So you want to be a firefighter, and you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve applied to a few places, and you’re not sure what the next best step would be.
In this article, I’m going to take an in-depth look at how to become a firefighter, the steps you need to take, and the easiest way to get from where you are to where you want to be.
I’ll break it down into three different sections:
- Basic general criteria to become a firefighter.
- Actions you can take to become a firefighter.
- Fire department full-time hiring process.
So let’s jump right into the…
- Basic General Criteria To Become A Firefighter
- Actions You Can Take To Become A Firefighter
- Fire Department Full-Time Hiring Process
- Written Tests And Civil Service Exams
- Passing Your Exams The First Time!
- Final Thoughts
Basic General Criteria To Become A Firefighter
You have to be a minimum of 18 years old to be a firefighter. If you are underage, look into a junior firefighter program. If you’re at high school and you know you want to be a firefighter, this will give you a good head start when you come of age.
You’ll need a minimum of a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Firefighting is one of the few careers left where you don’t need a college degree to gain employment.
Read more: How To Become an EMT?
A Clean Criminal Record
Generally speaking, fire departments won’t hire people with any kind of felony conviction. Exceptions are often made for misdemeanor charges, DUI, or speeding, for example. You will get asked about this in your interview, and you’ll want to address that properly.
The best way to avoid having to answer awkward questions is not to get in trouble. Don’t drive like an idiot, avoid hanging out with idiots, and don’t drink and drive or take drugs.
Anything that you’ve said or done on social media will be found out. Most of us have posted something dumb that we’d rather not have prospective employers see. If that’s you, either delete those posts or get rid of your accounts completely.
Pass a Medical Exam, Psych Exam, and Polygraph Test
You will have to pass a medical exam, possibly a psychological evaluation, and there’s a chance of a polygraph test.
The medical examination is pretty straightforward. It will involve a drug test, a stress test where you have to walk on a treadmill while they check for any heart issues or other obvious health issues. It’s basically to make sure your health is up to the stresses of the job.
The psych evaluation…
The psychological evaluation, of which there are many different versions, involves answering hundreds of multiple-choice questions. You’ll be given a sentence, and you have to say whether you strongly disagree, agree, are neutral, agree, or strongly agree with the statement. You’ll then sit down with a psychologist afterward who’ll ask you some more questions.
Not all fire departments carry out psych evaluations. The ones that do write up a report and send it back to the chief of the department, assessing how you would handle the job psychologically.
Just stick to the truth…
A polygraph is a lie detector test. Again not all fire departments do this, but a lot do. They use it as a tool to weed people out if there’s something in your record that they think you’re not being honest about.
Valid Driver’s License
You’ll need a valid driver’s license to be a firefighter. Inevitably you will have to drive vehicles as part of the job. Once again, it doesn’t look good to have a load of speeding tickets or DUIs that mean you’ve lost your license at some point.
EMT or Fire Card Certification
You will possibly need an Emergency Medical Technician or Fire Card certificate before you even show up to test. This is more common with smaller departments. Larger city departments often require nothing more than a high school diploma, and they will then send you to the fire academy or some sort of EMT training afterward.
Pass a Written Test and a Physical Test
The written test will involve civil service and basic firefighting exams. There are plenty of online resources to help you study for these exams. You can expect to be tested on things like reading comprehension, mechanical understanding, logic, and spatial awareness.
You will have to pass a fitness test, also known as CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test). This involves things like ‘stair climbs’ while carrying equipment. Or Forcible entry, rescue simulation, and a long-distance run, etc. Fail this test, and you’ve blown it. Make sure you’re keeping yourself in good physical condition and train exercises that will help you in the test.
OK, that’s covered the basic requirements. Let’s move on to the best…
Actions You Can Take To Become A Firefighter
There are plenty of things you can do to boost your chances of becoming a firefighter.
Google and Go
Get online and look up every single volunteer, part-time and full-time department in your area. There may only be a couple or many depending on where you live.
Once you have that list, go to every single one of those departments and sit down with them. Introduce yourself and tell them you’re interested in becoming a firefighter and are not sure where to start. Ask them to run you through the hiring process. Firefighters are normally very approachable, and most will be more than happy to give you the information you require.
Join a Volunteer Department
If you have no fire experience, apply to a part-time or volunteer department. These usually have a high level of staff turnover. Not only will this get you valuable experience, but it also gets you around other firefighters. If you want to be a firefighter, start hanging out with other firefighters. It makes sense, right?
Get Physically Fit
If you are not already fit, you are going to have a miserable time in the fire academy. If you are out of shape or seriously overweight, you are going to struggle to make it through the academy. You’re not only spoiling your chances but also doing the rest of the candidates a disservice by not being able to keep up. You don’t want to be that guy, so make sure you’re in shape.
Get Your EMT or Paramedic Certificate
Even if your local department doesn’t require this, it will give you an edge over the competition. It’s also extra important if you can’t get experience in a volunteer department. The next best thing is to get medic-related experience, as this means you will be spending a lot of time with firefighters. When you finally apply for a position, you will stand out more than somebody who doesn’t have that on their resume.
That wraps that up; it’s now time to learn about the hiring process…
Fire Department Full-Time Hiring Process
Every department is going to be a little bit different, but they are generally all going to have these similar steps as part of their hiring process.
You will have to complete a written application form which you’ll have to pay a fee, usually $25 to $50. There’s a fair amount of paperwork to be completed. With the application, you’ll most likely have to fill out a background questionnaire, where you’ll get asked about your criminal history, driving history, etc.
In many states, firefighter applications are required to be publicly posted in a local newspaper or online, which is something to be aware of. There are often application deadlines to be met as departments are not always hiring. So make sure you get the application in before the cut-off, or it may be a while before you can try again.
Written Tests And Civil Service Exams
CPAT Physical Examination
Fitness assessment comes next. Some fire departments have their particular version of the CPAT test and will not accept a pass on another version that doesn’t meet their criteria. Every department is a little bit different, but you’ll inevitably have to take a version of the CPAT test.
Every full-time fire department will require a panel interview, and it’s one of the most important parts of the hiring process. This will be the departments’ first impression of you, and you’ll have to make it a good one. There is so much competition for full-time firefighting positions that this can really be a make-or-break moment for your chances.
You will have to face members of the department in what is probably, the most stressful part of the process for most candidates. Be prepared to answer all sorts of questions you may not have expected.
Some departments do this, others don’t, but it’s basically a sit-down with the chief after the panel interview. It’s usually a lower-key interview to get to know you a little better on a more personal level.
Psych Evaluation/Polygraph Test/Medical/Drug Test
As mentioned, not all departments require the psych and polygraph tests, but an increasing percentage do.
If you’ve passed all the tests and get offered a job, you will be on probation for anywhere between six months to two years. Most departments have a one-year probation period.
During these rookie months, they reserve the right to fire you for any reason at any time. You will be expected to prove yourself to your department and crew, and if you manage this, you’ll be offered a permanent position when probation ends.
Passing Your Exams The First Time!
Firstly, check out our websites’ Firefighter Interview Questions, which goes well with the online Firefighter Interview Rule Book, the Firefighter Interview: Win Your Interview and Get Hired, as well as the Smoke your Firefighter Interview and Firefighter Interview Rule Book WORKBOOK, available online now.
Now, for those dreaded exams! We’ve found the McGraw-Hill Education Firefighter Exams, the Norman Hall’s Firefighter Exam Preparation Book, the Firefighter Candidate Exams (Barron’s Test Prep), and the Exam Prep: Hazardous Materials Awareness and Operations to get you studying!
Furthermore, we highly recommend the ‘Essentials of Firefighting Series’ that includes the Essentials of FireFighting 7th edition Exam Prep, the Essentials Of Fire Fighting, 7th Edition Course Workbook, the Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations all available online in 2023.
Lastly, if you do have a criminal record, we cover Can A Felon Become A Firefighter for a more in-depth look.
There is so much competition for full-time firefighter positions, often hundreds or even thousands of applicants for a single position. Don’t let that put you off.
Hopefully, having read this article, you can see there are many ways to increase your chances of landing one of these highly sought-after jobs. You’re now fully equipped with the lowdown on how to become a firefighter.
If you think you have what it takes, then it’s time to get the ball rolling and make that application.
All the best with this honorable and enjoyable career.