New firefighters have to go through a basic training program called the fire academy. This teaches all the basics they need to learn to be competent at their job. You be wondering just how hard the fire academy is to complete and if you are ready.
The fire academy’s difficulty can vary from one agency to the next. However, there are some standard procedures and guidelines that all fire academies will teach. Overall, most fire academies are pretty hard to successfully complete. You must be physically and mentally prepared for the task.
Lets take a closer look at what the fire academy entails and what challenges you will face. We will also discuss how to get in and how long it takes. And lastly, we will give you some actionable, insider tips to prepare yourself to not just pass the academy, but excel!
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Is the Fire Academy Difficult?
The fire academy is a part of every firefighter’s journey, and it can be very difficult. This basic level of training is what is necessary to ensure you are safe and capable to handle the situations you will encounter in the fire service.
There are two types of fire academies and while they are very similar, there are some key differences. Which type you will go through will depend on the state you live in and the needs and requirements of the fire department you want to work for.
1. Fire Department Hiring Academy: This is what most people think of when they think of a fire academy. When you get a job as a firefighter, many fire departments will put you through their specific firefighter training program.
They will usually require this even if you have prior firefighter training. (This practice is usually with larger city departments. Some departments do not do their own academy and will require certain training prior to offering a job). This training will be tailored to the needs of each individual department, so they can train you exactly the way they want.
2. College Fire Academy: A college or trade school academy is similar, but it is put on by an agency that trains firefighters, but does not employ them.
Sometimes called a Firefighter 1 or 2 academy, this program is something that you have to pay to put yourself through, and after completion, you will be given certifications that prove you have successfully completed a certain level of training.
This may be necessary, as some fire departments will require all candidates to have this certification prior to applying for a job.
Even if it is not required, it can be a great way to prove to your future employer that you have what it takes to make it through the training. It can also prepare you for the stresses of the fire academy, without your job hinging on your passing. This can make your hiring academy easier and less stressful.
In either fire academy, you will learn firefighting basics that usually include:
- The science of fire and fire behavior
- Fire Department History
- Firefighter safety
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Fire Control and suppression
- Fire Hose and streams
- Ropes and Knots
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire Alarms
- Building construction
- Rescue and Extrication
- Water Supply
- Forcible Entry
- Salvage and Overhaul
- Wildland Firefighting
- Hazardous Materials HazMat
- Emergency Medical Services EMS
The academy will include didactic (classroom), manipulative, and physical fitness related training and challenges.
Tip: Many candidates make the mistake of not being ready for the classroom portion. While you need to be in good physical shape to pass, you also need to be ready to read, learn, study, retain, and pass many tests on the book-related topics.
You need to understand things like the science of how fire works and moves so that you can be more effective in your fire suppression tactics. There is a lot more to learn than just how to put water on fire.
That being said, the manipulative/physical side of the academy can be extremely challenging as well. This includes hours of manipulative training, in full gear, as well as PT or physical fitness-related workouts. In other words, you will be tired after your day at the academy!
To get an idea of what the fire academy is like, this video shows recruits in week 5 of the South Metro Fire Rescue Academy in Colorado:
Hardest Part of the Academy
The hardest part of the fire academy will vary based on the fire department, their standards, and your own strengths and weaknesses.
Most people worry about the physical challenges and demands of the fire academy, and for many, that will probably be the hardest part. If you know that this is your weakness, start today and work to make it your strength!
You will be doing tons of pushups, situps, pullups, running, stair running, and burpees. Knowing that, you can prepare yourself to handle tons of this type of work just by continuing to push yourself in these areas.
Tip: Don’t make the mistake that many do and spend all your time lifting weights, bodybuilder style. Muscle is useful and being strong is necessary to a point, but cardio, endurance, and stamina are just as, if not more important. Focus your training on whatever you are worst at and try to make yourself a well-rounded firefighter.
For more information on physically preparing yourself for the fire academy, read:
Another challenge that may be the hardest aspect of the fire academy is the didactic/classroom portion. You need to be ready to learn! There will be a lot of information thrown at you fast and you will probably be tested on it daily!
Expect to go home every night, after a long day, and study for 1-3 hours. This can vary. If you have some previous training or experience, it can make this learning and memorization process easier.
Just know that if you don’t learn the material, and you don’t maintain the usually required 80% on all tests, they can fire you and your firefighter dreams are gone in an instant. Take this part seriously!
You can even get a basic firefighter textbook to read and prepare ahead of time, like this one: Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills – Jones and Bartlett
I went through a college fire academy before getting a job and then another hiring academy after getting my job offer. Though the classroom and physical challenges took a lot of effort and grit to get through, what I found most challenging was just the length.
It’s one thing to eat, breathe, and sleep fire academy for a month or so, but most fire academies these days are much longer.
For 16 weeks, I had to get up early, commute a hour to the academy, spend 10+ hours training, reading, getting disciplined no matter how perfect I did, cleaning, always being on. And then, I would drive an hour home, eat, clean and get my stuff ready for tomorrow, study for a few hours, try to get some sleep (though never enough) and repeat it all again.
That is a busy, taxing schedule for 4 months straight! All this with the worry in the back of your mind that your dream job is on the line with your performance everyday!
After hearing all this, you might be thinking, “why should I put myself through all of that?” Well, it’s not for everyone, but being a firefighter is the best job in the world! I still think to myself how lucky I am to have such a great career that I love.
But remember, luck has very little to do with it… Show up prepared, put in the effort and it will all be more than worth it when you get that badge!
Is it Hard to Get Accepted?
How hard it is to get into the fire academy depends on if it is a college fire academy or a department’s hiring academy.
Getting into a college fire academy is relatively easy. There may be a few simple prerequisites, but it is usually first-come, first-serve. So, you just need to find out when they accept applications and sign up quickly. If you don’t get in, they sometimes have a waiting list.
Remember, you will have to pay for this fire academy yourself.
A department hiring academy, on the other hand, is not so easy to get into. For this, you will have to get offered a job as a firefighter first. They will then put you through their fire academy (they will pay you as an employee actually).
To get that job offer, you will have to go through the whole hiring process.
For more information on the firefighter hiring process and getting hired as a firefighter, read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide
Do You Get Paid in Academy?
You may be wondering if you get paid for firefighter training during the fire academy.
The answer is sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t…
Earlier in the article I talked about the difference between a college type firefighter academy vs. a hiring fire department academy. This is where the difference lies.
If you are hired as a paid firefighter, you will frequently still be put through a department specific fire academy to learn the way they want you to be a firefighter, regardless of your past experience.
During these academies, you will be paid, as you are an employee of the department at that point. Sometimes they will start you at a lower “fire recruit” pay step that makes a little less, but many will pay you the regular starting salary of a firefighter with that department.
However, when you are in a college, firefighter 1, or equivalent academy, you are putting yourself through the training. This means that not only will you not be getting paid, but you will also have to pay to attend this type of academy. It is still a great training opportunity that can prove to departments that you have what it takes and are trainable.
The cost for these academies will vary but expect to pay between $1,500 and $4,000 to get the training and certifications that are offered.
How Do I Prepare?
In order to get through the fire academy successfully, you will need to spend some time to prepare yourself. This means you should show up to the fire academy:
- In great physical shape
- With an understanding of what is expected of you
- Knowing that you will be pushed (no matter how ready you are)
- Committed to seeing it through
- Ideally with some background knowledge on firefighting (not necessary, but makes things easier)
- With a great attitude and ready to work as a team and always support your classmates
For more detailed tips and advice on preparation for the fire academy, read:
- Fire Academy 101: What to Expect and How to Prepare
- How To Prepare For The Fire Academy: 14 Insider Tips
Becoming a firefighter is an amazing career path, but it comes with some challenges. The fire academy is one of the first major challenges that all firefighters must get through. It is vital that they get all the basic training and are deemed competent to function in the dynamic, dangerous situations that they will face.
As a firefighter candidate, make sure to adequately prepare yourself for the fire academy and job of a firefighter. Just reading articles like these can help you to be more ready and stand out as someone who truly wants this job and will put in the work to get it.