Becoming a paid firefighter requires you to first gain certification. They don’t just grab people off the street, give them an air bottle and toss them into a burning building. There are two types of certification to be had, Volunteer and Career.
As you can imagine, the requirements for career take more time and dedication. However, there is no greater job than serving your community and actually getting compensated for it. Over 70% of this country’s firefighters are unpaid volunteers. If they do it for free, then getting paid certainly is a privilege.
The first step towards earning your volunteer certification is contacting your local volunteer fire department. If you approach them with an honest intent of helping their organization and the community, you could find yourself riding code in a fire engine to emergencies.
Although your role on scene would be small at first, the department may have instructors on hand to teach you the basics of PPE(personal protective equipment, or gear), extrication equipment(the jaws of life), and SCBA(Bottle breathing).
If you spend some time proving yourself to the volunteers you could find them sponsoring you in the next available certification class.
With increased expertise comes increased privileges. You could find yourself prying people from mangled cars or performing CPR just long enough to save someone’s life.
The experience and fulfillment alone is worth it, but you’ll also be clocking valuable time for the day when you apply for a paid firefighter position.
Minimum Volunteer Firefighter Requirements in U.S
- A minimum of 18 years of age (Some VFD’s have Youth programs to earn experience)
- Health Clearance from your doctor
- Good Physical condition
- Not convicted of any Felonies or Arson-related crimes
- Must be Hazardous Material First responder certified (Usually earned in same class)
- Medical First Responder Certified (May be taken in same class as well)
- Candidate must Complete VF certification course which hours total 16-40
- Must make an overall score of 70% in in course
Unlike Volunteers, the Career fire protection field requires you to be fully certified before working. This usually happens one of two ways. First, the expensive way.
You decide to become a firefighter. You quit your job and enroll yourself into the State Fire College. You pay the tuition and then endure the months of exams and training exercises, waking up early and going without a pay check to pursue your dream.
Minimum Career Firefighter Requirements in U.S.
- Must have a high school diploma or equivelancy
- Must be 18 years old
- Valid State Driver’s License
- Hazardous Materials First Responder Certified
- Medical First Responder Certified
- No Felonies or Arson-related crimes
- Complete the 360 hour certification course with a 70%
Then graduation day comes. You’re a certified, professional firefighter. With no job.
You then spend the next months(a hiring process can sometimes take 6 months or a year) applying for every city department in your state, and some in others. Hopefully, your savings hold out or your parents have a nice basement.
Finally, after countless interviews and written exams your dreams come true. Your offered a position at a city you love with pay you haven’t had in a while. You and your bank account couldn’t be happier.
The only condition is you have to go through recruit training again first with the other 19 recruits in your hiring class.
Yes, even though you’re already certified. This will “help to promote teambuilding” or “familiarize you with specific department customs”.
Basically, State law requires certification classes to have a minimum amount of members and now your getting lumped in for no reason. This is unnecessary, time consuming and can easily be avoided.
The key, as you probably guessed, is to be one of the other recruits in your class who haven’t been to rookie school yet.
Granted, it’s hard to get hired professionally if you haven’t shown any dedication or gained experience in this type of field. Departments sometimes offer preference points during the hiring process for people who are already certified or have degrees in fire science and para-medicine.
You know who else they give preference points to? Volunteers.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to both gain experience and show those potential employers you mean to be a firefighter even if your not getting paid a dime. It also doesn’t require you to quit your job or commit to a two year degree in a field your not even sure you like. Call your closest volunteer department today and schedule an appointment.
After that, start scouring the web for job vacancies. In the early stages it doesn’t matter if they’re two states away.
Apply and get some experience. Feel free to use our Job Search Tool, but don’t stop there.
Some departments don’t advertise their vacancies anywhere else but their city website. They don’t have to, there are people waiting to apply as soon as they open up. They usually announce ahead of time so check these city sites and jot down on your calendar the date they start accepting apps.
Next, prepare for the selection process. The CPAT is the toughest civilian physical examination out there, and that’s the minimum to enter most department sponsored recruit schools.
If you spend the next 3 months sitting on the couch, you’ll find yourself ill-equipped for the CPAT. Victory goes to the prepared, so follow the CPAT Success Guide. There may be jobs you can apply for right now if you had completed CPAT, some departments don’t host the exam.
Check here to see if we know of any testing sites in your area so you can schedule a test.
Competition for fire jobs is stiff. At times you may find over two thousand people applying for 25 firefighter positions.
The written exam is usually the second hurdle after the CPAT that “thins the herd”. They can be hard to study for because some departments favor psychological questions like “This co-worker is mean to you in this situation. What would you do?” blah blah. None of which matters once you actually get on shift. Other departments actually quiz you on real firefighting skills like “What angle should your fire stream be set to when first entering a residential fire?” Answers to these questions can be found when your earning your volunteer certification and by studying.
The biggest event that separates new recruits from the jobless is The Oral Board.
Every answer counts when a winning score is 17.3 and a losing one is 17.24. Even if your a smooth operator who’s cool under pressure and could sell ice to eskimos, your still going to start sweating when you sit down in front of five Fire Officers and get nothing but dead serious facial expressions as a response to your little jokes you sometimes use to lighten the mood. The questions they ask put you in a moral grey area. Here was a good example I had.
“Due to uncontrollable circumstances, you show up late for work on your first day. Instead of writing you up per Protocol, your Officer cuts you a break and gives you a warning. Later that day a thankful citizen stops by and gives everyone 50$ giftcards to Macy’s. Your Officer thanks him and everyone continues their business. What would you do, if anything?”
It was my second interview ever. I said something along the lines of “if it’s ok with my Officer then it must be ok. I wouldn’t do anything.” Needless to say I wasn’t hired there.
The point is you need practice to really crush your Interview. If you want to start now you can find out the ten most common fire interview questions by signing up for our newsletter in the top right corner.
To summarize, here’s a checklist.
- Find your nearest volunteers and go get your feet wet. Ask when they’re hosting the next Volunteer Cert. class.
- Search for jobs, far and wide. Nobody nails a hiring process their first time. You need practice.
- Get off the couch, find a CPAT Testing location and start following the workout in the CPAT Success Guide
- Study for the Written
- Practice for the Oral Board, get some questions now by signing up for the newsletter!
Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. This is a career you spend the rest of your life doing. It’s most definitely worth fighting the masses for!