How to Become a Firefighter

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More than 300,000 professional firefighters work in the United States. The Labor Department reports that more than 90 percent of all professional firefighters work for local government. As a firefighter, you’ll fight active fires or make emergency medical calls as a result of accidental injury or disasters. Firefighters save lives and millions of dollars a year in property damage.

If you want to learn how to become a fireman, the fastest way to really learn about the job is to speak with a local firefighter. All firefighters undergo post-secondary school training, either in a technical school, college, or firefighting academy. Since each state and fire agency sets its own hiring qualifications, one of the best places to learn about requirements is at the local firehouse.

While education and training varies across the land, let’s look at a common path into the profession, exploring each stage:

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Step One Volunteer for the Trade

If you ask a local how to become a firefighter, many will tell you they started as a volunteer. Departments will often have openings for people to do a wide range of volunteer services, including community service. You may help around the station or staff a table at a community fair. A voluntary role not only will help you build vital professional contacts in the field, but also introduce yourself to the local firefighting community. This connection may prove indispensable in entering this a highly competitive field.

Step Two Find CPR Training and Get Fit

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Firefighters work long hours under stressful conditions. They are typically more physically fit than people in professions other than law enforcement or athletics. Get in shape. You’ll be required to pass a strenuous physical examination at the time you apply for work as a firefighter.

Find a CPR class at the American Red Cross or other agency offering training. Holding a Red Cross card can boost your chances of going on ride-along exercises with the firefighting team or handling physical duties around the station. If you can take full EMT training while you work as a volunteer, you’ll have even stronger credentials then it’s time to apply for firefighter status.

It’s a great time to clean up any academic deficiencies if they might hamper your efforts to attend firefighting training or fire school. If there areitems in personal backgrounds that require clearing, now’s the time.

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Step Three Get a Fire Science Degree

Go to school in fire science. Again, each hiring organization may have its specific training requirements. Typically, newly recruited firefighters combine volunteer or practical firefighting experience with post-secondary fire training at a college or academy. You’ll find firefighting technology programs that prepare students for work as firemen, fire investigators, fire arson investigators and fire inspectors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you’ll be expected to know or be willing to learn how to:

  • Suppress and extinguish fires with hoses, pumps and additional apparatus.
  • Evacuate fire structures and treat victims
  • Drive and operate emergency vehicles and pump engines
  • Maintain firefighting equipment
  • Participate in public education

Step Four Take Exams and Apply for Work

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Your hiring process will typically include a written examination, oral interview, background investigation, drug screening and physical aptitude/agility exam. You’ll be asked to provide an extensive job history, academic record, credit history, and a list of personal references.

The written exam covers math, human relations, problem solving, written and oral communications, judgment, memory and reasoning. A physical exam will cover your hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, blood and urine. A psychological exam will cover personality traits specific to performance as a firefighter.

Your oral interview typically covers short-term and lifetime career goals, your vision as a life in firefighting and why you’re choosing that specific agency or department.

Meet the basic requirements, typically having corrected 20/20 eyesight, a high school diploma, own a clean criminal record and be at least 18 years old (21 in some agencies).

Remember, firefighters not only work for local departments, they take jobs with wilderness firefighting agencies, state fire organizations, with the construction trades, fire-equipment manufacturers and suppliers.

Some agencies require candidates to volunteer or enroll in accredited apprenticeship programs that combine work with firefighter training. You may be sent to a federal, state or local firefighting academy that follows U.S. Fire Administration guidelines. The National Fire Protection Association also offers a 110-hour certification course.

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Step Five Advance in Your Profession

While many candidates ask how to become a fireman, you’d be surprised how few don’t ask their prospective employers about job stability and advancement opportunities. Advancements in the public sector are usually pegged to ranks established on the basis of experience and ongoing training.

Continue your training. Heading to class to earn advanced certifications or college degrees in fire science can boost your rank, earnings and responsibilities. You can rise from firefighter to engineer and on to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief and fire chief.