How to Become a Firefighter
SO YOU WANT TO BE A FIREFIGHTER?
Firefighters are responsible for fighting active fires, of course, but are also in charge of many other duties, such as helping to prevent fires and hazard, performing search and rescue, providing disaster assistance, and serving as leaders to local communities by spreading awareness on how to avoid and deal with fires safely. Before starting their career, firefighters go through extensive hands-on training and education to ensure that they are well-equipped and informed for optimal performance when they’re on the job. Because every state and fire agency has different hiring qualifications and requirements, it is highly recommended that prospective students learn about them at a local firehouse.
HOW MUCH DO FIREFIGHTERS MAKE?
Like most other professions, the average pay for firefighters varies from state to state. Nationwide, firefighters earn an average salary of approximately $50,000 a year. However, recent statistics indicate that New York & New Jersey firefighters earn salaries over $80,000 a year, which amounts to more than their peers from other states in the country.
FIREFIGHTER TRAINING AT A FIRE ACADEMY
To become a professional firefighter, you must complete training at a firefighter academy. You can expect to train for approximately 600 hours over the course of 12-14 weeks. Most programs are designed so that people work 40-48 hours a week (practically a full-time job!), but there are programs available for those who have other things going on and need a more flexible schedule. Training takes place at a fire academy run by the fire department in a state.
Firefighters must be able to think and respond quickly to emergency situations involving fire and hazard under extreme stress levels if they want to survive. With this in mind, they undergo strenuous training that allow them to practice live fire training drills, where buildings are purposely set on fire to give students the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to deal with it safely and efficiently. Through repeated exposure and action, students get more comfortable and confident in suppressing fires in any given situation. During this training session, students are required to dress in their high-tech, multi-layered clothing that can withstand up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, they have to wear an SCBA, which weighs around 30 pounds.
To be eligible for work, an aspiring firefighter must pass all required exams, have a clean criminal record, be at least 18 years of age (sometimes 21 depending on where you are), have a corrected 20/20 eyesight, and a minimum degree of a high school diploma.
Thinking about becoming a fireman, but still not sure where to start? Let’s delve a little deeper and explore each stage of becoming a professional firefighter.
Stage 1: Get experience & make connections!
Just like any other job, education only goes so far, and it is up to individuals to make themselves perfectly fit for a profession by getting hands-on experience. There are many ways to get this experience, and many local firefighters start out by volunteering or interning. This allows them to observe how the higher-ups perform, and give them a chance to contribute by helping out when needed as well. Some volunteering opportunities don’t necessarily have anything to do with getting hands-on experience in the field directly, but will give you the chance to network and build important contacts in the field. A community service role can be as simple as helping out at a station in a community fair, for example. While it may not involve fighting off an active or contained fire, it presents the opportunity to introduce yourself to the firefighting community and make connections that won’t be found just studying at a college campus!
Stage 2: Get fit & CPR-trained.
Believe it or not, firefighters must be physically capable for their job because they work extensive hours under extremely stressful conditions. Getting fit will help any aspiring firefighter work more efficiently and comfortably. Firefighters are required to pass a strenuous physical test when they apply to work as one. In addition to spending more time at the gym, prospective firefighters should consider getting CPR-trained. Holding a Red Cross card can help increase your chances of performing more physical duties around the fire station or doing certain work with the firefighting team that a firefighter without CPR training wouldn’t be able to do. Versatility goes a long way in any profession, and this is definitely the case for firefighters — there’s nothing better than being able to save a life just from performing CPR on someone at an urgent time in need!
Stage 3: Get educated.
In addition to real-life experience, going by the books is a great way to obtain a solid foundation of the profession and everything it entails. There are many different degree programs available in the fire science field. Getting a fire science degree will allow you to learn how to participate in public education, maintain and manage equipment, evacuate fires and treat victims as necessary, extinguish fires with firefighting apparatus, and drive and operate emergency vehicles, to name a few.
Stage 4: Take tests.
Before getting hired as a firefighter, you’ll be required to take several exams. Among these exams include a written exam, psychological exam, oral interview, drug screening, physical test, and background investigation. The written exam covers general subjects including mathematics, problem solving, communications, reasoning, memory, judgment, and human relations. On the other hand, the physical exam tests your ability to see and hear, and covers blood pressure, urine, and blood evaluations.
Stage 5: Put yourself out there!
Once you’ve completed all the necessary tests to become a firefighter, you’re very close! Now, it’s time to apply for jobs, interview, and get hired on for work. Firefighters can be seen working for both local departments and out in the wild for firefighting agencies, state fire organizations, and more.
Stage 6: Keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date.
Like any growing industry, times are always changing, and workers must adapt to these changes. In order to do so, it’s imperative to advance in your profession by taking classes, continuing training, and earning advanced certifications or college degrees. Not only will doing so bring up your rank, earnings, and responsibilities, it will also open the doors to many other job opportunities, such as becoming an engineer, fire chief, or deputy chief, to name a few.