Learning how to become a firefighter and actually turning into one are two different things. It is a fact that the important role of firefighters in the community makes it crucial to impose a list of requirements to make sure that only capable individuals can get the job. For those who are thinking about becoming a firefighter, the following are some of the answers to a few of the questions you might have in mind.
Are there job opportunities for firefighters right now?
The job market for firefighters today is stable with many positions opening up in various departments. Note however, that there are usually lots of applicants for a specified position.
How do I apply?
Apply through your city or government branch. Note that each department may have a different set of requirements for application. Your best source of information would be the website of the specific fire department that you intend to view for a job post. One of the mistakes most people make is applying only to departments that they wish to be a part of. Although this makes sense, it’s usually a good idea to take any test offered. This will allow you to improve your skills and become ready when the one you really want opens its doors.
How do I know there are job openings available?
The local newspaper, some internet websites, and your local municipality can provide you with updates when it comes to job openings. You can subscribe to them to always be in the loop should there be vacant positions. If there are volunteer services, it is strongly encouraged that you apply. This will increase your chances of being updated should there be any openings. Additionally, the experience would increase your chances of being favored and accepted.
What are the basic requirements?
The basic requirements include being at least 18 or 21 years of age (exact age requirement varies per city/State), and a citizen of the United States. You should be able to prove your identity and must be capable of effectively communicating in English. You must also be able to work well as a team, in the fire service you are NEVER alone and should NEVER leave your partner behind.
Can I be too old to apply?
Although there is a minimum age requirement, maximum age requirements usually vary from one department to another. For example, the New York Fire Department requires that the individual should be less than 29 years old during the application period. Typically, fire departments would judge the suitability of the candidate depending on how they perform on the physical exam.
Are there any exceptions when it comes to age requirement?
Yes – but they usually depend on the department. Again, the New York department offers more lenient age restrictions to applicants from the military. Specifically, they allow ex-military applicants to subtract the length of their service of up to 6 years from their actual age.
Are there any aptitude tests?
A written and oral exam is necessary to test a person’s mental skills. Specifically, the written test will focus on your memory, judgment, problem solving, and communication skills. Note that many fire departments rank hiring possibilities based on the exam scores. Hence, it’s not enough to pass; but applicants are advised to get the best score possible.
Will there be medical assessment?
Yes. Note that a medical assessment on how to become a firefighter is different from a physical test. During the assessment, you will be checked for pre-existing medical conditions to determine your ability to perform fireman duties. Some conditions may automatically disqualify individuals from pursuing the job.
What are the requirements when it comes to vision?
The National Fire Protection Associations sets the standard at 20/100 uncorrected and 20/40 corrected. Departments do not have the right to disqualify those who do not have 20/20 vision with most of them following the NFPA requirement.
How do I prepare for the background check?
A criminal background check is a must and will likely prevent a person from advancing further with their application. In some cases, the problem may be explained easily enough or sealed to prevent it from interfering with your application. For those who don’t have a criminal background however, it’s still necessary to prepare yourself for the check. The following are some examples on how to prepare yourself for a background check:
-Information from the different schools you’ve attended.
-Information, documents, licenses or certificates you will be required to show.
-Information about your family and friends for character references.
-Information from the different jobs you have worked in and the employers of that job.
-Your driving record.
-Credit history and banking accounts.
-Military background (if applicable).
Is a psychological evaluation necessary?
Yes. Firemen often find themselves facing emotional pressures in the job. The psychological assessment will ensure that they are capable of handling the daily stresses of the working environment.
Is there a minimum educational attainment to be a firefighter?
A high school diploma is usually necessary if you want to apply as a firefighter. In some departments however, a high school diploma is not necessary.
What is the physical training involved in learning how to become a firefighter?
Physical tests are the most important requirements to become a firefighter. Currently, applicants are required to take the Candidate Physical Ability Test or CPAT. This involves running through an obstacle course within 10 minutes and 20 seconds. The CPAT includes:
-Climbing a 60-step stair within 3 minutes while carrying 12.5 pounds.
-Dragging a 200 feet hose around an obstacle while on their feet or on their knees.
-Carrying saw equipment from one point to another.
-Walking to the top rung of a ladder measuring 24 feet, stay in position and raise the ladder before putting it back to its original position.
-Applicants use a sledgehammer to strike a measuring device until the buzzer indicates them to stop.
-Candidates search through a tunnel maze on all fours with constricted space.
-Applicants practice rescue dragging by grabbing onto a 165 pound mannequin and carrying them through a predetermined course.
-Candidates make use of a pike pole to push a hinged door upwards and other exercises where they are required to pull the ceiling device inwards.
Obviously, these exercises are fairly accurate representations of what a fireman would need to do in the field. Exercises are done consecutively with the time measured to determine whether the applicants passes or fails. Note that different departments may have different physical tests to measure the applicant’s ability in the field. These tests will be completely during your academy and preparing ahead of time is required in order to be the best.
When and how should I apply in the firefighter academy?
Training in the firefighter academy is usually done after the department has accepted the application. During this time, applicants will be learning the roles of a firefighter, safety tips and how to use the different equipment provided.
Do I also have to be an EMT?
Being an Emergency Medical Technician is not always a requirement but can definitely increase the chances of being hired. More than 90% of departments today prefer to hire an EMT. Of course, some departments include EMT certification as part of training possible hires but those who are already certified stand a better chance. To further boost your chances of getting hired, experience as an EMT in a 911 service would also help.
Will I instantly get a job after the academy?
Being accepted in the academy is already a good way to ensure your position in the fire department. Upon graduating however, you will first serve as an intern in the fire department in order to get hands-on experience about firefighting. It is only after passing the exams and completing internship requirements that you can become a full-pledged fireman in the department.
Do I have to be a citizen of the city my target department is serving?
Not really. Fire departments have no problem recruiting applicants that are living outside the city they are serving. Hence, it’s not necessary to move to another location just to be accepted in the department. More often than not, applicants are encouraged NOT to change homes unless they are 100% sure that they got the job.
Are there any fees I should expect?
Applicants are expected to pay for any prerequisite during application. Training through the academy is also a cost shouldered by the applicant; although this may vary from one state to another. Financial aid could be made available to applicants. Individuals are advised to check specific academies online to be sure of payment costs. Note that after being accepted for training, applicants are often paid a salary, which increases after being hired by a department. However according to NFPA and OSHA laws, the fire department is REQUIRED to pay for all basic life protecting equipment (ie bunker gear, helmet, boots, etc.).
What is the usual firefighter schedule?
Firefighters typically have a 24-hour shift running from 7AM to 7AM of the next day and 48 hours off. Since their shifts are extensive however, firefighters often get long day-offs, covering about 20-days each month.
What other tips can you give me?
When learning how to become a firefighter, applicants are advised to prepare themselves even before the official application. A good way to do this would be to have a basic understanding of a fireman’s job, physical training, and studying the subject in theory. Do not wait to learn these things in the fireman’s academy – if being a firefighter is your decided career path, then make sure to accumulate sufficient experience that would help in getting hired. It’s also a good idea to stay updated with all the recent developments and training techniques in the fire service.