How to Become a Firefighter in 4 Simple Steps

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What is a Firefighter ?

There is a reason the profession of firefighting stands alongside astronauts and doctors as the most popular answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Few professions share the prestige of a career in a firefighting. You may know you want to become a firefighter, but do you know how to become a firefighter?

Firefighting is very demanding work, both physically and mentally. As a prospective firefighter, you should be in great physical shape and have a tremendous amount of respect for the dangers of the profession.

You should also have great people skills in order to work safely and effectively with other firefighters as well as to handle the often unpredictable behaviors of the public you will serve.

There two primary goals you will have as a firefighter: protect people and protect their property. The primary duties of a firefighter are as follows:

  • Extricate victims trapped in burning structures or vehicles
  • Provide or assist in the provision of emergency medical care
  • Salvage principal structures and property
  • Defend adjacent properties
  • Assist in fire ignition source investigation after it is extinguished
The Work Environment and Hours of a Firefighter

As a firefighter, you may work a variety of schedules; Fire Engineering suggests that the most most common schedule is becoming a 48-hour shift followed by 96 hours of time off.

According to the Napa Fire Department, these shifts are typically staggered so that you don’t work with the exact same crew for 48 hours straight; 24 hours into a shift half of the crew will be rotated out and another crew will rotate in.

A time slot is allocated for sleeping, though the nature of firefighting does not always allow for sleep to be had in that specified time slot.

Much of the time spent on shift is dedicated to skills training, administrative work, inspecting equipment and apparatus, cleaning the station and physical training.

Obviously emergency calls consume a large portion of the time on shift, but the unpredictable nature of calls ensures that no two days are the same.

The Top Must-Have Skills for a Firefighter

There are many skills that are required to be a firefighter, but the five that reign supreme are:

  • Active listening
  • Problem solving
  • Organization and coordination
  • Snap decision making
  • Empathy and people skills

Active listening is the most important skill a prospective firefighter can learn. If you can listen well, you will learn much more quickly the skills necessary to be successful. Additionally, it is important to be an active listener on the job as you will often need to listen for mission critical commands while experiencing a large amount of auditory stimuli.

Problem solving skills go hand in hand with organization and coordination skills. Being able to identify problems at a fire incident and coordinating a plan to solve them is an extremely important skill for all firefighters to have. Even if a firefighter isn’t at the officer level, it is still essential that they be able to coordinate their movements with their partner and other firefighters on the scene.

While planning and coordination are important, it is equally important that firefighters be able to make snap decisions. The environment of a fire can change within seconds; this is particularly true for interior firefighters. Being able to think and act quickly keeps firefighters alive so that they may continue to help others.

It is also important that you learn empathy and how to handle the general public as you will be interacting with people on what will be for many, the most stressful day of their lives.

The average salary for a firefighter is: $48,030

what is a firefighter

Becoming a Firefighter

Step 1: High School Requirements

High School Courses for Firefighters

If you are still in high school, that is great; now is a perfect time to start preparing for a career in firefighting. You can take the time to focus your education on learning skills that will better equip you for firefighting.

As mentioned previously, communication is important, and any class that allows you to hone your communication skills is a safe bet. Courses in communication will allow you to more attentively listen to your incident commanders, relay commands to your fellow firefighters, and to effectively communicate with the general public.

Other courses to consider taking in high school are emergency medical training courses. Richard Marinucci of Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment writes that fire-based EMS is effective and that more and more departments are requiring basic EMS certifications as a prerequisite for applying.

One last course type to consider is mathematics. Being proficient at mental math is particularly helpful as firefighters often have to base many of their decisions on changing variables such as water supply and oxygen tank supply. Pump operators also need to have an understanding of math to properly regulate pressure across all hose lines.

Formal Education Requirements

After high school, you should consider getting a degree in fire science. According to Rasmussen College, 75% of fire service applicants only have a high school diploma; a degree can help you stand out. Additionally, Rasmussen College states that having a degree can help with career advancement later in a firefighter’s career.

In addition to the career ladder benefits of a fire science degree, a degree or certificate can also give you exposure to abstract and theoretical ideas concerning the fire service that you may not have thought of otherwise. Learning these concepts will allow you to grow your skills and stay on the cutting edge of firefighting skills.

Step 2: Get Official Training

Fire Science Undergraduate Certificate

Curriculum and requirements vary from program to program, but typically a certificate will require 10 to 30 credits

Curriculum

  • National Incident Management System
  • Fire Behavior and Combustion
  • Building Construction for Fire Protection
  • Fire Prevention
  • Basic ICS and Application Towards Single Resource & Initial Action
  • Fire Protection Systems
  • Principles of Fire and Emergency Services Safety and Survival
  • Fire Investigation I
  • Fire and Emergency Services Administration
  • Legal Aspects of Emergency Services
  • Fire Service Strategy and Tactics
  • Principles of Emergency Services
  • Occupational Safety and Health for Emergency Services
  • Fire Investigation II
  • Hazardous Materials Chemistry
  • Fire Protection Hydraulics and Water Supply

The calculated cost of a fire science certificate program is $6,750- $9,758.

Click the link below and find the top fire science certificate programs close to you.

Associates Degree in Fire Science 2 years

An associates degree in fire science will require 64 credits. For example: Lansing Community College requires 64 credits to receive an associates in Fire Science.

Curriculum

General Education Requirements (30 semester hours)

  • Civics, Political and Social Sciences
  • Arts and Humanties
  • Communication
  • Natural Sciences with Lab
  • Mathematics and Applied Reasoning

Major Courses (21 semester hours)

  • Fire Prevention
  • Fire Behavior and Combustion
  • Fire Protection Systems
  • Principles of Fire and Emergency Services Safety and Survival
  • Fundamentals of Fire Protection
  • Fire Protection in Building Construction
  • Sophomore Seminar in Fire Science
  • Fire Protection Hydraulics and Water Supply

Electives (6 semester hours)

The calculated cost of a fire science associate’s degree program is $16,200- $22,260.

Click the link below and find the top fire fire science associate’s degree programs close to you.

Step 3: Take EMT Training

In many states having an EMT (Emergency Medical Training) license is required for aspiring firefighter. Make sure to take EMT classes even if it’s not obligatory in your state as it make you stronger than your competitors. The requirements for an EMT license vary from state to state.

Step 4: Take the Tests

When fire departments are looking to recruit new firefighters they are hosting several tests that firefighters should take. These tests are broken into two categories the written test and the (CPAT) Candidate Physical Ability Test.

Written test: The applicant should answer 100 multiple choice questions covering topics like:

  • reading comprehension
  • spatial awareness
  • logic
  • mechanical reasoning
  • memory
  • observation

(CPAT) Candidate Physical Ability Test: The CPAT test is consisted of:

  • distance run in an allotted period of time
  • lift and carry up to 200 pounds
  • climb flights of stairs at a rapid pace

A career in firefighting is a lofty goal. Many people compete for the privilege of serving and only a small number of positions open up every year. However, with the right preparation, becoming a career firefighter is a very attainable goal.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Firefighter and How Much Does it Cost?

Option 1 Certificate

Degree Time Cost
Certificate6 months - 1 year$6,750- $9,758
Certification --
Total 6 months - 1 year$6,750- $9,758

Option 2 Associate’s Degree

Degree Time Cost
Associates Degree2 years$16,200- $22,260
Certification --
Total 2 years $16,200- $22,260

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