When it comes to choosing your career, many people find themselves comparing being a firefighter to a police officer. Though they are very different professions, they both serve their communities. If you are thinking about either as a future job, you need to know what you are getting into, and the academy training is part of that. What is the difference between the basic police and firefighter training and which academy is more challenging?
The fire academy and police academy are both very challenging, but in different ways. Which is harder for you will depend on your strengths and weaknesses, both physically and mentally. However, you should not choose a career just because one of these academies is easier for you.
To help you get a better understanding of the differences between the police and fire academies, we will talk about what you will learn in each. We will compare the training programs so you can decide which sounds more difficult and which is the right path for you.
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Also read: Firefighter or Cop: Which Is a Better Job?
What Do You Learn in the Fire Academy?
The fire academy is the basic training that is required of any new firefighter. Think of it as firefighting 101.
There are two ways to go through a fire academy: College fire academy or fire department new hire academy.
A college fire academy is a program that you can sign up and pay for yourself in order to get some basic firefighter training. A fire department new hire academy is the training that you will go thru once you are hired with the department.
Both of these programs are similar (except you are paying to be at a college academy vs. getting paid to be in the hiring academy). However, they may not be the same. There are standards for firefighter training that must be taught and met, but a hiring academy will teach you how to specifically function as a firefighter in that department.
You may even go through a college academy to get certifications and experience to make you a better candidate for a firefighter job, and then, depending on the department, you may have to go through the departments hiring academy anyways. This is what I did, and it is very common. SO, just because you get through one academy, it doesn’t mean that it will be your last.
The fire academy requires 600+ hours of training and usually takes 10 – 16 weeks to complete.
In the fire academy, you will learn a ton of information in a variety of topics, including:
- Fire Department History
- The science of fire and fire behavior
- Firefighter safety
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Fire Control and suppression
- Building construction
- Fire Hose and streams
- Ropes and Knots
- Fire extinguishers
- Rescue and Extrication
- Water Supply
- Forcible Entry
- Fire Alarms
- Salvage and Overhaul
- Wildland Firefighting
- Emergency Medical Services EMS
This includes both classwork, reading, written tests as well as manipulative drills. You have to learn the info and facts behind everything and how to perform all the tasks that are necessary as a firefighter.
Most people are worried about the difficulty of the physical part of the academy, and you should be aware of the challenges you will face and show up prepared. But also know that the classroom portion of the training can be quite difficult as well. You will usually need to maintain and 80% or higher in order to pass.
That said, the manipulative aspect is also tough. Just how tough can really vary by agency, but it’s never easy.
You will have long days wearing all your firefighter gear, plus carry heavy tools and hose. You will be performing strenuous tasks under the pressure of your instructors watching your every move. You need to be in good physical shape to make it through the academy.
In addition to all the arduous fire drills, you will also be doing daily fitness training (PT). Expect a military like atmosphere as you are pushed hard. You will be doing lots of pushups, pullups, running, stair runs, burpees, etc.
To get a better idea of what the fire academy is like, here is a video of week 1 of the South Metro Fire Rescue Fire Academy in Colorado:
While these academies can be very difficult, they are also a lot of fun. You will bond with your academy mates in the shared learning and suffering. It is a very memorable part of my career.
For more information on the fire academy and how to prepare yourself, read:
- Fire Academy 101: What to Expect and How to Prepare
- How To Prepare For The Fire Academy: 14 Insider Tips
- Can You Fail the Fire Academy? Yes, Here’s How
- The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained
What Do You Learn in the Police Academy?
The police academy has a military-like atmosphere, similar to the fire academy.
Police academies can also vary depending on the area and hosting agency. Basic police training is called a POST academy. It has a minimum hour requirement of 664 hours, though most are closer to 1000 hours of training. This usually takes about 6 months or 26 weeks, give or take, to get through.
In the police academy, you will learn about:
- Criminal Law
- Patrol Procedures
- Cultural Diversity
- Investigative Procedures
- Report Writing
- Defensive Tactics
- Arrest and Control
- Community Policing
- Police Vehicle Operations
- Traffic Enforcement
- Accident Investigation
- Handling Emotional Situations
- First Aid/CPR
You expect similar military style PT fitness training daily. You will also need to maintain high test scores and performance in order to make it through.
To get a look into what the police academy is like, here is a video of the Sacramento Police Academy:
From those I have talked to, the police academy is challenging, but like the fire academy, it can be a great experience as well.
Note: Though I haven’t personally been through a police academy, I know many people who have.
Also read: Can Firefighters Carry Guns? Should They?
What’s the Difference Between the Police and Fire Academy?
Lets look at some of the differences between the police and fire academies.
The fire academy is overall, more physically challenging. You are required to wear up 50 pounds of gear, carrying heavy tools, hose and equipment while climbing stairs and crawling through tight spaces. This kinda work really takes it out of you. While police need to be in good shape to chase after and wrestle down suspects, they don’t need to carry as much heavy gear.
The police academy is overall, more academically difficult. There is more to learn regarding law, reports and investigations. There seems to be more focus on this portion of the academy for police, though the testing for both requires high scores.
Both academies can be hard with manipulative skills. Firefighters have to learn how to throw ladders, tie knots, and work power tools. While police have to learn how to shoot guns, physically control/apprehend suspects, and emergency driving.
Police academies are usually longer. An average police academy is closer to six months, where a fire academy is more like 3-4 months. Though the training for both doesn’t end after the academy is done. There is much more to be learned on the job for either profession.
Both academies have militaristic procedures and expectations. Just how strict they will be on you will vary by agency, but both police and fire academies can include things like uniform inspections, flag ceremonies, marching and running in cadence.
These training programs are really very different and which will be more difficult will really depend on what you excel at and the type of work you like to do.
Both fire and police academies can be very difficult programs to get through and you need to show up fit and prepared to excel. Which is harder and which is the right career choice for you will depend on your personality. I know that I would not be a good cop and I know cops who say the same about being a firefighter.
How Hard is the Fire Academy? Are You ready?
How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide