How to become a firefighter
Becoming a firefighter is a dream for many, but the process is quiet challenging. Not only you have to be in perfect physical condition to qualify, but you will also need to demonstrate substantial profession-specific knowledge that can be learned during training.
To consider becoming a firefighter you will first need to satisfy some basic requirements like high school diploma, valid driver license, and clean background check.
Each state has its own regulations when it comes to hiring firefighters. Of course, some pre-requisites like CPR (or even better, EMT) training accomplished along with degree in Fire Science are common, when it comes to details, there’s no better way to find out the requirements other than talking to local firefighters from a brigade where you potentially want to work.
In most cases the process is the following:
Step 1. CPR or EMT training
First, you will need to get first aid skills. CPR, or Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a training course you can take from local Red Cross or even some hospitals. It will teach you to help people get their heart functioning in emergencies. CPR is good to get hired, however after that, EMT credential is needed.
EMT (emergency medical technician) training, is a more advance course that includes CPR training, but also teaches you more life-saving skills. EMT credentials are essential, so it's a good idea to complete the course ASAP, otherwise you will be required to do so after you get hired.
More advanced EMS career training (like becoming a paramedic) will require additional education on top of EMT degree you already have and enrolling into a specific program. This only makes sense to do if you're excited about working in EMS. However, for firefighters, EMT credential is enough.
Step 2. Volunteering and networking
If you have completed Step 1, you’re already a valuable asset for local firefighting team. Especially, if you have worked for some time as an EMT in ambulance. This is not required, but will give you a great benefit. Fire departments are usually open to take volunteers willing to help. Before volunteering for the fire department, you can try Red Cross, for example. Or, start teaching a CPR course (assuming you have completed your EMT already).
In general, volunteering provides you with hands-on experience, learning opportunities and is a great source of references in the beginning of your career.
Fire departments want to see pro-active candidates who are willing to help others, so even if you volunteered for a homeless shelter, this will look great in your CV. After that, you can reach out to the firefighters nearby and volunteer for fire department. Of course, you won’t be involved in firefighting process itself, but your first aid skills can be very helpful.
Step 3. Fire Science Degree & Training
You will need to find a school with Fire Science training course. Usually it’s taught on Associate’s level, which takes 2 years to accomplish, or more advanced Bachelor’s (4 years).
You should expect to learn subjects like Fire Prevention, Fire Behavior, Principles of Emergency Services, Building Construction, Fire Protection Systems, etc.
Fire science degree is an excellent base for starting as a firefighter, but not only: it gives all necessary knowledge to advance your career and become a Fire Chief, Fire Investigator, etc.
The degree will provide a huge benefit for the following reasons:
- it will show you're serious about becoming a firefighter and ready to spend time on learning the theory before practice.
- you will not have time to learn once you have started to work. Most fire departments provide only the basics of theory (maybe 8 hours in total), which is certainly not enough. Knowing the subjects like Fire Behavior or Building Construction can save your life.
You can learn more about learning options in our detailed guide here.
Step 5. Prepare & look for a job
After accomplishing your training, you’re ready to start hiring process. This is an extensive process that includes (bot may be not limited to):
- set of interviews
- psychological exam to make sure fire fighting is the right career for you
- background checks (job history, academic record, credit record)
- written examinations (cover reasoning skills, memory test, logic, math) - it's a good idea to start practicing with some firefighter tests when you're finishing your fire science training
- physical exam (thorough medical check)
- drug screening
The combination of above may slightly vary depending on fire department you will apply to, but in general, the process is very similar across all of them. Again, don't be afraid to visit a local fire department and talk to firefighters who already work there - this will be especially helpful before you have your first interview, since you will become better prepared and will have some insight. Believe us, not many candidates do this - so it will definitely give you a competitive advantage.
Many of prospective firefighters simply ignore the importance of background check. Maintaining you background is essential. The check are extremely thorough and you will be screened like on MRI. Competition is very fierce, and sometimes a minor thing like speeding ticket can complicate the selection. So, start thinking about your future hiring process now.
Step 6. Advance your career
As said above, having a fire science degree, you can advance your career to become a captain, fire or deputy chief. You can also try a different route and become a fire inspector or investigator. Of course, before doing that you need to get real work experience as firefighter.
Just like any other field, fire service is changing. You need to remain current about what is happening in the industry. This will help you regardless of whether you're just starting as a firefighter (prospective employers will likely ask you about that), or have some experience already.
Moving forward, even after you have completed the Fire Science degree course, continuing education is vital. Anyway, compared to studying (online or in nearby school), now it will be mostly about self-education and being able to find needed information on your own.