Many have the dream of becoming a firefighter. They want to serve their community and help people during a crisis, both of which are noble pursuits. But figuring out how to become a firefighter isn’t always easy. Unless you happen to find a job posting from a fire department, you might not know a single thing about what is involved.
Luckily, how to become a firefighter is nearly universal. Almost every district has similar requirements and expectations. So, whether you are from Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, or anywhere else, here is an overview of what you need to know.
The Journey to Becoming a Firefighter
Before we dig into how to become a firefighter, it’s important to understand that it isn’t easy. Tons of people want to be firefighters, so you might face a lot of competition. Plus, the requirements are pretty tough, both from an educational and a physical standpoint.
But, if becoming a firefighter really is your dream, all of the hard work and effort is worth it. Just be prepared to dig deep, and you can achieve your goal of being a firefighter.
How to Become a Firefighter
No one becomes a firefighter overnight. Just like any other profession, it takes time, energy, and dedication. Plus, certain requirements (like meeting the minimum age and getting physically fit) can’t be rushed. This means you need to be patient, but it also gives you an opportunity to make sure you hit everything you need to accomplish before you take the leap.
While every department or district might have slightly different firefighter requirements, most align pretty closely. First and foremost, you have to meet the minimum firefighter qualifications for your age. In some cases, 18 years old is the proverbial line in the sand, but some departments only consider applicants who are at least 21.
The next biggest requirement you’ll need to be ready for relates to firefighter fitness. After all, it is physically demanding work. Not only do you have to be capable of wearing 60 to 80 pounds of gear, but you also have to wear it while climbing stairs, swinging an ax, dealing with the heat, and while pulling people to safety.
Being in good health is also essential. All departments require a firefighter physical exam performed by a medical doctor. Along with passing a drug test, you need to not have any major health concerns and have functional mobility.
Also, if becoming a firefighter is a priority, you can’t be a smoker. Some states go as far as to ban tobacco use entirely; the others only focus on cigarettes. Plus, you be a non-smoker for at least one year if you want to get hired, so, if you smoke, quitting now is your best bet.
Finally, a clean background check and credit history is a must. Firefighters need to be credible and have a good public image, so, if you have a criminal conviction, you might be disqualified. Similarly, serious issues on your credit report could remove you from contention.
Firefighter Education Requirements
The education requirements can vary from one district to the next. However, having a high school diploma or GED is always a must. You also need a valid driver’s license (with a generally clean driving record).
Secondary education is usually optional (though it could be mandatory for some departments). But, even if this isn’t considered a firefighter requirement in your area, if you have a certificate or degree in fire science, you are usually ahead of the pack.
On the first aid/medical side of the equation, there is a range of requirements. At times, a simple CPR certification may be enough to get your foot in the door. However, many fire departments provide Emergency Medical Services (EMS). For those, you might need an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic (EMTP) certification.
If you are working to become a firefighter, being an EMT or EMTP never hurts your chances, even if it isn’t required. But, if the department says you must have one or the other, if you don’t, you are out of the running.
Here’s one of the biggest points where fire department hiring processes can differ. In bigger cities, like LA and New York, many of the departments hire you first and send you to the academy second. In those cases, you don’t need to worry about completing this firefighter training in advance.
However, smaller areas might only take applications from certified firefighters. If your target city has this requirement, you’ll need to handle the firefighter academy part before you apply.
Usually, you’ll find a suitable firefighter training program at a community college, technical school, or other educational institution. You apply just like you would at any other college and pay tuition too.
Whether you have to do it before or after being hired, the training process is similar. You’ll get a ton of physical training, learn various firefighter skills, and soak up all of that firefighter knowledge, ensuring you are prepared to tackle the job.
As you work to become a firefighter and find a suitable academy, make sure that the program is recognized in your state. Any school can claim to offer a firefighter training program, but that doesn’t mean they are all created equal or meet your state’s requirements, so it’s always best to check before you sign up.
Applying to Become a Firefighter
Once you handle everything above, it’s time to start applying to departments in your area. As with any job, the department will review your work history and education. At this point, your background check and credit check may be run as well, so be ready to sign some documents giving them permission to take a look.
If your application looks good and you meet the requirements, you still have more work to do before you actually become a firefighter. What your next step if you are trying to become a firefighter? Taking tests, that’s what.
Firefighter Written Test
As you are undergo evaluation for a firefighter position, you have to take a written exam. The test may be administered by the city or county, or could be hosted by a private organization. But, in either case, there is no avoiding this step.
Usually, the firefighter written test is set up to make sure you have the right knowledge to work in the job. In most cases, it focuses on firefighting material but could include EMS questions too.
Firefighter Physical Test
In order to make sure you meet the physical requirements, you’ll need to take part in a firefighter physical test. In most cases, it’s called the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), and it’s designed to make sure you are fit enough to do the job.
That’s why it is so important to exercise and build muscle before you work on becoming a firefighter. This exam isn’t for people who can’t remember the last time they worked out. If you fall in that category, the firefighter functional fitness test will chew you up.
If you meet the firefighter requirements and pass the tests, you move onto the next phase. Here, you’ll interview for the job, making sure that you are suitably professional and feel like a good fit for the department.
The firefighter interview is just like any other job interview; it just focuses on areas that matter for those who want to become a firefighter. If you do well, you might be offered a chance to go to the firefighter academy or get a job offer, depending on whether the department manages their own academy or if you needed to get certified first.
Be a Firefighter
Once you finish your interview and handle the academy (if you haven’t already), that’s it. You’re officially a firefighter. While it is a long road, it’s a worthy goal at the end, so get ready to buckle down and get to it. If becoming a firefighter is your dream, your future self will be thanking you in no time.