The reputation of firefighters is perhaps one of the strongest motivating factors behind people choosing to become firefighters. Unfortunately, not everyone can take on this profession as it has some requirements, and age can be one of them. You may be wondering what those age limits are…
The age limit to become a firefighter is usually between 18 and 35. However, many departments have no upper age limit to apply.
Read on to learn more about the age restrictions on becoming a firefighter. Just because you are over 35, that doesn’t necessarily rule you out from becoming a firefighter. There are multiple firefighters where I work that were hired in their 40’s, so these requirements don’t apply everywhere.
Also read: Can I Become A Firefighter At 30/40/50?
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Not everyone knows they want to be a firefighter early on. There are some that know from a young age and pursue a career in the fire service right out of high school. However, there are many others that decide they want to be a firefighter at a little older age and they wonder if it is too late to get into such a physically challenging profession.
Some people wonder, can I be a firefighter after 40?
The maximum age to become a firefighter can vary from one area to the next. Some departments will set a maximum age to ensure they get a full 20-30 year career out of them; this ensures they get the most out of their investment to hire, train, and equip you.
There are also some departments that prefer to hire probationary firefighters below a certain age due to the strenuous nature of the job. Just how strenuous the day to day work of a firefighter is, can vary widely from one area to the next. But one thing remains true of any firefighter; they need to be prepared, both mentally and physically, to respond to a serious emergency event at any time.
For these reasons, there are some areas that will set an upper age cutoff to become a firefighter. I have seen this cutoff as young as 29 years old and as old as 45 years old. And there are also a large number of departments that have no upper age limit at all.
I have worked with plenty of men and women who became firefighters a little later in life; many after having worked in another job field for a number of years.
The department where I work has no upper age limit and we have hired new firefighters who are in there 40’s. And they all have no regrets about their career change.
Also read: What Is The Age Limit To Be A Paramedic/EMT?
Why Age Matters
Sure, it’s possible that a 40-year-old could be more fit than a 20-year-old. That’s why the age range can vary for new firefighters, as it takes into account the ideal age range and the physical abilities possible at each age. They want someone who can make it through all the necessary training.
Age definitely matters when it comes to performing the tasks of the average firefighter. Here’s what’s expected of firefighters and why age may make a difference.
- Physically healthy. Firefighters are usually required to lug around over 75 pounds of equipment while on a call. They’re also expected to be able to climb several flights of stairs, run with equipment on, and carry individuals over their shoulders. They want to know that you can handle a strenuous fire academy. Generally speaking, the younger crowd would perform these tasks much better.
- Mentally fit. When you’re on a call, you need to make sure that you’re always thinking on your toes and ready for any situation. You’ll need to be able to make split-second decisions, communicate efficiently with your peers, and perform the tasks assigned to you correctly. Mental sharpness may be more common in younger populations.
- Commitment to the field. When any department hires a new firefighter (called a firefighter recruit), they want to make sure that their new candidate is in it for the long haul. That means they’ll be able and willing to put in several years or decades of hard work. When a candidate is younger, more fit, and further from the age of retirement, stations can guarantee long-term firefighters.
You might be more fit at 35 now than you were back when you were 22, but that doesn’t make you any more qualified to be a firefighter in America. The fire chief wants to know that you are a good investment and will fit with the culture of the department, above all else.
If you are older than some of the other candidates pursuing this career, you just need to do your research. Many departments won’t give your age a second thought (as long as you are fit and are able to pass the firefighter physical test- CPAT or Candidate Physical Ability Test). In fact, they will probably see all your life experience as a huge asset.
To learn more about the Firefighter Physical test and to make sure you have no problem passing it, Read: 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT
Can You Be a Firefighter at 18?
Yes, most professional fire departments will allow you to apply at 18 years old.
In the United States, all career firefighting positions require you to be at least 18 years old to enter the testing process. Some departments may set the minimum age at 21 years old, but that is less common.
Being 18 years old is one of the minimum requirements (along with high school diploma or GED, EMT certification, and Valid driver’s license) to apply for most firefighter positions.
Variations in Hiring Requirments
Large cities like New York and Chicago are strict in their recruitment process for the firefighter exam. The strict recruitment policies in these cities are due to the complexity of putting out fires and rescuing people in tall, intricate buildings and small spaces.
Fighting fires in these areas demand a higher level of skill and knowledge than does putting out fires in rural areas with less crowded spaces.
Thus, the requirements to be a firefighter in a small, less commercialized town or city may vary from that of a highly industrialized city. And one crucial difference in requirement is age. Here are a few examples:
In New York, the minimum age required to be a full-time firefighter starts at 21 years, with a maximum age of 29.
In Phoenix, the firefighting occupation requires a minimum age of 18 and has no maximum age limit.
The best way to determine if your age is suitable for an application to become a firefighter is to inquire at each fire department or visit its website.
There are three types of fire departments; volunteer, paid/career, and combination. We talked above about the age requirements to become a paid/career firefighter, but do these same requirements apply to become a volunteer firefighter?
The answer is no, while many departments will also require you to be 18 years old to become a volunteer, there are also others that will accept applicants at 16 years old and possibly even younger.
Most volunteer fire departments do not have an upper age limit to be a firefighter, as some paid fire departments do. It is not uncommon for people to become volunteer firefighters after they have retired from their other careers.
The departments that do allow firefighters under 18 years old may have different expectations and procedures for these younger members. While they will still likely get to learn and train alongside the adults; they may be restricted in what they are allowed to do, such as whether they can work shifts at the station, respond to calls from home and/or perform direct firefighting tasks.
Again, you need to check with each individual fire department to find out what your role as a young firefighter will be. For more opportunities as a young, aspiring firefighter, read about junior firefighters and fire explorers below.
How Old Are Junior Firefighters?
The junior firefighter program allows young men and women to get a feel for what being a firefighter is like. These programs are run by many local fire departments. In addition to teaching these young adults about the basics of firefighting; they teach valuable life skills such as teamwork, self-confidence, leadership, and a strong work ethic.
As of 2020, there are over 2,000 fire stations across the country that host official Junior Firefighter programs that help to train local youth and encourage them to pursue a career as a firefighter.
These programs give aspiring firefighters who are younger than 18 a chance at being firefighters. They usually allow applicants as young as 14 years old.
Here is a video taking a look at a similar Fire Explorer Program Recruitment:
There are other similar programs that may have different age requirements like fire explorers and fire cadets.
For more information about all these young firefighter programs, Read: What Is a Junior Firefighter?
In summary, the minimum age requirement to be a firefighter starts at the age of 18, but the specific age limit depends on the location of the application. Other requirements include passing the physical test, EMT card, US citizenship or residency, a clean personal record, good financial standing, and community involvement. Good mental health is also an important prerequisite.