Aspiring firefighters have lots of questions when navigating the hiring process. One such question is: What is a firefighter eligibility list?
The firefighter eligibility list is a list of candidates the Fire Department puts together through the hiring process. It will rank each candidate in order of performance on the prior hiring steps. This list will then be used to select the candidates to fill vacant firefighter positions.
The process of becoming a firefighter can be quite challenging. These positions are usually very competitive and it is important to understand all the steps. Let’s go over each part of getting on that eligibility list and getting hired.
For more info on becoming a firefighter read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide
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Hiring Process Steps
A career as a firefighter is very rewarding and there are many people working to become one. It is highly competitive and the process can be long and difficult.
Like most things in the fire service, the exact steps, what order they are done in and how long it can take, can be different from one area to the next. Below I will talk about the basics of the hiring process from my research and experience.
Some of the details may only apply to the fire departments in my area (Northern California), but the hiring process is very similar throughout the U.S.
The first step is almost always the application. This can be submitted as a paper copy, but nowadays, it is mostly done online. The application will only be accepted during a short window of time and they will not accept it if it is late. (Remember, you may be competing against hundreds or thousands of other candidates). You must meet all the minimum requirements in order for your application to be accepted.
The applications are narrowed down by experience, education, preference points (extra points that are given to veterans or volunteer firefighters) and certifications. They may accept everyone who meets the minimum requirements or they may choose a certain number based on their needs. Sometimes they will just randomly pick a certain number of candidates (Lottery style).
NOTE: There is also a firefighter physical or agility test and it may be administered by the department at some point during the hiring process. However, many departments are requiring this to be completed before you apply.
The most common version is called the CPAT (Candidate Physical Agility Test). Once you pass the test, it will be valid for one year to most any department you apply for. To learn more see this, CPAT.
The selected group will be invited to a written test. This written test is usually 1 to 3 hours long. It will cover topics such as: math (algebra and geometry), reading comprehension, grammar, mechanical aptitude, spatial orientation, memory, and personality.
When I was trying to become a firefighter, I took dozens of tests before I got a job. Some of the tests I took were pretty basic and did not feel too challenging. But there were others that really racked my brain and I walked out feeling like I should have studied more.
If you score high enough on the written exam, you will be invited for an interview (sometimes called an oral board). A passing score on the test may be 70 to 80% or it may be just the top say 200 scores.
This first interview is more basic. They are usually 5 to 8 questions and have a time limit of about 20 to 30 minutes. This interview can be scored as a pass or fail, and if you pass, you move on to the second interview.
This second interview is longer and the questions are more challenging. You can expect 8 to 15 questions and a time limit of 40 to 60 minutes. These questions are more in-depth, thought-provoking and tougher to answer.
The interview board may include some chief officers as well. How you do on this interview (possibly combined with your performance on the other steps) will determine your rank or number on the list.
This list is called the firefighter eligibility list. Getting on this list means that you have passed all the steps and are an eligible candidate for the department to hire. It doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a job, so don’t assume that, but it means you are getting closer.
In order to be hired off the list, you will still probably have to go thru some more steps, which can include:
- Chief’s Interview
- Paramedic exam
- Background Investigation
- Psychological exam
- Medical exam
- Drug Screening
- Polygraph (Lie Detector)
What Do You Need to Be a Firefighter?
In order to be hired as a firefighter, you must meet the minimum requirements to be allowed to apply. While these requirements can vary, for many Fire Departments the minimum requirements are:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a High School Diploma (or the equivalent)
- Have a current Driver’s License
For many departments, that’s all you need in order to apply! And there are people that get hired with no other experience, education or certifications. That being said, the vast majority will need more to set themselves apart in this competitive field.
Here is a list of other items that certain Fire Departments may require to apply. This is also a great list to plan your path to getting hired. You should strive to achieve much more than the minimum requirements.
- Firefighter 1 Academy Certification
- CPAT (Candidate Physical Agility Test) card
- EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Certification
- Paramedic License
- Associates Degree (Fire Science is preferred)
- Bachelors Degree
- Volunteer Firefighting experience
- EMS (Emergency Medical Services) experience
- Community Service
- Clean past that will pass a background test
- Other applicable job experience
Do They Hire in Order of the Eligibility List?
So, after all this, you scored number 1 on the eligibility list! Congrats! That’s not easy to do. But, that doesn’t guarantee you a job. Some Fire Departments may just hire right down the list (top 5 candidates on the list get hired for 5 open positions), but don’t expect that to be the case.
Most of the time, they use the rule of 5. This means that they pick the top 5 candidates on the list for 1 open position, and each additional position will mean one more candidate. (so for 5 openings, 9 people are called, for 10 openings, 14 people are called, etc.) They will be sent to the chief’s interview and the chiefs can choose any of these candidates to hire.
However, your rank on the list will be taken into account. The fact that you did very well on all parts of the hiring process is noted and will never hurt you. So, always strive to score your best and get as high on that list as you can!
How Long Is the Hiring Process for Firefighters?
As you can see from all the steps above, there is a lot to get through. The Fire Department takes the hiring process very seriously and they want to hire the best candidates for their particular department and culture. They need to make sure that each candidate will be a good fit for a 30-year career.
That being said, the hiring process usually lasts several months and may be up to 2 years from when you apply to when you start the academy.
Since it usually takes most aspiring firefighters many applications to get hired, and each can take quite a while, most people take 2 to 7 years to get hired as a firefighter. That’s from the time you start on the path and take your first test or first firefighting class to when you get the badge!
Do You Need a College Degree to Be a Firefighter?
No. Most Fire Departments in the U.S. only require you to have a High School Diploma to apply. However, they may give preference to candidates with a college education and it may be necessary to be a competitive candidate.
How Much Does Fire Academy Cost?
A firefighter 1 academy (basic firefighter training) can range between $2000 to $6000 dollars. These costs include tuition, textbooks, uniforms, personal protective gear rental, etc. These costs do not apply to a fire academy put on by the department after being hired.