If you ask a group of young children what they want to be when they grow up, you can guarantee that several will say they want to be a firefighter. Though very few people actually pursue a career as a firefighter, it’s a noble job, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested in becoming a firefighter, there is an extensive process that you must follow to reach your end goal.
There are quite a lot of steps to becoming a firefighter and the whole process can take longer than some other career paths, however, it is a very rewarding and worthwhile job.
The actual process of becoming a firefighter is pretty straightforward, but there are many steps within the process and many requirements that you must meet before officially becoming a firefighter. For those who would like to pursue the dream of being a professional firefighter, read on.
Note: This is a very in-depth article that describes every step in the hiring process, as well as all the things you can do to best prepare yourself to become a firefighter. If you don’t have time to read the whole article now, you can download it as a PDF so you are able to refer back to it as needed. Here is the link to the PDF version.
The Process to Become a Firefighter:
Preparation Steps –
High School Diploma or GED
Though many people still think of firefighting as a blue-collar job (and it is in many ways) you may be surprised to learn that a higher level of education is preferred or even required.
In order to be a firefighter, the minimum level of education for every professional firefighter job that I have seen, in the United States, is a high school diploma. (Some volunteer departments allow applicants younger than 18 and may not require completion of high school).
Also read: Can I Become A Firefighter At 30/40/50?
They will also accept a non-standard high school education completion, such as a General Education Development or GED. The GED is a test or series of tests that are designed to prove that you have a high school level of education. If you pass, you will receive a certificate that shows you passed.
The GED is accepted as the same as a high school diploma by 96% of employers, all community colleges and many universities if you also have a good SAT/ACT test score. Yes, you can be a firefighter with a GED.
In fact, I took the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam), which is Califonia’s version of the GED, and I am a professional firefighter. However, I did get a college degree before I was hired as a firefighter, so keep that in mind.
To learn more about the GED, read these articles:
What is a GED? – GED.com
What’s the difference between a diploma and a GED? – excelhighschool.com
College – Fire Science or Fire Technology Degree
Though most firefighter jobs don’t require a college education in order to apply, because they are so competitive, you may want to pursue a high level of education, to make yourself into a more desirable and well-rounded firefighter candidate.
Though many types of college degrees can be useful to the fire department; the most specific is an Associates Degree in Fire Science or Fire Technology, (these are the same, they just go by different names at some colleges) and a Bachelors Degree in Fire Science or Emergency Management.
An Associate’s Degree in fire science is 60 credits, which usually averages out to four semesters, while a Bachelor’s Degree consists of 120 credits, which is most often eight semesters of study.
Nowadays, in many areas, having at least an associate’s degree is seen as a necessity for a firefighter candidate. Although you won’t need a degree to be allowed to apply for the test, in my experience, few are getting hired as firefighters without some type of college education. (This may not be the case in your area, but it is becoming much more common).
Before you select a school to pursue a degree in fire science, you should consider your time commitment and physical location. This will help you figure out if you should attend school on a full-time basis or take only one or two classes per semester. Many people are able to work while attending college classes, but it will obviously take longer to graduate.
There are also some online schooling options available, which provide greater convenience and significantly less time commitment per week. So, if you are busy working and can’t afford to go to school full-time, there are other options to help you work towards becoming a firefighter.
Fire Science Classes
While pursuing your degree, there are a variety of courses you will be required to take to earn your degree in fire science. You will be required to take courses in general education, courses within your major, and electives.
Here is an example of coursework related to the major (Core classes) that you might experience when pursuing an Associate’s Degree in fire science:
- Fire Protection Organization
- Fire Prevention Technology
- Fire Protection Equipment and Systems
- Building Construction for Fire Protection
- Fire Behavior and Combustion
- Principles of Emergency Services
- Wildland Fire Control
- Fire Investigation
- Emergency Medical Technician -EMT
The core classes you will be required to take will depend on the college, but these are the general topics that you will study. EMT is also a requirement to become a firefighter in most areas, which we will talk in more detail about below. It can sometimes be included as credit towards your fire science degree.
Here is an example of a college Fire Technology Program: Cabrillo College
CPR stands for Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation and it is one of the most basic life-saving skills that anyone can learn.
Firefighters and other emergency service personnel use these techniques regularly to keep the victim’s blood circulating with oxygen, in order to give them a chance at survival. This is the foundation of the emergency medical skills you will learn as a firefighter.
The recommended certification for firefighters is the American Heart Association BLS Provider class or Basic Life Support (BLS) certification through the American Red Cross. This particular certification is valid for two years from the date of certification and must be renewed on a biannual basis.
A certificate in Basic Life Support will provide you with clinically proven first aid and CPR methods designed to improve the outcome of patients suffering from major health crises. The tools you gain from this course are applicable to scenarios you may face in the field.
A CPR class usually takes about 3 to 5 hours to complete and costs $70 to $90.
A CPR certification is usually a minimum requirement for a firefighter position and it is a good first step towards your future career.
Some people are surprised to find out that firefighters in many areas don’t respond to nearly as many fires as they used to. Improvements in building construction and increased fire prevention efforts have decreased the occurrence of structure or building fires in most parts of the U.S. In fact, a large percentage of fire department emergency responses are actually medical emergencies.
Because of this, firefighters are usually required to become an EMT before being hired or sometimes as part of the fire academy. This is not the case for every department, but for a majority of firefighters, you will be required to maintain this certification throughout your career.
An EMT is a certification that allows you to work in emergency medicine. EMTs can be employed on ambulances, on fire engines, or in the emergency department.
They are trained in basic emergency medical skills such as CPR, using an AED, administering oxygen, spinal immobilization, bleeding control, and splinting injuries. They are a key provider in all emergency medical calls.
Here is the process of getting your EMT certification:
- Sign up for an EMT Program that meets the standards of National EMS Education.
- Work through over 160 hours of in-class lectures, lab hours, and clinical experience.
- Take your physical and cognitive exams to pass the course.
- Take your National Registry (NREMT) EMT Test.
- Register with your state and/or county as an EMT.
This is an important step in your firefighter preparation.
EMT school usually takes about 1 semester or 6 months to complete, although there are accelerated programs available. This class can be challenging, so make sure you focus your efforts to get through it. EMT school usually costs about $1000 to $2000.
Here are some links to help you as you look into becoming an EMT:
Also read: Can EMTs Start IVs/Intubate/Give Stitches?
A Paramedic is basically an advanced EMT. They work in the same fields and positions as an EMT, but they have a higher level of education and training.
A Paramedic uses all the same basic skills and tools as an EMT, but also is able to start IV lines, give a variety of medications like Epinephrine, Versed, Morphine, Atropine, and Adenosine, place advanced airways (intubation), and use a manual defibrillator.
My view on being a paramedic was always that since firefighters respond to more medical calls than fires these days, I want to be as well trained and have the ability to do as much to help my patients as possible. This is the reason I decided to become a paramedic and have been since 2009.
Here is the process to become a Paramedic:
- You must be a certified EMT
- It is desirable and sometimes required to have experience working as an EMT before applying to paramedic school (6 months to 1 year)
- Meet all the other prerequisites of the program and apply to the program (These can vary but some require you to complete an Anatomy and Physiology course)
- Complete the didactic (in-class) portion of the class (540 hours) and pass all your tests
- Complete your clinical internship in the hospital (120 hours)
- Complete a field internship on an ambulance or fire engine (480-720 hours)
- Pass your National Registry Exam
- Apply for your State Paramedic License
- Get accreditated as a Paramedic in the county you are employed
As you can see, this is a much bigger time and work requirement than getting your EMT. The program can be up to 1800 hours to complete and usually takes 12 – 18 months to finish. Paramedic school usually costs about $3000 to $15000. (Community colleges are usually more affordable than technical schools)
It is for this reason that many people recommend that you work as an EMT before you go to paramedic school. This will help to ensure you are confident in your EMT abilities so that you can build upon them. It also helps to ensure that this career path is right for you before you spend the time and money required of a paramedic program.
While being an EMT is required for almost all professional firefighting jobs, being a paramedic is not. That being said, there are some jobs that do require a paramedic license and it can be a huge asset to have, even if the job you are applying for does not require it.
Here is another article that can help you to understand what paramedic school is like: What You Need to Know About Paramedic School
College Fire Academy – Firefighter 1
For more detailed information about the fire academy, read: Fire Academy 101: What to Expect and How to Prepare and Can You Fail the Fire Academy? Yes, Here’s How
Another important step to prepare yourself as a firefighter candidate is putting yourself through a fire academy. You might ask why you should go through a fire academy when you will go through another once you are hired?
Going through a fire academy before getting hired can give you a leg up for once you do get the job. These academies are usually put on by community or junior colleges and teach the firefighter 1 curriculum.
You will be taught most of the same concepts and skills, but these academies are more general. The department academy is more specific to the procedures, equipment, and operations of that individual department when compared to the college fire academy.
If you master these basics in a college fire academy before you get hired, then you will be more prepared to excel. You don’t want to be learning a skill for the first time when your career is on the line. This is especially true because the majority of your fellow classmates in a department academy will have some experience with the firefighter basics before they are hired.
Many departments are even going away from running their own full fire academies for newly hired firefighters. Many now require that you have a firefighter 1 certification before applying. They will then put the new firefighters through a short 2 to 4 week, department-specific academy. So getting your firefighter 1 certification through a college academy can also open up more potential job opportunities to you.
These academies can be held in different scheduling formats. Some full time for a shorter period, but many are scheduled to allow those who are still working to attend. They may be one or two weeknights and all weekend. Some may even give you college credit towards your fire science degree for completing the academy.
The difficulty of these academies can vary widely. They will all teach to the standard firefighter 1 curriculum, but some are more strict and military-style than others.
Here is a video from Stockton Fire Department’s Academy:
Here is a fire academy in my area that has a good reputation. There site talks about the pre-requisites, hours, cost, and the certifications you will receive. South Bay Fire Academy. These can all vary, so make sure to look into academies in your area for the details.
Here is another great academy, that I personally attended. It is a very military-style and physically strenuous program, but it really prepared me and made the department academy once I got hired much easier. Monterey Penninsula College Fire Academy.
For academies in your area, search for a local college fire academy.
We discussed some of the educational steps you can take to prepare yourself for a firefighter job. Now we will talk about some other steps you can take to gain valuable experience that can set you apart from other candidates and help you get the job you want.
As we talked about earlier, EMS or Emergency Medical Services is a huge part of the modern fire service. The majority of calls in your career as a firefighter will most likely be medical-related calls. For these reasons, once you get your EMT and/or paramedic certification, you should try to get some work experience using these skills.
When you apply for a firefighter job and you can show that you have real-world experience on emergency calls, that can be a great selling point. Not only can you tell them about the EMT skills you learned in school, but you will have stories that prove you have actually done the EMS part of the job.
This experience can show your potential employer that you understand what it is like to be on the scene of an emergency call and that you will be likely to learn and excel at that part of your job as a firefighter.
There is no set amount of experience they require, but the more the better. Many people work on an ambulance. Even running calls on a BLS inter-facility transport ambulance can be a good experience, so take any EMT position you can get.
Obviously, if you are able, working on a 911 ambulance, responding to emergency calls is a more applicable experience, but you may need to work up to that.
You can also find EMT positions working in stadiums for concerts and sporting events or as an ER technician in the emergency department at a local hospital. So, you should look into all your opportunities to get some time working as an EMT.
Remember that the majority of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. Over 70% of departments are volunteer only and only 9% of departments are made up entirely of career firefighters. They are a huge part of the American fire service and even if they don’t get paid for their time, they are professionals.
It’s much easier to become a volunteer firefighter than a full-time paid firefighter. Some people just do it to give make to their community, others use it to learn and gain experience while working towards their goal of becoming a career firefighter.
However, there are still many requirements you must meet before being considered for a volunteer position.
While the requirements vary from state to state, you typically have to be 18 years or older to obtain a position as a volunteer firefighter in the United States. It’s important to note that it’s possible to become a volunteer firefighter if you are as young as 14 in some states. However, your role in the department will be extremely limited until you are trained properly and prepared for any situation you may walk into.
If you are less than 18 but would still like to be a firefighter, look into becoming a junior firefighter, fire cadet, or fire explorer. Most states offer a junior firefighter program to expose youths to the industry and encourage them to pursue a career as a firefighter in the future.
Read this article for more info: What is a Junior Firefighter?
To be a volunteer firefighter you will usually be required to:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a valid Driver’s License
- High school diploma or GED (not always required)
Many towns and cities also require volunteer firefighters to pass a background check and a medical evaluation by a doctor. This requirement is to prove that you are a good candidate for the position and will be able to handle the duties that come with being a firefighter.
These are the basic requirements to become a volunteer firefighter, but individual stations may have a more comprehensive process. You might be required to pass a station’s physical fitness test or a written examination before being accepted into the force. Some departments will have interviews to select their new volunteers.
Contact your local fire department for volunteer opportunities and requirements.
The U.S. Fire Administration offers a great tool that you can use to locate your local departments and find out what type of department (volunteer, career or combination) each is. This is a way for you to narrow down which stations accept volunteers and are within your local area.
Note: You might be required to live within a certain distance from your station.
Applying for a Volunteer Position
Once you’ve selected the fire station you want to volunteer at, you’ll most likely be required to fill out a formal application.
This application will verify that you are eligible to work in the United States, have a valid driver’s license, and have the age and education requirements. You might also be required to provide phone numbers for references and list any immediate members of your family that are involved in the town’s government.
The application process could also include a background check and drug testing to determine your eligibility as a volunteer firefighter in their department.
Just because you aren’t getting paid consistently for the job does not mean the standards for character and abilities will be lower. As a volunteer firefighter, you will be held to high standards when it comes to character, cognitive abilities, and physical abilities.
Each fire department trains it’s firefighters differently, but you should expect weekly, or even more frequent, training at your station. Once you officially join the volunteer department, you will be trained at your station by other firefighters to prepare you for the scenarios you may encounter on a call.
If your station values education in fire science and protection, you may be required to pass an official training course or obtain a certification from a highly-regarded organization.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers certifications in a variety of fire topics. These training courses provided more in-depth information that your local station cannot possibly cover with each volunteer. The total training for volunteer firefighters can vary.
Volunteer firefighting does not always provide a consistent schedule, and the normal schedule you currently have will definitely be disrupted once you find a department. Depending on your station, scheduling may vary, but you should expect a notable time commitment.
Aside from committing to shifts throughout the week, there is a strong possibility that you will sometimes be “on call.” This means that if there is an emergency requiring the dispatch of more firefighters, you might be called in on your day off to aid your fellow firefighters.
Becoming a volunteer firefighter is not at all convenient. Still, it’s worth it if you value helping others and potentially saving lives. If you’re currently a volunteer firefighter and are looking to advance to a career position, this is an invaluable experience.
When preparing to become a firefighter, many people assume that only emergency service-related jobs will count as experience. This is usually not the case.
Any work experience can showcase the qualities that will make you a great firefighter.
People who served in the military, worked in the trades (construction, electrician, plumbers, etc.), or any customer service positions can have highly sought after skills and qualities for the fire service.
Remember there is more to being a firefighter than just putting out fires. The fire service of today is looking for good people with good values to train to become good firefighters.
So don’t hesitate to use any experience you have (work or just life experience) to make yourself a desirable firefighter candidate.
Community Service or Other Volunteer Experience
Volunteer work can also help you prepare to become a firefighter. I’m not just talking about being a volunteer firefighter, but anything where you volunteer your time to help a cause or program in your community.
Firefighters are public servants and even though many are paid for their work, they are generally the type of people who seeks to help their communities whenever possible.
If you can show that you truly enjoy helping people and will do it for free, you are showing your future employer that you are the type of person that will fire into the fire service community.
Remember, it doesn’t need to have anything to do with the fire service. Any opportunities to give back and help others will show that you have what it takes to be a firefighter.
Hiring Process –
Ok, you have done all you can to prepare yourself to be the ideal firefighter candidate. Unfortunately, that is only half the battle. To become a firefighter, you also have to make it through the potentially lengthy and involved hiring process.
Below we will go into detail about all the steps, so you are ready when your dream department is hiring!
Here are some more resources to learn about the path to becoming a firefighter: Articles on Fire Department Hiring
Finding Fire Department jobs
The first step is finding fire departments that are hiring. They will only accept applications during a short window of time (2 days – 1 month), so you don’t want to miss it.
The best resource I have found is Governmentjobs.com. Here you can search for openings in your area (or anywhere you’d like to work) and be alerted when new jobs open up.
Another resource is fctconline.org. This company puts on written tests and those who pass are put on a list. Fire departments from all over the country can use candidates off this list for hiring, without requiring an additional written test. You can take this test and use it to go through the hiring processes of departments from all over.
This can save you time and may be necessary depending on how the department that you want to work for does their testing.
Once you find a job you want to apply for, you must submit an application within the job opening time window. (Don’t miss it, they will not make an exception for you).
While this step is fairly straightforward, you still need to make sure you do it right. Many candidates have been cut right away because they didn’t take the time to properly fill out the applications. This was more an issue when most departments were using paper applications, rather than online forms, but it can still happen.
Make sure you take the time to fill out all the required information accurately. Check your spelling, it needs to be professional. If you want this job, you need to show that it is important to you during every step.
They will ask about school history, work experience, volunteer experience, and ask you to provide some contacts of people who know you as your references. They will ask you to provide copies of your diploma and certifications. They may ask for proof of passing the CPAT (we will discuss this below under physical agility).
They also ask you some written answer questions about your experience and desire for the job.
Put the time in and double-check all your info before you send it in. Don’t overlook the importance of this step, as many do.
For more information on the firefighter job application, read: 7 Tips For Your Firefighter Application: Get the First Step Right
The firefighter written exam is more general knowledge material and usually doesn’t require much if any, prior firefighter knowledge.
The written exam usually has about 100 multiple-choice questions. It usually has a time limit of 2 to 3 hours to complete. The difficulty can vary. The questions included on the test evaluate your problem-solving skills, reading comprehension, and even mathematical abilities.
Topics on a firefighter written exam:
- Reading comprehension
- Reasoning and judgment
- Mechanical Aptitude
- Spatial orientation (Maps and Directions)
To prepare for this portion of the test, I recommend getting a study guide type book. My favorite is Norman Hall’s Firefighter Exam Preparation Book (2nd Edition). I used this book when I was testing and I found it to be the most helpful.
FCTConline.org offers a written test that can apply to multiple fire department jobs. Once you pass this test, fire departments from all over can hire you and not need to give you another written test. This is a good resource and you should look to see if any of the departments that you want to work for are using it.
For more info and resources to prepare for the firefighter written exam, read: Firefighter Written Test: What to Expect and How to Prepare and The 14 Best Firefighter Written Exam Prep Books and Tools
Physical Agility Test (CPAT)
For more details and tips for passing the CPAT, Read: 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT
For more information about fitness requirements for firefighters, read: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained
The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) is a test designed to mimic some of the situations you may find yourself in when responding to an emergency. In total, the test lasts approximately 10 minutes and 20 seconds, and you are required to wear a 50-pound weighted vest throughout the entire test.
This is not the type of test the average person can walk into without prior training and expect to pass with flying colors.
It is suggested that you train physically for months before the test to guarantee you can pass. This is a pass/fail test and, as long as you meet the time requirements and are not disqualified from any events, you will pass.
- Stair Climb: This test utilizes a stair-climbing machine to test your aerobic endurance. While holding a 12.5-pound weight on each of your shoulders, you will be required to maintain a speed of 60 steps per minute for a period of three minutes.
- Hose Drag: This tests your ability to drag a hose from a firetruck to the desired location. You are to grab the 200-foot hose, drag it 75 feet around a drum, stop within the marked box and drop to one knee, and then pull a 50-foot portion of the hose across the finish line.
- Equipment Carry: This test is used to determine your ability to carry heavy equipment to and from the firetruck. You are required to remove two saws from the truck separately and then carry these two saws 75 feet around the drum before returning back to the truck to return them.
- Ladder Raise and Extension: This test is employed to test your ability to raise and extend a ladder by hand. Using the hand-over-hand method, you will be extending a 24-foot extension ladder against a wall and then returning the ladder to its starting position. You are required to use every rung on the ladder during this test.
- Forcible Entry: This will test your ability to force your way into a structure using a sledgehammer. Using a 10-pound sledgehammer, you will strike a device that measures the sledgehammer impact until the buzzer sounds. Once the buzzer has activated, the test is concluded.
- Search: This test is meant to mimic searching for a victim in a fire. You will crawl through 64-feet of tight tunnels filled with obstacles, directional changes, and varying widths until you reach the end of the tunnel.
- Rescue: This test will prove your ability to rescue an incapacitated individual. With a 165-pound mannequin, you will drag it 35 feet around a drum and then return to the starting line.
- Ceiling Breach and Pull: This is the final test of the CPAT. In this test, you will be required to remove a pike pole and position the pole on a specific region of the ceiling above. You will then follow the pattern of pushing the ceiling three times, followed by pulling down five times. This is repeated four times until the conclusion of the test.
If you complete the entire CPAT within the time limit of 10 minutes and 20 seconds, you officially pass the physical ability test of the firefighter examination.
You will get a card showing that you passed and you can submit that with your future firefighter application. The card is valid for 6 months to 2 years, depending on the department.
Here is a video that explains the test in detail:
Also read: CPAT Weighted Vest Stair Climb: How To Train
This is one of the most important steps in the process and for most, one of the more difficult.
Preparing well for the interview (also called an oral board) is the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself to become a firefighter.
This is the part where you convince the panel that you are the best candidate for the job. Out of thousands of applicants, you must set yourself apart in order to be hired.
Similar to an average job interview, you will be asked about yourself, your goals, your strengths, and of course, your weaknesses. It is important in this section of the interview for you to be entirely honest, as the job you are applying for is highly strenuous both mentally and physically.
Each department wants the best of the best in its force, but they also want a person who will get along with the other firefighters.
You may also receive questions related to the field itself. If you have experience as a volunteer firefighter, paramedic, or any other related field, this would be a good time to mention that and describe your experiences. You want to let the interviewer know that you are experienced and prepared for anything you may encounter as a firefighter.
There is a possibility that you will receive scenario-based questions to test your knowledge on firefighting protocol. You should brush up on this area beforehand to be able to provide answers that are not only accurate but also display your ability to think critically.
For more detailed information on preparing for the firefighter interview, Here are: 15 Tips for Firefighter Interviews
After you pass the panel interview/s (sometimes there will be more than one panel interview), you are given a score and you will be placed on a list in order of your score.
This is referred to as an Eligibility list. The department will then use the candidates on this list to fill open firefighter positions.
They will usually call more candidates than there are positions open, to a Chief’s Interview. Even if you don’t get called initially, they may call back more candidates if they decide not to hire some of those called first.
They may also use this list to call candidates for job openings in the future. Typically a list will be used for up to two years to fill positions. So, even if you aren’t called in the first round, you could still get hired later.
For more information on the Eligibility List, Here is: What is an Eligibility List?
After you get called off the eligibility list, you will be scheduled for a Chief’s interview. This is similar to the panel interviews, but it is with the department’s Fire Chief and possibly a Deputy or Assistant Chief.
This interview is seen as more casual and the questions are less scripted. In a panel interview, they have to ask each candidate the same questions and aren’t allowed to ask follow-up questions or for more information. This is to ensure the process is fair for everyone.
However, in the Chief’s interview, they are able to ask different questions to each candidate. They may ask questions that are specific to you and they will also ask for clarification to some of your answers. They are trying to get to know you more as a person.
While this interview can seem more casual, I would caution people to not be too relaxed. I have heard people are told to show up in casual street clothes. I would not do this! This is still a job interview and you need to be professional. You should open up and let them get to know you, but remember to not get too relaxed.
The Chief is the one who will give the final yes or no or whether or not to hire you. You should prepare for this interview just like the others. Use the interview tips resource above to help you get ready.
Conditional Job Offer
If your Chief’s Interview goes well and they want to hire you, you will get a conditional job offer.
This means you will get hired, on the condition that you pass the remaining steps in the process. Below we will talk about the steps after a conditional job offer.
This medical exam is to make sure you are fit and healthy enough to be a firefighter. You will fill out a medical history questionnaire and be evaluated by a physician.
This screening may include blood and urine tests, a vision test, a hearing test, a lung function test (spirometry), heart function tests (EKG, Stress test), a chest x-ray, and a drug screening.
They also may evaluate your general strength, flexibility, body composition, and endurance. They are making sure that your body can handle the stresses of firefighter training and work.
According to NFPA 1582, new hires to a fire department must pass a medical exam to rule out the possibility of chronic illnesses or diseases that could hinder performance as a firefighter. They use these NFPA guidelines to determine if any condition will disqualify a candidate or not.
Not all pre-existing conditions will disqualify you from being eligible to become a firefighter, especially if the condition does not affect your ability to perform required tasks.
Conditions that may affect your ability to perform the role of a firefighter include poor vision, heart conditions, breathing difficulties, and spinal issues, among others. But that doesn’t mean that if you are suffering from any of these conditions that you can’t be a firefighter.
If you have concerns about a condition that you have, look at this document to help you determine if it will prevent you from being a firefighter or if there is a way around it.
According to NFPA 1582, health conditions are classified into Category A, which completely disqualify you from obtaining a position, and Category B, which may disqualify you based on the severity of the condition itself.
However, fire departments are required to be accommodating to any disabilities that a person may have, as long as it doesn’t prevent you from being safe and effective at performing your job. This is a gray area and is up to interpretation, which means you may be able to work past any conditions, so don’t give up hope yet.
To learn more about being medically disqualified as a firefighter, read:
- Can You Be a Firefighter with a Disability? What You Should Know
- Can You Be a Firefighter with Hearing Loss/Hearing Aids?
- Do Firefighters Need Perfect Vision? Firefighter Vision Standards
- Can Firefighters Wear Contact Lenses? Examined
- Can You Be a Firefighter with Mental Illness? (Anxiety/Depression)
Another big step after your conditional job offer is the background check. While the medical exam is to make sure you are medically fit to be a firefighter, the background check is to ensure you are morally and ethically fit to be a firefighter.
The fire department has a reputation of service and professionalism to uphold and they want to ensure you are the type of person to do that. They make to make sure your moral compass leads you in the right direction, as they expect of all their employees.
You will be given a giant packet of forms to fill out. This is your background packet. I know I was overwhelmed with the amount of information they wanted from me in my background packet. In here you will have to provide information about:
- School history
- Job experience
- Criminal record
- Credit history
- Drug use
- Driving record
- Contact info for past and current coworkers
- Contact info for family and friends
- Contact info for past romantic partners
There may be even more they will ask in your investigation.
The idea being, they want to find as much information about you and your past as possible. They will call many of your contacts to ask questions about you. They may even ask those people for more contacts that know you and call them.
This can be a time-intensive process and it can be stressful. Just be honest about everything. People always ask about what will disqualify them from passing the background check, but that can really depend on each individual department. But if they catch you in a lie, that will disqualify you every time.
You may have to also do a Polygraph test. This is also referred to as a lie test.
This can also be very stressful as they will ask you about all the information in your background packet. Just remember that the polygraph doesn’t actually know if you are lying, it just measures anxiety or stress. You should still always be honest, but try to relax and don’t change any of your stories in the test.
To learn more about the background investigation, read:
- Can You Be a Firefighter with Past Drug Use?
- Can You Be a Firefighter with a Criminal Record? (Felony, Misdemeanor, 5150)
Final job offer
If you pass all these steps, you will be called with an official job offer! Congratulations you got your dream job as a firefighter!
This is a big deal to make it this far. You should be proud. Now you need to make sure you are prepared for the fire academy.
Department Fire Academy
For more detailed information about the fire academy, read:
- Fire Academy 101: What to Expect and How to Prepare
- Can You Fail the Fire Academy? Yes, Here’s How
- How to Prepare for the Fire Academy: 14 Insider Tips
The fire academy is where you learn all the basic information and skills to excel as a firefighter.
The average program at a fire academy lasts 10 to 24 weeks, and you can expect to train over 40 hours per week at the academy until you graduate, sometimes 12+ hour days.
And because people always ask, yes, you will be getting paid during the fire academy. The difficulty of the fire academy can vary, but this can be an extremely challenging and stressful time for you and your family.
If you have gone through a college firefighter 1 academy prior to this then you have a good idea of what to expect. This academy may have training that is more specific to your department and the equipment they use.
While attending the fire academy, you will take part in hands-on training as well as classroom training, where you will learn about the basics of firefighting. Most people know that an academy is physically strenuous, but many don’t know about the amount of reading, studying, written testing and information that you need to learn and retain.
Here is what you can expect while you attend the fire academy:
Physical Fitness Training: On a daily basis, you will be required to complete running and exercise drills in an attempt to build your physical fitness and make you even more qualified to perform your job duties as a firefighter.
There is a high chance that you will do some of this training while wearing full gear. You will be tested for body composition, cardiovascular endurance, speed, strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Part of this is mental, they will make it difficult no matter how fit you are.
Firefighting Drills: You will also be involved in firefighting drills where you will learn the ropes when it comes to fire trucks and the equipment you will be using in the field.
During live training drills, you will be placed in scenarios involving real fire where you will learn to work with other firefighters and respond to the situation accordingly. Throughout these hands-on experiences, you will be required to wear full turnout gear and become accustomed to the weight and effects of wearing this equipment while responding to emergencies.
You will learn about pulling hose lines, throwing ladders, tying knots, rescue scenarios, salvage, overhaul, ventilation, power tools, forcible entry, and EMS.
Classroom Experience: During this portion of the fire academy, you will learn basic firefighting knowledge through lectures and reading. You will have daily written testing.
My academy had hours of reading every night after being at the academy all day and required 80% or higher to pass each test. This is the knowledge-based portion of the academy and involves passing written tests to demonstrate your knowledge.
To prepare for the academy, I recommend getting as fit as possible. Not just lifting weights. You need a combination of strength and endurance. Get good at pushups and running stairs, cause you will do a lot of both. Circuit or interval type training can be especially helpful. Here is a good book with some firefighter specific workout information.
Read this article about firefighter fitness: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained
Pro Tip: I also recommend you get either: Essentials of Firefighting – IFSTA or Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills – Jones and Bartlett. These are the textbooks that most departments use to teach their fire academy. If you get them beforehand, you can be way ahead in the reading and make fire academy life easier on yourself.
For more information about probation, read: How Long is a Firefighter Probationary Period?
Once you graduate from the academy, you are no longer a fire recruit, you are now a probationary firefighter. This is also a big step.
Though probation sounds like you are being watched because you did something wrong, in this case, that isn’t true.
The probation period for a new firefighter is where you transfer everything you learned in the academy on the “the line”. You will be on a fire crew, running calls and doing everything a firefighter does. The only difference is that you are still being evaluated more closely.
You will be tested and have frequent training with your crew. They are now making sure you can do the job not just on the drill grounds, but in the real world.
As a new firefighter, you get to decide what personal tools you want to carry. Here is more information to help you decide what to put in your pockets: The 11 Best Firefighter Personal Tools
As a new firefighter, you can also expect that you have to earn your place. You need to prove to the crews you work with that you belong and are cut out for the job. They need to trust you with their life because someday, you could be responsible for saving one of them.
This means that you may be “hazed” or given a hard time. This is just part of the process, we all went through it.
Just listen, work hard, ask questions, be the last to bed, first up in the morning, make the coffee, clean the station, study often, be the first to volunteer, always be learning and improving and always try to make everyone else’s job easier and you will get through it.
Also read: 35 Things All Firefighters Should Know
Being a firefighter is a rewarding job, but not everyone is capable of meeting the standards required to assume the position.
The best thing you can do while pursuing a career as a firefighter is committing yourself to the process and anticipating difficulty along the way. It takes time and you have to be able to handle the upcoming challenges and keep going.
It can seem that there is no way to stand out from the thousands of other people who want to be firefighters, but if you follow the information in this article and keep working at it, you will get hired! Just don’t give up!