How to become a Fire Fighter

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Fire Fighter? What Fire Fighters do? Degrees for Fire Fighters, Steps to become Fire Fighter and much more.

What does a Firefighter Do?

Firefighters, also known as firemen, are highly skilled men or women who work to combat and extinguish fire. Firefighters are trained to do their job everywhere right from forests to rural areas to urban concrete jungles. The primary job of a firefighter is to protect lives. They are also responsible for prevention of fire, they act as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and investigate the causes of fire. Firefighters are sometimes called the first responders because they are almost always the first officials on the scene of a fire, a car accident or other emergencies. Some firefighters take up firefighting as a career while others volunteer within their communities.

The four primary responsibilities of a firefighter are putting out fire, rescuing and caring for the sick and injured, working to prevent future fires and investigate the source of fire. 

The primary duty of a firefighter is fighting fire breakout. Once firefighters receive information about a fire breakout, they will suit up and drive up to the location. Spme trucks carry pump water, some carry aerial ladders and  some are rescue trucks used for transporting fire victims to the nearest hospital ERs. Once the firefighters reach the site, each of them has a specific task to carry out and work under a commanding officer.

In case of an automotive accident that doesn’t involve a fire, the job of a firefighter is to use their EMT training and care for the injured and secure the accident scene before ambulance and police arrive. Firefighters also act as rescuers in times of natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis. 

Firefighters are also responsible for educating the public and works as an inspector to prevent fire breakouts. Fire inspectors are responsible for ensuring that local businesses meet the fire prevention codes. Some firefighters are trained as investigators to locate the source of fire.

Firefighters are responsible for maintaining fire apparatus and engage in regular drilling or training.

Steps to become a Firefighter

Following is the step by step guide to becoming a Firefighter

Meet the basic requirements

The first step towards becoming a firefighter is to obtain a high school diploma or GED or an equivalent. Applicants must possess a valid driver’s license. The minimum age limit for application is 18 years and the upper limit is between 28 to 30 years old. Applicants may be required to pass a drug screening test and criminal background check. Though the lower age limit is 18 years, training to become a firefighter can begin at a younger age. 

Take the required Tests

Fire departments usually participate in job fairs for new recruitments. Screening events are hosted where interested candidates take the written and physical tests. The hiring process for the position of a firefighter is quite lengthy and requires patience. Those that qualify the first round of tests are interviewed and often have to go through an additional series of evaluations and testing. The two main exams that test the eligibility of a prospective firefighter are- Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) and a written test. The CPAT is the standard test used by most fire departments to determine a candidate’s ability to handle the physical pressure of being a firefighter.

To pass the CPAT, candidates must successfully complete eight separate firefighter related tasks while wearing gloves, a helmet and a 50 lb weighted vest within 10 minutes and 20 seconds. Some of these tasks include distance run, climb flights of stairs at a rapid pace and lift and carry upto 200 pounds worth weight. The written exams typically consist of a mix of 100 multiple choice questions and true and false testing foundational skills in mathematics, reading comprehension, logical reasoning, mechanical aptitude, memory and observation and spatial orientation

Become a Certified EMT

Most jurisdictions require firefighters to become certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or paramedics as they are often the first responders for any kind of medical emergencies. Most states use the National Registry for Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam. Firefighters need to complete an EMT training program that includes both classroom and hands-on components. EMT basic and paramedic courses are available at community colleges or at certain fire departments.

Undergo Training at the Fire Department Academy

After being hired by a fire department, a candidate must participate in basic firefighting training for several weeks at a fire academy or training facility. Fire academy training offers both classroom and hands-on training. Courses offered in a Fire Academy might not necessarily be covered by a fire department like building codes, hazardous material control and anti-arson techniques

Obtain a Formal Education Degree

A college degree is not a must for careers in fire science. But those that want to advance their careers in the field of fire science, paramedics and other leadership roles with firefighting agencies may opt for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs at colleges, universities and trade schools. A two years associate’s degree program in fire science may include subjects like fire prevention, fire protection systems, strategy and tactics, wildland firefighter among others. 

For those that are pursuing bachelor’s degrees, some universities allow transfer of credits earned at associate’s degree level. Bachelor’s degree in fire sciences include courses such as building construction, fire scene reconstruction, fire investigation and analysis, water supply and fire safety.

Continue Learning

Firefighters need to complete regular continuing education courses to maintain their EMT licenses. Usually their job paths determine their initial and ongoing educational paths. Keeping up with training is a vital part of a firefighter’s job. 

Salary of a Firefighter

The average annual salary of a firefighter is around $49,600 approximately as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bottom 20% makes around $25,500 annually whereas the top 20% make around $99,000 per year. 

Job Growth Of  a Firefighter

The employment rate for firefighters is projected to grow at a rate of 5% between 2018 to 2028. The work of a firefighter is absolutely integral to community safety and security and hence the firefighter’s job is always in demand. Those that are physically fit and trained in paramedics will have the best chances to land a job as a firefighter.

Types of degrees for a firefighter

Fire science degrees are available at all levels of higher education which are discussed below:

  • Certification in Fire Science: The most common certification programs are in fire science and fire technology. The purpose of an undergraduate level certification is to provide students with the fundamental knowledge, training and skills needed to combat a fire outbreak. Certificate programs are available in community colleges and vocational/trade schools and typically can be completed within a year or less. Certification programs are best for those that are seeking quick entry into jobs as firefighters or EMTs. 

  • Associate degrees in Fire Science:  There are two seperate tracks for students to choose from- associate degree program which includes general education courses including subjects like liberal arts and science subjects and acts as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree program or an applied associate program which prepares students for jobs upon graduation. Undergraduate program provides students with a strong foundation in fire science. Associate degree programs in fire science are available in community colleges and online colleges and typically take upto two years to be completed. Associate degree programs are best for those that are interested in gaining a leg up on job seekers without a degree and also for those that intend to continue their academic careers

  • Bachelor’s Degrees in Fire Science: several degrees in fire science are available at the bachelor’s level. Bachelor’s degree programs in fire sciences are mostly designed for working professionals to gain knowledge and skills in specialized areas that would help them advance their careers. A bachelor’s degree program in fire science typically takes upto four years to be completed. Some programs however might be completed in a shorter period of time depending on the number of previously earned credit transferred from certification or associate degree programs. Bachelor’s degree programs are available in both traditional colleges and online colleges.

  • Master’s Degree in Fire Science: master’s degree programs are apt for career advancement into top tier supervisory positions. Master’s degree in fire sciences serve two functions- providing knowledge and skills in a specialized area of the field like emergency management, fire and arson investigation and fire protection engineering and, providing training in management and administration. Master’s degree programs in fire sciences are available both online and in traditional colleges and universities, mostly online colleges so that students can continue with their work in the fire departments while pursuing higher education. Master’s degree in fire science typically takes two to three years to be completed and is best for mid level professionals with significant years of experience in the field and is seeking jobs in the top level.

Concentrations to consider

Those that are interested in a career in fire sciences can opt for the following career concentrations:

  • Firefighter: The most obvious career option is that of a firefighter. The primary job of a firefighter is combating a fire outbreak. They are also trained as EMTs and paramedics and usually are the first responders during an automotive accident also. They are also trained to inspect the cause of a fire outbreak. They need to enroll in training and continuing education to keep their certificates valid.

  • Arson Investigator: An arson investigator’s primary job is to collect evidence in the event of a suspicious fire. Their job includes taking into account the details of the eyewitnesses, finding the cause and determining the one responsible for the fire. Arson investigators work closely with police departments and other investigative bodies.

  • Building Inspector: People with a keen eye to details and strong knowledge of building codes may work as a building inspector. Their job includes looking at buildings for determination of safety, structural soundness and compliance with a variety of other regulations. Prospective building inspectors may shortlist fire safety degree programs targeted at fire and safety codes.

  • Forestry Fire Prevention Specialist: Forestry Fire Prevention Specialists are highly trained firefighters who work in forest areas. Their primary responsibilities are inspecting for potential fire hazards, enforcing fire regulations and instituting control measures when a fire is imminent. They also have to keep a tab on the weather and climatic conditions.

  • Paramedics: All firefighters have to pass an Emergency Medical Technician test. Those that are interested may opt to pursue a career as a paramedic. They will have to undergo additional training for the purpose. The primary job of a paramedic is to respond to emergencies, assess injuries, treat patients at the scene and transport them to the nearest medical facility available

Preparing Yourself a career in Fire Sciences

Below is a comprehensive detail about how those that are interested can prepare for a career in Fire Sciences:

  • Vocational / Trade Schools : vocational / trade schools are career focussed institutions that provide practical coursework and training programs geared towards preparing students for employment in specific trades and occupations. Those seeking certification courses in fire sciences may opt for vocational schools. These certification programs combine classroom education with hands-on training and prepare students for entry level jobs. 

  • Community Colleges:  Students who want to pursue associate’s degree programs in fire sciences can opt for community colleges. Associate degree programs require students to have earned a high school diploma or an equivalent and requires upto two years to be completed.  Individuals looking for a good balance between receiving a well rounded liberal arts education and getting a quick start to a career in firefighter.

  • Military Service: Military service is a great way to get top notch training and valuable skills in firefighting. Military train their own in firefighting regardless of the specific branch they serve in. Military firefighting training has the distinct advantage of knowing how to handle a huge variety of firefighting materials, chemicals and tools and is highly regarded in the civilian world. Firefighters with military training move up to the top of the recruit list by fire departments. Military firefighter training is an excellent choice and is apt for all those that are interested in meeting the call of duty to serve their country with the long term career goal of working as a firefighter.

  • Four Year Schools: Four years bachelor’s degree programs in fire science focuses on fire science as well as related courses such as management and business. It is apt for those that are already working as firefighters and want to move up the management ladder.

  • Master’s Degree: master’s degree in fire science is a rare degree and the specific majors include fire investigation, fire prevention and fire engineering. Most programs focus on management and administration such as emergency management, fire administration and public administration such as emergency management, fire administration and public administration. It requires two to three years to be completed and are fit for working professionals seeking an advanced degree to rise up in their careers

Stand out skills for a Firefighter

Following are the skills required to stand out as a successful firefighter

  • Physical Fitness: The most crucial aspects of the job of a firefighter requires them to have above average strength and agility. Firefighters are expected to handle heavy equipment, carry victims often in dangerous and adverse conditions. In most cases, they have to be on their feet for hours at a stretch, if the situation arises they have to crawl through small spaces, climb ladders and stairs putting their bodies, strength and stamina to test.

  • Courage: firefighters have to face dangerous situations everyday. Each emergency call brings in surprises. Firefighters must have the courage and fortitude to tackle each emergency situation keeping safety of their team in mind.

  • Communication skills: it is essential to have clear, intelligent, courteous and open communication within the fire firehouse, on the fire ground and when interacting with the public. Firefighters need to be active listeners as they will have to handle irate citizens while using radios to relay essential information to the crew, relay essential    patient information to medical teams, instruct children to safety areas, explain and enforce fire codes among many other jobs. Firefighters need to be calm, patient and empathetic. 

  • Decision making Ability: Firefighters work in emergencies. Hence, it is important that they are able to make quick and right decisions given any circumstance. 

  • Team Player: firefighters always work as a part of a team. It is important that firefighters understand the concept of working as a team. They have to understand that there are other members who rely on them to do their job efficiently. Firefighters should always remember that a job cannot be well done single handedly and requires equal amount of effort from everyone in the fire department.