How to Become a Firefighter – 10 Steps to Follow
Earning the title “firefighter” is not an easy process. Competition in this field is fierce and the hiring process is often challenging and grueling. In most cases, those who begin the process fail to endure to reach success and earn the position they are working toward. In fact, over 70 percent give up on this pursuit and move on to another career choice. There are a number of reasons this statistic is so high. For example, many don’t know what they are getting into when they begin the process, and others may not adequately prepare.
If you are determined to become a firefighter there is no question you need dedication, perseverance, and the desire to succeed. However, those factors alone don’t determine if a person is going to achieve success. It takes planning, training, education, and the sheer desire to fight fires. While there are volunteer fire departments out there, these don’t pay and typically don’t respond to many emergency situations.
If you are ready to embark on this path to become a firefighter, it is essential to know what to do and how to do it. Here you can find 10 effective tips and steps that can help you achieve your dream of being a firefighter. Not everyone is going to make it through this often grueling process; however, if you do, you can earn the recognition that goes along with being a hero who handles emergency situations.
Don’t try to become a firefighter without knowing what to expect. Here you are given 10 steps that can help you earn the title you want – firefighter.
10Consider Becoming an Emergency Medical Technician, EMT, First
Many fire departments now require all firefighters to receive EMT certification prior to applying to become a firefighter. In fact, up to 90 percent of all departments require this. Since the majority of fire departments handle more than 70 percent of all medical related emergency situations, it only makes sense they would require this prerequisite. Also, it eliminates quite a bit of training when you enroll in the recruit academy.
There are some departments that are also searching for licensed paramedics; however, prior to entering paramedic school it is necessary to successfully pass the EMT training course. When you receive work experience on a 9-1-1 ambulance, as an EMT, you gain a competitive edge over other applicants. If you have decided becoming a firefighter is the right career path for you, you need to enroll in an EMT class and once passed, think about paramedic school if you have an interest in EMS. Keep in mind, becoming a paramedic is much more involved and time-consuming than earning EMT certification so if this is not a career you want, there is no point in enrolling in classes.
Remember, if you are hired prior to having earned your EMT certification, most fire departments are going to require you to earn this as soon as possible. It is essential to have the skills and ability to care for people, especially if they are in a fire or other situation where injuries occur.
9Volunteer Your Time
When volunteering, it doesn’t matter if you choose to volunteer at the local volunteer fire station, or in a non-fire related position. Fire departments are always searching for individuals who have a desire to provide community service and not expect anything in return. Nothing works to prove this better than spending time volunteering.
Volunteering also gives you an opportunity to build your resume, and for those new to the job market, they can earn great references. There are countless opportunities available, so take some time to learn what is in your local area and then sign up for something that peaks your interest. Organizations such as the American Red Cross is always searching for CPR instructors and volunteers. Another place to consider is at a burn center. Doing this provides you with an opportunity to begin working with other professionals in the fire service industry. However, there are countless other ways you can make a positive impact on your community with your volunteer hours. You can spend your time helping out with big brother programs, habitat for humanity houses, and even at homeless shelters.
Becoming a firefighter is about providing a service to your community. When you spend time volunteering in the community you want to work in, it looks great on your resume and makes you a more appealing candidate for hiring than those who have no volunteer hours on their resume.
8Enroll in Fire Technology Classes at Your Local Community College
While enrolling in fire technology classes at a local community college is usually not a requirement to apply for a position as a firefighter, it looks great on your resume and can help ensure you are fully prepared for the job. This type of education shows you are dedicated, committed, and have the desire to achieve your career of choice. After all, when you invest in your future, you are going to have a better chance of success.
The fact is, most fire departments put new recruits through some type of education or fire academy at the beginning of their employment. However, they typically only scratch the surface when it comes to a number of critical areas. For example, many department recruit academies only offer three hours of building construction and just five hours of fire behavior. These are two of the most important subjects you need to know and fully understand as a firefighter. It is a good idea to take some time and take a class in each subject for one semester at the local community college. Doing this provides you with approximately 53 hours of training, covering two subject areas that significantly impact your ability to serve safely and effectively while fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies in the community.
Not all courses are created equal so take some time to find quality options in the area. This ensures you gain the knowledge you need to find success as a firefighter.
7Keep a Clean Background and Lifestyle
Regardless of if you agree or disagree, it doesn’t really matter. The very best predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior. If you have a track record of issues, such as anger management issues, domestic violence, arrests, traffic tickets, vehicle accidents, etc. it is going to make it harder for you to stand out in a positive manner when compared to the competition. While you can’t change your past, you can begin to make positive changes that move your future into the direction you want to go.
As a firefighter, you are going to protect and serve your community. As a result, you need to have a reputation of an outstanding citizen that gives back and that doesn’t have less than ideal situations in their background. Also, you are going to have access to people’s homes, businesses, vehicles, and other personal spaces, which means they need to have confidence that you are trustworthy.
Some fire departments require potential new hires to undergo a background check prior to moving forward with the application process. This is to ensure you don’t have any serious crimes in your past. As mentioned before, you are going to serve as an important person in the community and it is required that only those with a clean driving record and who have no serious crimes in their history are hired. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may have the option to speak with the hiring manager; however, this is not always a possibility.
6Understand there are Several Phases of the Hiring Process for Firefighters
If you don’t know the phases that you must go through and pass to become a firefighter, how do you know what to do to succeed? While the selection process varies slightly from one region to another, and even from one department to another (even if they are in the same local area), there are a number of basic similarities you can count on across the board.
It is important to get to know the process as a whole, as well as each step of the firefighting hiring process. Begin doing a bit of research on how the departments in your local area (or the area where you want to work) handle the hiring process. Figure out how they conduct their recruitments and what some of the most common phases are. Some of these phases including the background investigation, physical agility, written examination, oral interview, etc.
Since the hiring process is handled in phases, it is important to successfully complete one phase prior to moving to the next in the firefighting hiring process. If you don’t score high enough or fail to pass a certain phase, you are going to find yourself dropped completely, or bumped over on the hiring list. The good news is, the phases of the firefighter hiring process are pretty universal and if you put in a bit of preplanning, your odds of success are going to increase quite a bit. After all, being prepared and knowing what to expect goes a long way.
5Begin Taking Firefighter Tests
There is no better way for you to fully understand all the phases of the hiring process than to take firefighter tests. Each test available helps you prepare for the next Also, it doesn’t matter if you fail a certain part of the test, what is important is that you have learned about the test and have an idea of what to expect in the future. If you find that you do fail (which is something that happens to many applicants), you have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes you made. You can learn your strengths and weaknesses and take the time to improve skills where needed.
The good news is there are a number of departments out there that are actively testing and there are a number of online resources that can help to point you in the right direction. You don’t need to rely on your own efforts or word of mouth since the majority of departments test infrequently. As a result, using certain websites, such as Firerecruit.com, is extremely beneficial. While there are some departments that test every six months, the majority of them only test every two to three years and in larger, metropolitan areas, you may have to wait between six and 10 years for the testing process to open.
Taking these tests is the only way you can get hired, so knowing when they are going on is important. It is definitely worth the small subscription fee charged by FireRecruit.com to know when testing is going on.
4Visit Local Fire Stations
Visiting local fire stations is also a great idea, especially those that are a part of the fire department where you are applying or plan to apply. Talking to firefighters is the best way to learn more about the career, specific department, and any programs they may offer, such as a reserve firefighter, cadet positions, or any other opportunities.
Also, local firefighters are a great resource for you to learn from and to begin networking with. These individuals know what it takes to make it through the hiring process. You can also find out what they dislike or like about the particular department and request advice regarding what you need to do to successfully earn a position as a firefighter.
While you can’t believe everything you hear, it is a good idea to listen to everyone and find the common themes. Participating in a pre-interview station visit can also help you during the actual interview. For example, when you are asked a question such as, “why do you want to work for this department,” you can provide an honest answer because you have been there and met the firefighters. This can also help you stand out from other people who are applying for the same position. If you put time into becoming a firefighter you can have a higher chance of success.
3Acquire some Life Experience
The last thing that the hiring fire department wants to have to do is train you on basic, mundane tasks, such as how to cook, wash dishes, handle yard work, treat customers, clean a toilet, or even basic mechanical tasks. These are skills you need to bring to the job, without expecting those at the department to teach you.
Your Captain doesn’t want to have to spend the time teaching you how to handle these basic life skills. Instead, they need to spend their time going over equipment maintenance operation, tool use, building construction, fire behavior, and other similar topics. When you get out of your comfort zone and explore a number of different vocations, you can gain a wide array of job skills that make you more appealing when you apply as a firefighter.
While being a firefighter means you are going to fight fires, rescue people, and help in emergency situations, you also have to learn to live with others for extended periods of time (often 24 hours or more). If you don’t or are unable to pitch in and do your fair share of chores and duties, others may begin to resent you, or it could even cost you your position as a firefighter.
With a few basic, vocational skills, this is not an issue. In fact, many of these are ones you can learn from your parents so make sure you express your ability and willingness to handle these duties during the application process.
2Prepare for the Background Investigation
There are many candidates who ensure they are fully prepared for the other parts of the hiring and testing process, are able to pass easily, but then wind up failing the background check because the lied or because they had something in their background that disqualified them. Some are even disqualified because they don’t have the proper information ready to go. In most cases, the background investigation packet is 25, or more, pages and going to ask you specific and intimate details. Some examples include:
- Information about every employer you have ever had (salary, supervisor name, title, duties, dates, etc.).
- Military background or information (if any).
- Schools attended and any degrees earned, as well as grade point average.
- Driving record information including any tickets, accidents, and locations of these.
- Information about friends and family members to find out more from.
- Credit history information, the amount of debt you have. Bad credit may hurt you during a background investigation.
- Any licenses, certificates, or other essential documents possessed that may serve as proof of your ability or qualifications.
It is not unusual for this packet to go home with a candidate and with the expectation for it being returned within a week. Some of the items above can take months – or even more – to acquire. This is why it is essential for you to begin planning for the background check information as soon as possible. This provides plenty of time for you to gather all the necessary information and documentation to provide proof of everything claimed in the document.
If you don’t plan ahead, you may find you are unable to gather the needed information, which can lead to your disqualification from the consideration phase. This means that all the other phases you have completed successfully don’t count and if you still want to apply, you have to start from the beginning of the hiring process again.
1Acquire “Hands on” Experience
When you enter into the fire service, it is not just a job, but a career you are passionate about. In addition to all the information listed above, it is a good idea to take some time and subscribe to a fire service publication, such as FireEngineering magazine or Firehouse Magazine, as well as email lists. It is not uncommon for a fire department where you are seeking employment to ask questions such as, “where is the fire service industry going in the next five or 10 years?” or “what are the top issues facing fire service professionals today?”
When you have this information in hand, you can stand out from your competition and fully prepare for your future career. Unlike a number of other careers, the educational course and the actual path into the fire service industry is somewhat vague. It is up to you to education yourself and finds the opportunities available. Taking a pro-active stance on your quest for information and knowledge can help you succeed on this career path.
The journey to earning the title of “firefighter” is often difficult. However, when you take the time to seek out opportunities and gain hands-on experience and education, you have a higher likelihood of success. Many departments in the local area likely offer opportunities for you to take volunteer positions, reserve positions, paid call positions, and others that provide the hands-on training that can help provide you a competitive edge against others applying for the position.
There is no guarantee of earning a position as a firefighter even if you use the 10 tips found here. However, with this information and a go-getter attitude, you have a great chance of success. Also, the information here can help increase the odds you succeed since you are making yourself more marketable, much more informed, and the best overall candidate possible.
It is important to remember, Rome wasn’t constructed in a day, and great things come to those who wait. Don’t try to rush through the process and don’t think it is going to happen overnight. Even if you know someone at the department, this doesn’t guarantee you success. Perseverance, dedication, hard work, and patience are all keys to successfully becoming a firefighter.
There is no question that this country needs more heroes who are ready to jump in front of danger to protect others. However, to earn this position you have to put in time and effort. Failure to do this may result in failure to become a firefighter.