical conditioning and requirements of firefighting training, but it’s necessary for a myriad of other areas as well. 

First, firefighting students need to wake up early. Many fire academies are in session starting at 6-7:00 AM. Students will need to be awake, dressed, fed, at the academy, gear ready and prepared and ready to go by that time. I had to wake up at 4:00 am in order to make it to the academy on time and be prepared each day.

Being up so early for fire academy takes discipline, but so does being dressed for fire academy.

In the fire academy, you will need to wear a pressed, clean uniform every day. If this is the case at a student’s fire academy, he or she will need to have the self-discipline to wash and iron the uniform every night. 

Additionally, because fire academy students can expect to be in training for at least 8 hours a day, breakfasts and lunches will have to be prepared in advance. There’s no time for cooking. Therefore, students will need to possess the discipline to meal prep or cook their meals in advance. That entails planning meals, shopping for ingredients, and preparing the meals.  

Lastly, and very importantly, fire academy students will need to be disciplined in studying. Fire academy doesn’t stop once you walk out of the academy doors. Students will need to study academic materials, practice their assessments, and be familiar with their drills. Expect about 1 to 2 hours of studying every night after a long day at the academy, as a minimum.

Live Drills

During the academy, students will not only participate in physical conditioning and academic classes–they’ll also participate in live drills. These drills are often referred to as “live-fire training sessions.”  

Future firefighters need to be able to develop and use the new skills they learn to solve problems, think critically, and operate under extreme stress when fighting fires. 

In order to help fire academy students develop these necessary skills, training instructors will purposely set up drills to mimic live fires. This will include purposely setting buildings on fire.

Fire Rescue Magazine explains that fire academy students will learn an array of information during these training sessions, like:

  • Observing the development and stages of a fire
  • Complying with an established command system
  • The physical changes solid fuel undergoes because of increased heat
  • How fire gases ignite and expand 
  • How various nozzle patterns work and affect fire
  • Complying with an accountability system
  • Adhering to emergency evacuation systems
  • How to enter structures
  • How to ventilate and extinguish live fires

Instructors are trained on how to safely and properly conduct these training sessions. During these drills, instructors gauge the skills, abilities, and progress of students.

Overall, these training sessions are one of the most important parts of the firefighting training process. 

A Typical Day in Academy

Now that you know more about the overall process of firefighting training, what it aims to teach, and what students learn during training, you can better understand a typical day in firefighting training. 

It’s important to again note that firefighting training varies from day to day and varies from academy to academy. The following is an example of a day at fire academy as outlined by The City of Portland, Oregon’s Fire & Rescue:

Portland Fire & Rescue notes that both drill ground time and classroom time vary from week to week, and the schedule is often modified according to training and educational opportunities. 

Because schedules can change on the day-to-day, academy students need to come prepared with all their books, supplies, and uniforms. 

For example, students attending Portland Fire & Rescue’s Training Academy must be seated at their desks and fully prepared for the day at 7:00 am sharp. Their classes meet Monday through Thursday, so Friday students can sleep in.

  • From 7:00 am to 8:00 am, students will participate in housework and apparatus checks. 
  • From 8:00 am to 9:00 am, written examinations and other classwork will be conducted. 
  • Next, students will participate in physical conditioning, and training from 9:00 am to 10:00 am. 
  • After physical conditioning and training, a block from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm will consist of either classroom lectures or drill ground skills. 
  • Students will get a lunch break from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. In Portland Fire & Rescue’s academy, lunch is a closed campus, and students must have brought their lunches for the day. Remember that we mentioned being disciplined with preparing meals ahead of time? This is a reason why. 
  • After lunch, fire academy students will participate in drill ground skills and evolutions from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. 
  • Housework is conducted again during the last hour of the day from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm. At 5:00 pm, students are dismissed for the day. 

Note: This is just one example of how a fire academy day can be structured. It can vary greatly and many department hiring academies will be 5 days a week.

Here is a video showing what days in the fire academy are like with South Metro Fire Rescue in Colorado:

A Typical Live Fire Session

As stated earlier, fire academy students will participate in live-fire sessions during their firefighting training. 

What do live fire sessions consist of? What can you expect?  Like with day-to-day academy and training, live-fire sessions can vary greatly. I could explain how a live-fire drill works, but its easier to see for yourself.

This video shows a Live-Fire training drill at an acquired structure with the Jacksonville Fire Department:

As previously mentioned, these sessions are an integral part of the firefighter training process. Each firefighting student should expect to participate in them.  How else would you learn, besides practice? 

7 Ways to Prepare for Firefighter Training

Now that you know the basics of fire academy – how long it takes, what it teaches, what can be expected, what a day in fire academy entails, and what a live fire session entails – you can learn how to prepare for fire academy. 

Whether you’re planning on finding and getting into a fire academy or are getting ready to start your training, below are ways to prepare yourself for fire academy.

1. Meet the Basic Requirements

Though you have the option to put yourself through a fire academy with your local community college to receive a Firefighter 1 certification, if you want to be prepared for the department hiring academy, you will first have to get through the hiring process and get a job offer.

To learn more about the hiring process and all the steps to becoming a firefighter, read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide

And here is an article with the specifics of becoming a firefighter in California: How to Become a Firefighter in California

The basic requirements to be eligible for a firefighting job, in most areas are:

  • Be a legal US Citizen
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be able to pass a background check 
  • Be able to pass a medical exam
  • Have a valid driver’s license of the same state in which fire academy is being attended
  • EMT certification (Emergency Medical Technician)

Because firefighting training is such a rigorous, physical process, applicants may also be asked to pass a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) prior to attending the training. 

During a CPAT, a prospective student may be asked to show that he or she is physically fit enough to engage in activities like climbing stairs, running distances, carrying heavy equipment, and hoisting hoses in certain amounts of time. 

Here is a video showing how the CPAT test works:

2. Save for the Cost

Note: This part only applies to a college academy that you put yourself through. This does not apply to department hiring academies where you will be getting paid as a recruit firefighter employee to attend.

Just like with college courses, degrees, and other certification programs, fire academy costs money to attend. 

An important part of preparing for the fire academy is saving up to pay for its cost. 

Typically, fire academy can cost several thousand dollars, although costs vary per program. 

The cost of fire academy also varies widely because not only can students attend the traditional 10 to 24-week courses through certification – students can also learn how to become firefighters by obtaining associate’s or bachelor’s degrees at colleges and universities. 

Career Igniter breaks down several examples of firefighter training costs in their article “How Much Does Firefighting School Cost?

First, Career Igniter discusses the Fire Recruit Academy at the Fire Services Emergency Services Training Institute, which is part of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. 

The Fire Recruit Academy is a 12-week firefighter training course that costs $5,300 for tuition. Students will have to pay additional costs, like books, class supplies, uniforms, and equipment, which can tack on another $1,000 to $2,000. 

Note: For info about the best boots for the academy, take a look here.

Career Igniter also discusses McHenry County College’s associate’s degree in fire science. Students must pay tuition of $5,856 if they are in-district, and $21,110 if they are out of the district. There may also be additional costs for things like class supplies, books, and equipment, which can cost upwards of $3,000. 

When considering going into a fire academy, it’s important to research the costs of the academy you’re interested in. That way, you can make a plan to save up for the costs or investigate financial aid options. 

3. Begin Getting Physically Fit

Here is a great book on firefighter fitness: Firefighter Functional Fitness

For more detailed information on getting physically fit and how to train for the fire academy, read: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained

By now, you can probably tell just how important being physically fit is for fire academy and firefighters. 

To prepare, you should begin to get more physically fit. Not only will you want to be fit enough to pass the CPAT and get hired or into a college academy, but you also need to be in good enough space to pass all the physical testing and work as a firefighter.

How can you adequately prepare to get more physically fit? 

Let’s take an example from the Chicago Fire Department’s Firefighter Training again. They note that candidates with a baseline ability to perform the following physical principles are more successful. 

  1. Cardiovascular fitness
  2. Muscular strength
  3. Muscular endurance
  4. Flexibility
  5. Body composition

Candidates can practice these physical principles by: 

  • Sustaining activity that needs an above-normal heart rate for at least 30 minutes per time, 4 to 5 times a week
  • Performing weightlifting or similar exercises for at least 30 minutes per time, 4 to 5 times a week
  • Repeating weightlifting and similar exercises for muscle endurance
  • Participating in static or dynamic stretching at regular intervals several times a week and before and after exercises

Candidates will also want to focus on exercises like: 

  • Running
  • Weighted Vest Stair climbing 
  • Static planks
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups

Ramping up your exercise and starting to become more physically fit before attending the academy will greatly help you prepare for the entire process. 

Tip: One of the best ways to get into firefighter shape is to use a weighted vest while climbing stairs or hills. Here is the vest I use: Cross101 60 pound Weighted Vest

4. Start Waking Up Earlier

Firefighting students often need to be seated at their desks and ready to go for the day at 7:00 am or even earlier. That’s early in itself, and students likely need to get up much earlier in order to prepare for the day and arrive on time.

A great way to prepare is to start waking up earlier and come up with an effective morning routine. Give yourself ample time to wake up, get dressed properly (remember those pressed uniforms), eat breakfast, pack lunch, and commute to the fire academy. 

Students that start this process and begin experimenting with a productive morning routine may find that the transition to mornings during the academy is much easier. 

To keep yourself on schedule, here are The Best Watches for Firefighters

5. Begin Planning Meals

Remember, we discussed the importance of planning meals?  Learning how to plan meals will greatly help the transition process. 

Future fire academy students can start this process by beginning to plan a menu for their breakfasts and lunches for the week, setting a day (like Sunday) to buy groceries and ingredients, and setting a day (often the same day) to prepare the food. 

You can also use this time to experiment and find a meal prep schedule that works for them, as well as decide their favorite recipes. 

6. Set Expectations for Yourself and Your Family

Lastly, preparing for a fire academy will entail setting expectations–both for yourself and for your family. Why?

It is a rigorous, stressful, and lengthy commitment. 

Before attending fire academy, it’s a good idea to set expectations for your family to discuss and let them know things like: 

  • Exactly what your time constraints are
  • That you will need extra time to study
  • That you will need to take time to become more physically fit
  • If your income will change during the process
  • If you need to budget for academy costs and other costs throughout training

Make sure to set expectations for yourself, too. What are your goals? How much time do you plan on spending on preparing? How will you need to adjust your routines and lifestyle once you’re in the academy? 

Setting expectations is an important part of planning.

Here is a book with info to help your family understand what the academy and the job of a firefighter is really like, as well as how that will affect them (your family). The Firefighter Family Academy: A Guide to Educate and Prepare Spouses for the Career Ahead

7. Start Studying

person studying with laptop computer

I recommend prospective firefighters get a basic firefighter textbook so they can start studying to get a leg up. This can help immensely if you have read over and studied these topics before the academy. This can allow you to excel in the academic testing and maybe get a little more sleep each night if the studying takes you less time than it otherwise would.

This is a helpful tip that another firefighter passed on to me before my first fire academy and I can tell you from personal experience, it made the stress of fire academy a lot easier.

Here are the two most commonly used firefighter textbooks (in the US):

Essentials of Firefighting 7th edition by IFSTA

Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills by Jones and Bartlett

Bottom Line

Sure, fire academy is a relatively long, intense training process. It requires a lot of dedication, discipline, and physical conditioning. 

That being said, fire academy leads to the important and rewarding profession of firefighting – which is the end goal for most that attend it. 

If your dream is to eventually become a firefighter, you’re one step closer – you now know all the basics of fire academy, what to expect, and how to prepare.

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