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How to become a Firefighter

  • Be at least 18 years old, with a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).
  • Pass a rigorous test of physical strength and stamina, a medical exam and a drug screening.
  • Find out what real firefighters do. This isn’t “Backdraft”; it’s alternately dirty, dangerous and dull. If this is still your dream, read on.
  • Keep yourself in top physical condition. The fire-fighting exam is very demanding, as is the work itself.
  • Take basic CPR and whatever other emergency medical procedure training is available to you. A growing percentage of calls to fire departments are in response to medical emergencies.
  • Apply to take the fire-fighting exams. You can get all the necessary information from your state or local fire department.
  • Complete your local fire department’s training program. Many municipal fire departments have a two- to four-month program of classroom instruction and practical training covering fire-fighting techniques, fire prevention, hazardous materials and emergency medical procedures.
  • Successfully complete your department’s probationary period of employment, which can last from three to six months.

Many young children dream of becoming a firefighter when they grow up. The career is dangerous, exciting, and varied: as a firefighter, you will experience a wide variety of situations on the job. Firefighting staff contribute to the areas they live in, often providing medical support and other emergency response support in addition to firefighting. Firefighters also participate in public safety education and regular fire inspections. Depending on the career you are interested in pursuing, there are a number of options as a firefighter including wildland firefighting, urban firefighting, and industrial firefighting.

Firefighters are physically fit and thoroughly trained. If you are interested in becoming a firefighter, you should start by keeping yourself in excellent shape. Firefighters need to be agile and very strong. When hiring, fire departments have a physical examination which all firefighters need to be able to pass. This exam includes handling high pressure hoses, breaking down doors, and other skills which are valuable in firefighting situations.

In high school, take a wide variety of classes, including a foreign language if one is offered. In some areas of the United States, knowledge of a second language such as Spanish, Chinese, or Vietnamese can be highly useful. While some fire departments will accept recruits straight from high school, many prefer recruits with an Associates degree in fire science. This will prepare you for advanced training as a firefighter.

In some areas, you must apply and be accepted into a firefighting department in order to receive advanced training. In other regions, it is possible to attend a firefighting school first and apply to departments afterwards. Advanced training at the time of application will give you a competitive edge. In addition, you may want to consider getting basic training in first aid.

The application process begins with the civil service examination, which is administered by the department you apply to. If you pass the exam, you will be kept in the pool of available applicants eligible for advanced testing and interviews. After passing this stage, you will be sent to firefighter training. When you return, you will be accepted into the department as a member of the firefighting team.

Urban firefighters focus on structural fires in cities. Wildland firefighters are usually employed by the Federal government, and work on forest fires. Industrial firefighters are trained to deal with fires unique to industrial situations, including response to chemical explosions. In small areas which cannot afford a full scale fire department, members of the community act as volunteer firefighters. Volunteer firemen are an important contribution to the area they live in, receiving basic training and minimal pay for emergency response.

Many firefighting departments also handle responses to terrorism, rescue needs, crashes, and medical emergencies. Like other public safety personnel, firefighters have to attend continuing education classes in order to remain employed. Continuing education updates the firefighter on advances in fire science, new medical techniques, and other changes in their professional field. Becoming a firefighter is hard work, but well worth the effort.