Almost 70% of all applicants to fire careers quit before becoming a firefighter. Why? there could be a number of reasons, the top one being it’s just plain hard. Most cities test very infrequently and are rarely ever regular. Some may test and hire new firefighters as often as every 6 months, while some may go 6 to 10 years between hiring. Being a fireman is usually a career job, so the ones who get it, stay there until they retire.
Don’t let that discourage you though, while the competition may be fierce, and the jobs few and far between, there are few things manlier than saving kittens from trees, making your community a better place, getting to battle mother nature(fire that is), and swinging an axe. The goal of this page is to give you a leg up on the competition & help you learn how to become a firefighter.
Steps to Becoming a Firefighter
Firefighters most often work for a city government, even though there are some federal and private fire fighter jobs(such as private military contractors that hire people to go over to Iraq). That means that the individual hiring processes & requirements to become a firefighter could be very wide & varied. However, the steps to become a fireman are fairly standard across the board:
Graduate High School or Get Your GED:
Not all fire stations have the same education requirements as far as certifications, credit hours, etc. You will however need to either graduate from high school or get your GED. This is a basic step just about everyone takes before they turn 19. Plus because you are reading this blog, I can assume you’re a smart, well groomed guy who know how to take care of business.
Become a Volunteer Firefighter:
Most cities & towns have a volunteer fire department. These guys are often the reserves in case things get really crazy, and may even cover a small portion of a town or city. However, it is not a paid position. Typically they don’t have official openings, so the best way to get the job is to go to a fire station, talk to the chief & see how your city’s system works.
Keep Your ear to the ground for job openings:
Now this is the key to getting hired. Often times the competition for a spot as a paid fireman can be so fierce that the jobs are filled before you even hear about them. However, if you are a volunteer fireman this shouldn’t be a problem. Because you are already inside the fire department, you should be one of the first to hear about any potential jobs or hiring tests. On top of that, because of the experience and connections you make volunteering you are in the ideal situation to step up to the big leagues as it were. You can sign up for national job notifications at firerecruit.com.
Apply & Go through the evaluation process:
This is usually the longest and most grueling step to becoming a fireman. This is where they will poke prod & examine you inside and out. The first part is usually a civil service exam to see if you are fit to work for the city. This test covers basic math and science skills as well as basic reading and writing. The physical test can be hard & physically demanding, I’ll give you the inside scoop in the next section, but let’s just say you need to be ready to do some work while wearing a 50lb vest. The psych eval typically consists of a personality inventory(500-900 true/false questions about how you feel) and an interview. Things can get wierd, but just tell the truth & don’t tell them about any voices that tell you to start a fire.
Go through the fire training academy:
Here is where all the book learning can help you or hurt you. Through the academy you will learn about construction, chemistry, anatomy & physiology, emergency medicine, and fire behavior. If you want to have a leg up on things, it may benefit you to take some fire science classes at a local community college. Additionally, there is usually a physical component to help train you to be ready to save people from burning buildings.
Graduate and start fighting fires:
After that boom you are ready start fighting fires. You will still have a lot to learn and they will go over that with you in your fire station, however for the most part you have what you need. The only thing left is to get real life experience doing it. You may have to spend some time being on probation or get hazed as a new fireman.
With a basic overview of the steps in place, lets take a deeper looks at what is required to be a firefighter. Hopefully after a few short paragraphs you’ll have a good understanding on what the absolute bare minimum is, what is helpful to have, and what you don’t need.
The Bare Minimum:
GED or High School Diploma:
As stated earlier if you haven’t graduated high school you can’t be a fire fighter. This one of the basic firefighter education requirements. Some of the things that fire fighters learn in the fire academy require more than basic math & a general knowledge of the human body. A&P courses along with chemistry and algebra are helpful to take in high school, but at the end of the day you just need a fancy piece of paper with your name on it.
Reach 18 Years of Age:
Being 18 should be obvious to an upstanding gentleman as yourself, but if you are younger & aspiring to be a firefighter, give it a few years. Some states & cities required age is 21, but 18 is a guarantee. Volunteer departments may have more flexible rules, but don’t count on it.
Have a Clean Record:
You can’t be an arsonist & a firefighter. A few traffic tickets are fine, but major felonies, like murder, will put you in a bad position from the start. This one is pretty straight forward & easy. Keep your nose clean & you’ll be fine.
This isn’t negotiable. As a firefighter you will be rushing in and out of burning buildings, lifting other people, etc. You will only be putting yourself, citizens, and other firefighters in danger if you are physically unfit. Therefore it is super important that you get fit. If you need an easy way to get in shape start doing crossfit. However have no fear the fire physical test is strict enough that if you pass it, you should most if not all of the physical ability you need. The CPAT test which is an international standardized ability test consists of 8 elements:
- Stair Climb: You must walk on a stepmill at the rate of 60 steps per minute for 3 minutes
- Hose Drag: You will need to run a total of 100 feet around obstacles dragging a hose. Once you have reached 100 feet, you will then turn and pull the hose 50 feet from a kneeling position
- Equipment Carry: During this event you will remove two saws from a tool cabinet, carry them a total of 150 feet & then putting them back into the tool cabinet one at a time.
- Ladder Extension: During this event there are two ladders. One is hinged and attached to the ground. and that is fastened to the wall. You will be required to pick up the unhinged end of the ladder and walk it up to the wall, making sure to touch every rung as you do so. Then you will proceed immediately to the other ladder & raise the extendable end up until you have completed extended it, then you will lower it.
- Forcible Entry: You will a special sensor with a sledge hammer until you are able to hit it with a specific amount of force.
- Search: Here you will be put into a small maze that is made up of small tunnels that are filled with obstacles & the tunnels may get smaller as you go.
- Rescue: You have to carry a 165 lb dummy 70 feet.
- Ceiling Breach and Pull: Here you will get the opportunity to show off your sweet muscles. You have to take a pike pole(big pointy object) out of a bracket. Push-up against a weighted trap door three times, then pull down on a weighted hook 5 times. That’s one set. You have to do 4 in a row.
As you can see firefighting is not for the unfit, but all of the tests are achievable & none are impossible. Here’s a video of all 8 events:
Helpful to Have
EMT License :
While not all fire departments require that you have one of these bad boys, some do, they only take one semester at a community college to get & if you don’t have one somebody else will. So you should seriously consider getting one. The EMT course needs a long guide all on it’s own. Needless to say during the course you will learn about IV medications, emergency medicine, and Anatomy & Physiology. If you are able to get on a fire department without one, you will certainly be qualified for one after the fire academy. Additionally, the good news is, if you have this & the firefighting thing doesn’t work out, you can also go work on an ambulance. If you have questions about getting EMT certified, look here.
Become a volunteer firefighter isn’t required, but I included it in the steps to becoming a firefighter for a reason. It is helpful for all sorts of reasons. The biggest being, you will usually be the first to hear about potential spots on the department. It’s also a great place to try out being a firefighter & decide if that’s really what you want to do. Also it scores points with the ladies.
After EMT’s come paramedics these guys are the real deal. They are the highest trained medical professional outside of a hospital. This typically takes about 2 years of school, and has more opportunities than EMT’s. With a paramedic’s license you are able to do things you may not have been able to do as an EMT. However, it is not required, because most fire departments will send you to paramedics school & pay for it after you’ve gotten on with the department.
Emergency Medicine Experience:
If you’ve worked in an ER or on an ambulance, you are going to have a leg up on other applicants. This again is not required, as you will get plenty once you are a fireman.
A 4 Year Degree:
Even though I’m sure you’re a fine educated gentleman, you don’t need a four year degree in fire engineering to become a firefighter. Most of the time, this is just a waste of money & time. If you have some sort of other degree, great! However, don’t think you need one just to become a firefighter. Let the people you work for pay for your training and education.
A perfectly clean record:
Some people get a little paranoid about their background check. It’s ok if you have a few tickets, or even have had a suspended license. You will need a valid license in most if not all cities when you apply. Also depending on what’s on your record it may make it a little harder to get the job, but hey as manly men we live for the challenge right?
Live Fire Training Before the Academy:
You don’t need to have been through a burning building before you go through the academy. There will be plenty of that in the academy have no fear. In fact, it’s usually better if you come as a blank slate, that way the city can train you exactly the way they want. Just apply & follow the steps listed above & you’ll be fine.
So you’ve made it past the application process & you are in the fire training academy. Awesome! You are going to learn of stuff that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Every city does their academies differently so I’ll be giving you a brief overview of what you are going to learn in your firefighter training.
Construction & Engineering
Ah yes, I bet you didn’t think you would need to be an amateur contractor as a firefighter. Well the fact of the matter is, if you are going to be running in and out of buildings that are on fire, it matters very much how much you know about a building’s structural integrity. During this portion of the academy you will learn basic construction principles as well as the melting points for different materials, where structural weak & strong points are, and what a building looks like right before it collapses.
Fire is a fickle mistress. It behaves differently depending on the conditions. What it takes to put it out & get it under control will change as well. You will learn all about chemical fires, electrical fires, standard fuel fires, etc. You will also learn how fire reacts differently to different firefighting actions. For example you need to know how to not feed fire more oxygen, but still being able to people out of a building. This part can be both interesting and boring, so pay attention.
Firefighters work a lot outside of burning buildings. They are typically the first to respond to emergency calls. This means that you will need to know how to treat lots of different conditions & injuries. Some calls you may get sent on include scenes of shootings, car accidents, and the discovery of a dead body. So I hope you have a strong stomach, but I’m sure you do.
Live Fire Training Exercises
Some cities have a big enough department to have what they call a burn building. A burn building is usually a concrete structure that can be set on fire repetitively. Smaller cities and departments sometimes use houses that were foreclosed on or donated to the apartment. This is where you will put all you have learned to use without anyone besides yourself actually being at risk & yes people have died during live fire training exercises. That’s ok though, sometimes a little danger keeps you on your toes.
What do Firefighters do
So you’ve passed all the evaluations & graduated from the academy. What now? What do firefighters actually do? Well for one they fight fires. They handle both commercial and domestic fires. Additionally, they are the cities number one resource for 9-1-1 calls. That means you will be on the scene for a lot of car accidents, etc.
In addition to that you may work public or city events, such as fairs etc. Some cities do health screenings & health fairs that are open to the public. You will be the main resource for those events. When you are not fighting fires, responding to 9-1-1 calls, handling public health events, or cleaning your equipment(which could add up to basically your entire first year of duty) you will be hanging at the fire station waiting for a call.
Usually firefighters work on 24 hour shifts, so you will have a rack to sleep in, a kitchen to cook in, and a living area to hang out and watch T.V. in. So the usual fire fighter shift schedule is to work two 24 hour shifts a week, for 3-5 weeks in a row & then you will get something like 7 or 8 days off. Often it depends on the city, but once you are one a shift unless you move shifts or stations, your schedule could be set for the rest of your life, which is pretty sweet.
The International association for Fire Fighters is also a great resource.