Thinking about a career in the Fire Service? Then you probably know that you’ll be expected to go through some serious training when you get hired. If you’re smart, you’re thinking ahead to your time in the Fire Academy and you’re trying to work out how to make the most of your time there and what to do before you arrive.
Here are 14 tips to help you prepare for the Fire Academy:
- Get up early
- Do your chores
- Dress Professional
- Make meals in advance
- Get used to studying
- Ditch your TV
- Make a budget
- Get fit
- Be mature
- Stay healthy
- Keep clean
- Obey orders
- Behave well
- Pass your examinations
The Fire Academy is a tough part of every firefighter’s journey, but it is not an impossible goal. Basic discipline and good preparation will see you through if you are willing to work hard. So, let’s take a look at what Fire Academy is, how it works, and how to succeed.
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.
What Is Fire The Academy?
Every recruit who joins the Fire Service will be expected to attend Fire Academy. It is a training program designed to give them the basic level skills that will help them fight fires, work as part of a fire crew, and learn about firefighting in a practical sense. It is not an optional part of the career – it is fundamental.
Note: There is a difference between a college fire academy and a fire academy that the fire department puts you through after you are hired. They both may cover much of the same education, skills, and training, but the may have different schedules, expectations, standards, and costs.
Fire Academy Preparation For Success: 14 Tips
Are there things that you can do to help yourself succeed at Fire Academy? You bet.
There are 7 simple things that you can do before you even get to Fire Academy, that will really boost your chances of making it through and that will help you demonstrate to your peers and your instructors that you’re serious about being a firefighter.
1. Get Up Early
This is not just a good idea for academy, it’s a good idea for firefighting life. You ought to be 30 minutes early for every shift in the fire service, so make it an hour for your Fire Academy class. It’s OK, you’re not going to waste that hour. You can use it to do some basic physical exercises, do some reading about the fire service and maybe grab a coffee and some breakfast.
If you want this to be routine in your life – get started before Fire Academy. Get up early every day. Use your time well. It makes an incredible difference to all of your life.
2. Do Your Chores
Academy training is as much about accepting responsibility in your life as it is about fighting fires. If you pay attention to the small details in your life, you are better prepared to do so at work.
Plus, you’re going to be a trainee firefighter and that means you will be cleaning up the station, fixing things, etc. you might as well get used to it now.
3. Dress Professional
When you hit the academy, you need to arrive every single day looking like you know how to clean and press your uniform. You don’t want to learn these skills in a hurry on the first day of the academy, it’s much easier to master them well in advance.
The more you practice at dressing yourself, washing the clothes, ironing them, and then getting them ready for the next day, the more you’ll know how long you need to allow for this little thing in your life.
These may seem trivial or obvious to some, but they are important.
4. Learn To Make Meals In Advance
During the week at academy things are really hectic, you’re going to spend long days studying and then running drills and learning techniques. You won’t have time to cook and you don’t want to be mucking about getting food in either. So, learn to prepare meals in batches and plan ahead.
You may or may not be allowed to go out for lunch, so bringing your lunch is a good idea.
A hot tasty meal is an essential component of a healthy life, learn to cook before you hit the academy and ensure that you can take care of your basic needs.
5. Get Accustomed To Studying
If you aren’t already, this is the time to set aside a chunk of your day to study all the materials they give you when you’re at the academy. For now, you can substitute books, magazines, websites, etc. about the fire service until you reach the academy.
Here is a good basic firefighter textbook: Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills. It’s a good idea to get a book like this before the academy, so you can get ahead on studying. This can make your life much easier once the academy starts.
2 hours a day ought to do it. Yes, 2 hours a day. Probationary and trainee firefighters don’t get much, if any, leisure time, they’re too busy working and studying.
6. Ditch The TV
It’s said that we burn fewer calories watching TV than we do when we’re sleeping. The TV does not engage your mind or your body. It wastes your time, time that you’re not going to have. If you have time to watch TV – you have time to expand your mind, instead.
Pick up a book and dive in. Leadership training, EMT stories, case studies, firefighting histories, etc. are all going to give you more value than most of what is on TV.
7. Make A Personal Budget And Stick To It
The fire service, particularly early in your career, doesn’t tend to make people rich. In fact, while you’re at the academy, you’re going to be making “not very much at all”. That means you’re going to be under financial pressure.
The best way to manage financial pressure is to understand what you’re facing in life and ensuring that you’ve set aside money to cover it. Non-essential items are not a priority until you’ve got some savings.
If you have a partner, you need to involve them in the budget planning phase. You both need to agree to the plan and stick to it for it to work.
If you make this work then when you’re at the Fire Academy, you’re going to have much less mental stress to deal with – finances that run out of control are extremely stressful.
Why Do People Fail The Fire Academy?
The Fire Academy is not a walk in the park and being accepted to Fire Academy certainly does not mean that you’re going to pass through it and become a firefighter. In fact, people regularly drop out or are kicked out of Fire Academy and there are some fairly common reasons for failing. So, let’s take a look at 7 reasons recruits are let go:
1. They Weren’t Fit Enough
Look, being a firefighter is a highly demanding physical job, and, possibly, the most demanding time of them all is your time at the Fire Academy.
You’re going to be running physical drills every single day and that means if you weren’t fit enough when you arrived at the Fire Academy – you’re going to struggle, then you’re going to fall behind and then you’re going to fail.
You have to ensure that you’re in peak condition before you arrive, there’s no sensible way to assume that you will get fit during training, you won’t, you’ll just wash out.
2. They Lacked Maturity
This is becoming more of a problem as graduates without much life experience come to the Fire Academy. If you don’t have the experience of getting up early every day, of making your meals, of learning to manage a household, etc. then it’s going to be a tough time personally while you try to make your way into your new job.
You can develop this maturity before you reach the Fire Academy but if you don’t have it, it’s going to be a very tough road ahead.
3. They Got Injured
This isn’t fair, of course, but people do get hurt during Fire Academy and if they can’t finish – they may never be able to complete their course.
While some lucky(ish) individuals are offered a place on another, future, academy – many are not able to continue. A fire department has no obligation to retain you if you are injured during Fire Academy.
In part, this is because a probationary period can only commence once you finish the Fire Academy training, so you’re not technically a firefighter during the academy.
Once you do get into your probationary period, you are unlikely to be dismissed for being injured in the line of duty, but if you’re hurt clowning around in your spare time – then you might be fired. That means you really have to think before you do anything risky outside of work, especially when you are new.
4. Their Background Check Revealed Something Bad
Offers are sometimes made to firefighters before their background checks have returned all the information. This is a practical measure designed to ensure the right flow of people through the department at the right time.
Unfortunately, sometimes the last thing to come back is the thing that would have stopped them from giving you a job. You sign a statement when you authorize a background check which certifies that you’ve told the truth and that you’re not misrepresenting yourself in anyway.
If they find, even after you’ve been hired, something that wasn’t true – it’s grounds for immediate dismissal. So, please, tell the truth, you can’t hide skeletons in the closet from the Fire Service.
Also read: Can You Be a Firefighter with Past Drug Use?
5. They Can’t Take Orders
You’re not joining the army, but the organization of the fire department is very similar to that of the armed forces and you are expected to take orders from the officers. A polite request from a captain might not seem like an order but it is.
If your officers find that they constantly have to be on your case to get the job done, they’ll very soon decide that life would be easier without you in it. You are responsible for doing the work. That’s why they hired you.
6. They Can’t Behave (either on or off the job)
Look, the Fire Service is a responsible position that holds a serious position of both trust and respect in the public eye. If your behavior jeopardizes that relationship – they’re going to let you go in a heartbeat.
This covers alcohol or drug abuse, getting arrested, being convicted of an offense, or anything else that might bring you or the Fire Service into disrepute. Even something as simple as too many speeding tickets resulting in the loss of your driving license could see you either suspended or terminated from work.
You joined an emergency service and that means you have to be live up to that standard. Firefighters are supposed to be pillars of the community, rather than working to undermine the community.
7. They Can’t Pass The Exams
Finally, the Fire Academy is an academic exercise. The tests and examinations that are set during your time there are not optional. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the drills and heavy-lifting if you can’t get the 80% required to get through the final written exam – you’re going to be let go.
That’s why you need the 2 hours of study a day that we talked about earlier, this isn’t optional, and it sets the tone for an entire career.
If you want a promotion? That’ll be an exam. If you want to be a better EMT? Exam. And so on… you may put out fires with water, just like they did 100 years ago but the job has evolved to become so much more than it once was. Study is here to stay.
How The Fire Academy Works
So, let’s take a look at the Fire Academy and how it’s set up for the trainee firefighter to learn what they need to be safe and successful:
How Long Will The Fire Academy Take?
You can expect your Fire Academy training to take between 10 and 24 weeks with about 600+ hours of training delivered across that time period. That’s a substantial time commitment and can be equated to a full-time college course.
It’s also worth noting that your work isn’t done when the training stops. If you want to pass the exams at the end of Fire Academy (and you do, otherwise, why did you sign up?) then you need to study on top of that 600 hours and you should all about 14 hours a week for that which can add another 204 hours to the time commitment.
Thus, it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t attend Fire Academy if you’re looking for an easy option.
It’s worth noting that most Fire Academies like all their students to start at the same time and complete the course together but some work on a staggered entry basis, which can mean that new recruits join semi-experienced ones for part of the course.
In general, you can expect to spend about up to 48 hours a week or more working at the Fire Academy and studying.
Some Fire Academies offer slower paced programs that are open to people with employment that are seeking to change career. These programs can require fewer hours per week but can take much longer to complete. There’s no short circuiting the requirements to become a firefighter.
The Education Delivered At Fire Academy
There are two aspects of firefighting training: the theoretical and the practical.
The theory teaches you how fires work, what context the service works in, and a million other things that are essential to be a firefighter.
The practical, on the other hand, is concerned with ensuring that you have the skills and aptitude to put your learning into place and to fight fires.
The Fire Academy delivers both types of learning. In most courses, you will find that the morning sessions tend to run to academic classes that focus on theoretical learning. In the afternoon, you’ll be working in full firefighter’s gear to run constant exercises to drill the practical component into you so well that the basics become habitual.
Here is a video showing what days in the fire academy are like:
You will be expected to learn how to think and function under enormous pressure while applying the knowledge that you have been taught in the Fire Academy’s classrooms. You will do this while wearing a complete set of Personal Protective Equipment and a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) that can all weigh as much as 50lbs.
You will conduct what are known as “live fire” exercises where you will be expected to enter buildings that are actually on fire and learn to handle the fire hose and how to use it in low visibility positions. You will spend time crawling through burning spaces too.
The Fire Academy training has to be as close to real life as it can be though without presenting the same level of risk as you will face in the field, because otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to effectively prepare you for when the stakes are high and the dangers are very much real.
How Hard Is The Fire Academy?
Fire Academy is hard and it’s hard by design. This isn’t because your instructors are sadists looking to take their anger out on the world, it’s because firefighting is a hard job.
They need to know that you can think on your feet after hours of fighting fires without sleep and still make good decisions. They need to know that you can work on a team and prioritize safety over your own ego. They have to feel confident that when the chips are down, no matter how tough things get, you’ll power through.
They are going to intentionally push you into high-stress situations to enable you to develop the skills that you need. You will have to develop physical, mental, and emotional toughness and there will be points off your training that will test all three attributes at the same time.
When you’re not at the academy, you will be studying, you will often be expected to volunteer to take part in an additional drills during your “spare time” in evenings and on weekends and participation in these events is very likely to influence your success at Fire Academy.
You will learn to do all this in a heavy uniform and personal protective equipment and while carrying other heavy equipment.
They test you academically too. You’ll be taking exams and tests and you have to pass (usually 80% on all tests to pass).
On top of that, if you’re not used to working in teams – you will need to develop the skills that make you an effective member of a team. This can often be harder than it sounds.
Many firefighters say that the greatest challenge of their life is Fire Academy followed by a probationary period. We’d agree with that statement. If you want “easy”, then Fire Academy is definitely not for you.
Can You Work While In The Fire Academy?
We’d like to refer you to this statement from the Portland, Oregon Fire Academy,
“Working a second job while in training, will interfere with the time commitment required to maintain pace in the Training Academy program. This includes serving with another fire department or emergency provider, paid or volunteer.”
In some cases, your contract will forbid you to undertake other work while you’re at the Fire Academy, but not always. In most cases, it’s a bad idea.
If you want to become a firefighter, this is one period of your life where you need all your eggs in a single basket, and you have to dedicate all of your efforts to becoming a firefighter.
Once, you’ve made it through Fire Academy and through your probationary period, then you might be able to squeeze in other work as a firefighter (and many firefighters do have second jobs) but at this point in time? It’s just not going to work out well for you.
Is The Fire Academy Like Boot Camp?
There are, of course, some similarities. The Fire Service is a paramilitary organization and thus, some of the training you undergo has tones of the actual military around it. Training in Fire Academies will vary from place to place too – so the boot camp influences might be a little stronger in some places than in others.
However, there are distinct differences in training too. Military boot camps are designed to teach soldiers to fight. Fire Academies are designed to teach you to save lives and to think in every situation no matter how stressful.
Once you get down to brass tacks, they don’t have as much in common as you might presume they do at first glance. But in either, you will be pushed to your limits and expected to perform.
Will There Be Hazing At The Fire Academy?
Yes and no. There are strict laws that are supposed to prevent some of the “rough and tumble” activities of the Fire Academy (which are essential to building team spirit and group discipline) from turning into bullying.
That means there will certainly be moments during your time at Fire Academy that are not that much fun. The modern era raises us to be individuals and that’s a good thing, but learning to be “in it for ourselves” presents serious challenges when working as part of a highly-skilled team, in a high-risk environment.
There is a genuine need to break down the individual to some extent and that’s often unpleasant for the person on the receiving end to help rebuild them as a useful member of the team. However, hazing and bullying are not appropriate ways to make this happen.
Your instructors at the Fire Academy shouldn’t bear any resemblance to the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket – they are well-trained to push the line without crossing it. Their job, at the end of the day, is to decide whether people are fit to work in the Fire Service or not.
Some of the “tough love” recruits receive at their hands is simply designed to try and prevent them from washing out at the end.
It is, however, important to note that the number one priority of all firefighters even at Fire Academy is safety. The training is not designed to demoralize or upset you, it’s designed to help you think about how to be safe.
Your concerns are always for personal safety, the safety of your team and the safety of the public. Everything else comes a distant second to that. You’re learning how to save lives and how to keep yourself and your fellow crew alive in some of the most dangerous situations human beings will ever face.
Physical Training For Fire Academy
The folks at breaking muscle recommend at least four sessions a week for six weeks of fitness training to get ready for the Fire Academy. I’d say this is the bare minimum. You should start training to get into firefighter shape right now!
I wrote another article specifically on physical training for firefighters called: The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained. This has way more details to help you get into shape before the academy, I suggest you read it.
Former recruits have noted that they were surprised at how much strength they needed in intense situations. It’s not just running with ladders or hoses. You might be crawling on the floor, dragging something or someone heavy, and need a very different kind of strength than you are used to.
Here is a video talking about FDNY fire academy fitness standards:
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed when it comes to physical training for Fire Academy – it’s that the more training you do to prepare, the easier Fire Academy will be.
We hope that our guide on “How to prepare for the Fire Academy: 14 insider tips” has been useful and that you feel ready to undertake the preparation that allows you to succeed there. It’s not an impossible task, every firefighter on the job has been there and done it.
It is, however, a major challenge, and the more prepared you are, the easier things will be.