Tag Archives: Firefighting Qualifications

Firefighting Qualifications

So you might be asking yourself – What are the “ideal” qualifications to be a firefighter?  Yes, you have already read the basics and our detailed hiring tips, but you might not know exactly what the intangibles are that hiring officers might be looking for when trying to find the best candidate.  While we’ve covered the steps that you need to take to become a firefighter, we haven’t really looked at some of the other things that do go a long way for hiring officers.  The problem is that with some of this criteria, you aren’t going to find it on paper.  The only way you will find out the “behind the scenes qualities” that the fire chief is looking for is to ask.  Or you can keep reading and we will give you an idea of what these qualities are, so you can once again set yourself up for success!

Here are some of the basic personality qualities and other areas that are usually looked at:

  • Personality Type:  Most firefighters tend to be more introverted and typically have a very good analytical mindset.  They are usually not extroverted and they do not act impulsively.  That’s not to say that an extrovert won’t make a good firefighter, but this is usually part of the psychological test as well.
  • Character:  When I say character, I’m referring to your “moral compass.”  Typically to be a firefighter you need to have outstanding character and be a good model citizen.  You need to be kind and courteous to others, and absolutely must respect your elders.  There are a lot of veteran firefighters out there that will lose patience with rookies that don’t have respect for senior firefighters.
  • Honesty:  While you could argue that this definitely falls in line with character, it’s still absolutely worth mentioning.  Have you been honest and up front with every piece of information that you’ve been asked to provide?  If something came up unexpected on your background check did you admit to it or lie about it?  Government employees have ways of researching your background that private industries do not.  It will not payoff to not be truthful about anything that pops up that needs a little bit more of an explanation.
  • Background:  Is your background clean?  I’m not referring to the curfew violation you had when you were 16.  Yes, you might get questioned about a situation like that if it comes up, but more than anything we are talking about if you have ever had any problems with a criminal past, specifically DUI’s or other felony activity.  None of that will bode well for you as a firefighter.
  • Drug Use:  Have you used drugs in the past and were you honest about it to the interviewer?  It’s one thing to have experimented with certain banned or illegal substances when you were younger, but it’s another thing to use them continuously or have used them in recent years.  This can be an automatic disqualifier if you have used any hard substances within the last 5 years.
  • Credit Check:  How’s your credit?  Are you paying your bills on time?  Do you have any severe delinquencies?  Do you have problems with not paying unsecured credit card debt or have you had a car repossessed in the past?  Do you have any medical collections accounts and are you behind on any federal student loans?  You will want to make sure that if any of this applies to you, do your best to take care of it and clean it up.  You might not be able to get a foreclosure removed from your credit report, but it will be a lot more likely that your interviewer can move past it if you have a really good explanation for any discrepancies that might pop up, and some demonstrated effort to clear up any problems you may have had in the past with paying your bills on time.
  • Who do you know?  Do you know someone in the firefighting industry that has referred you?  A lot of times a vote of confidence from someone will go much further than anything else we’ve talked about in this article.  Getting a nod from a senior firefighter can give you a nod over a vast majority of other candidates as well as any small potential character flaws.

Now that we’ve given you a better understanding of what you should keep your eyes open for, now is the time to act.  You need to get out there and do what’s necessary to make sure that you are keeping yourself clean and holding yourself in the best light possible.  If you do everything here the right way, or at least attempt to make sure any discrepancies are addressed, it will go a long way in launching your firefighting career.

How to Become Familiar with a Firefighter Exam

It’s actually quite easy these days to become familiar with a firefighter exam and there are tons of resources for you to better inform yourself about the firefighter exam process.  Right now, having an online resource is absolutely huge and should be used to your full advantage.  We are going to look at some of the top resources for you to utilize to equip yourself for your firefighting training exam.  There are a lot of free resources out there if you research hard enough, but there are also some great paid practice exam testing methods that are worth looking at if you have the budget.

Here are some of your best resources to get you on the right track to acing the initial firefighting exam:

  • Your Local and State Firefighting Websites.  A lot of times, these websites contain great information on what you can be expected to get tested on.  They may not give you the answers or provide you with a study guide, but they may provide you with a good overview on the topics you will get tested on so you can formulate your own plan if you are on a budget.
  • Google Books.  Google Books might limit the amount of access you have to specific content, but there is a host of great resources out there for limited chunks of time and it’s all free.  You can access the site and review some great study guides and/or testing resources without paying for them.
  • Take a Firefighting Class.  Enroll in a firefighting test prep class.  Many times these classes are offered at the community college level but can sometimes even be found at the university level as well.  Test taking classes in general can help you with test taking strategies to help you perform better on the written portion of the initial exam.
  • Local Firefighters!  Crazy right?  Who would have thought that you could actually reach out to family and friends to talk with local firefighters and get the scoop on what to expect.  Honestly, outside of paid study material, this is probably the absolute best route you can go.  It’s always a great idea to take the time and talk with someone that’s gone through the process before you and has passed the exam and is working as a career firefighter.  It will help you to go straight to the source and get a detailed walkthrough from someone you may know about what to expect.  Plus it helps you network, which is huge, no matter what industry you are in.
  • The Library.  Okay, now we are just on a roll!  Yes your local library carries books and they are free, which yet again is always good.  There is a pretty decent chance they have books on starting your career as a firefighter and you can grab these books absolutely free of charge.  If you are tight on time, try an audio CD.
  • Practice Exam Websites.  There are numerous fantastic resources out there that will help you in your quest to become a firefighter.  There are online practice tests that are refined ten times over as tests become more challenging and more difficult to take.  Granted this will cost you a little more (not free and some are not cheap) but there are some really great sites out there that have a ton of value that you will see pay you dividends when you go to take your exam.  If you have the money to burn, there’s not going to really be many non-paid resources that are better than what you get from some of the very popular firefighter exam websites that are out there right now.

Now that we’ve got you on the right track to getting familiar with a Practice Exam, it’s up to you to act on it.  Find which way works best for you and go after it.  Remember – free is easiest and obviously cheapest, but don’t count out some of the paid resources if you have a small budget you can use towards furthering your career.  It’s worth the cost of paying for a paid practice testing service if it gets you to your ultimate goal of landing your dream job and finally becoming a firefighter.

Steps You Can Take to Become a Firefighter

Most state requirements are pretty specific when it comes down to brass tax on figuring out what it takes to get employed as a firefighter.  You have the application process, the background checks, the written and physical exam.  You also have the board interview.  But what we haven’t covered is what you can do externally to help prepare yourself for your firefighting career.  I want to cover some of the “other stuff” that you can do to show that you mean business and that there is nobody else out there that’s better than you are to land the role.  Here are some of the things that you should do if you aren’t doing them already:

Volunteer – We’ve talked about this before here.  I’m not going to go into specific details since we’ve already covered it, but the bottom line is that volunteer firefighting is an excellent way to not only get the experience you want, but to network with people in your field.  It also shows you have dedication.

Fire Cadet Program – Depending on your state, you might be eligible to become a fire cadet at age 16.  There are a lot of states that rely heavily on their fire cadet programs to educate young and aspiring firefighters to jump in at an early age so that firefighting culture is basically second nature to them when it comes time for them to apply to the academy.  If you have the opportunity to join a fire cadet program in your state and they allow you to do so between the ages of 16-18, I would STRONGLY recommend you jump on this opportunity.  There are a lot of firefighters that would have been extremely happy to have had this program at an early age.  Even if you are just “considering” firefighting as a career, I’d encourage you to look into this option if it’s available to you.

Do a Ride Along – While some fire departments and firefighters only want their firefighting brethren to jump on the truck, some cities do allow ride alongs.  A lot of firefighters feel they have enough to do without having to worry about babysitting someone that is going to ask a lot of questions, so be prepared for a little bit of resistance depending on the city you live in.  Others will welcome it with open arms so the average citizen feels like they have the opportunity to contribute in some small way.  If you go this route, again, remember that firefighters have a job to do.  Try to limit your questions.  It might even be a great idea to write down your questions and visit with a firefighter once you get back to the station so you are not in the way.

Take the CPAT – We’ve talked about this in our main article.  It’s always great to have this done and out of the way early on so you can focus on other things.

Take Firefighter Practice Exams – There’s a ton of information online these days.  You can find loads of information on firefighting practice exams and you should be diligent in your research because not all are created equal.  One of the best web resources for fire exams is the Don McNea Fire School Website.  I would encourage you to check it out and take a look.

Get a 2 year Fire Science or Fire Technology Degree – Even if you have a 4 year degree in another discipline, getting 2 two year degree in either of these disciplines can prove extremely valuable and worthwhile.  It will once again show that you are more committed to your craft than the person that shows up standing next to you with no accreditation at all.

Get your EMT Certification – Again, I know we’ve mentioned this briefly in another section of our site, but it’s really a big deal.  If you have your EMT certification you are already one leg up on half the people that show up and apply to become a firefighter.

Community Service – Who doesn’t love an Eagle Scout?  Good Deeds don’t go unnoticed and show great character.  People that participate actively in community service (other areas besides volunteer firefighting) are not only viewed upon more positively, but are typically rewarded with the fact it gives them another strong point on their resume.

Clean up your Resume – Make sure your Resume is clean.  Have someone at your local community college or state university review your resume for you.  Typically if you are attending any type of class at one of these institutions, they offer a free resume review service.

These steps should give you an excellent idea of what you can do to get a jump on your competition.  Remember, becoming a firefighter is a long hard road, so don’t get discouraged and make sure you are persistent in the fact that you are the best person for the job.  While actions speak louder than words, making sure you are on top of your game by getting a good jump on these tasks will ensure that you are more prepared than other candidates.

Firefighting Training Expectations

You might already be fully educated about what to expect during your Written Exam, and your Non-Written exam portions that include your medical physical and your CPAT success rate.  What you haven’t read is what to expect in your daily life when you show up to the Fire Academy for your Firefighter Certification (AKA Firefighter I training in most states).  Fire Academy daily life is not the same as any other job.  You will be very busy during the academy because there is so much content that needs to be jammed into your schedule for the entire duration of your training schedule.  The sheer amount of information you need to take in during this time frame is immense.  It’s also information that can’t just be filed away either.  You need to truly pay attention and make sure you are 100% on  task because the second you miss out on something critical, it could cost you very serious consequences.  You have to keep in mind that you are not just training for yourself, but that you are training for everyone around you and everyone that you will be serving with once you start your career.  If you are not sure what to expect during daily life in the fire academy, you are in luck because we are going to break it down for you.

Below is a sample schedule of what you can expect when you start your training schedule:

  • Daily Inspection of Barracks.
  • Breakfast, morning tasks and clean up.
  • Testing Exams.
  • Lectures on Fire Safety.
  • Lunch.
  • Hands on Training and Evaluation.
  • Workout Routine
  • Daily Wrap Up and Review.
  • Dismissal.

This is just some insight as to what you can expect during your academy training period.  There is obviously a lot more you will do, and the schedule will definitely shift depending on which part of your training you are currently in.  Expect this schedule to change a little later on when you get further into the training and you start covering more specifics as well as doing more hands on activities and live fire training.  There are also other areas of individual instruction that you may be required to take depending on your state and your career path as a firefighter.

Some of the courses that are offered in individual instruction are:

  • Wildland Fire Training
  • Arson Fire Investigation
  • EMT Certification
  • HAZMAT Training

Typically you will not be taking these concurrently while you are in the academy.  Wildland fire training for instance is usually taken in the jurisdiction you plan on covering as a firefighter and is usually offered in areas that simulate Wildland fire training instead of the typical academy where you focus on clearing buildings and urban firefighter training.  Arson training courses are also typically taken by fire specialists and not usually firefighters.  Forensic fire science is also picking up as a career field now that arson has become a more common practice around the country.  EMT certification is often offered concurrently at the Fire Academy so you can get your EMT certification if you don’t have it at the time you attend the fire academy.  Now that you have a basic idea of what to expect when attending the Fire Academy, it’s your turn to make sure you are prepped for that next step in your career.

Firefighter Hiring Tips – How to Get Hired!

So you want to know how to get hired as a firefighter?  Becoming a firefighter is a somewhat standardized process and most municipalities follow similar guidelines throughout the selection process.  Private industry firefighters are a little different, but you still need to be the best person for the job.  It doesn’t matter what step of the interview or hiring process you are currently involved in, our Hiring Tips will greatly improve your chances of landing the job that you’ve more than likely dreamt about since you were a child.

Do Your Research:

You’d be surprised how many aspiring firefighters out there get out into the field without a clue where to start.  They might make a call to a state or local agency to try and get some information about becoming a firefighter, but in general they have no idea what to do or where to go.  Step one is to start searching for every local municipality that’s hiring for firefighter positions and do a search for private entities as well.  State and Federal firefighter careers can be highly competitive and sometimes political.  This is why it’s great to NOT rule out private parties.  There are a lot of aspiring firefighters that get out into the field and work in private industry for a couple years before getting hired on at a local fire station with a city entity.  Make sure you do your research so you know who the Fire Chief is, and have a good background on any potential employers before you ever send them your resume or apply for a position.  It’s quite discouraging to have a candidate come into a panel interview and not know anything about the City or Fire Station they are applying to work in.

Volunteer:

No doubt about it, volunteer firefighting is an absolutely difficult thing.  It’s impossible for most people with full time jobs to find time to volunteer outside of our own busy schedules for a “chance” to network and get noticed by people of influence at the fire station.  Bottom line is that even with all the demanding time requirements, volunteer firefighting is absolutely worth it.  The amount of exposure you get from being a volunteer firefighter is absolutely huge.  You get a large audience of people to not only show what you can do, but put your excellent character and skills on display for everyone to see.  It’s one of the most effective way to market yourself and it’s why volunteers are often given preferential treatment when applying for an open position at the state or city level.

Educate Yourself:

This sounds easy enough…. go to school.  Unless you know someone (we will cover networking next) getting a degree in Fire Science can be huge!  It shows that you are committed to the craft even if you didn’t have someone to inspire you or walk you along the easy route to get into the Fire Academy.  With as competitive as firefighting is getting these days, getting a higher education to separate yourself is something that you should truly look at if you have the opportunity.  At minimum, it would be a great idea for you to get out and at least get some college classes under your belt in fire science to show that you have the commitment and drive to do what it takes to land your dream job.

Network:

Self explanatory, right?  Call People at local fire stations.  Make contacts.  Ask family and friends if they know any firefighters you can possibly introduce yourself to so you can become involved in their lives.  If you haven’t volunteered, get out and find a way to work your way into the fire station and talk to people.  Make your presence felt.  Introduce yourself to high ranking firefighters in every state or city municipality that you know is going to be hiring in the next year.  The last thing you want is someone passing on your application because they have absolutely no idea who you are.  Networking is big in any industry and firefighting is absolutely no different.  Successful networking is often times the difference maker in landing any job that you want.

Get Prepped Appropriately:

While this is the most basic tip, it’s also the best.  Nothing matters if you haven’t gotten yourself in shape for the physical exam, studied for the written exam and done your research on live fire training.  If you don’t know what to expect when going through this process, it’s going to be a surprise to say the least and you will be kicking yourself for not knowing what to expect.  Always being informed will set you above your peers in a great light, and also be the reason that your peers look to you for leadership when they show up unprepared to a live fire training examination.

Firefighter Job Requirements

I know it sounds cliché, but not everyone out there knows the exact specific requirements for someone in the firefighter job role.  There are many different hats you have to put on as a firefighter and not all of them are as glamorous or fabled as some of us would like to believe.  We like to believe what we see on movies and television that every part of a firefighter’s job role is based solely on rushing in to the rescue to save someone from a burning building, or getting out the jaws of life to pull someone from a burning wreck.  While all that is good for press and gets viewers, it’s not everything a firefighter is nor can expect to encounter in their daily life.  In order to give you some insight into the daily life of a firefighter, I am going to present you two separate lists of what most people think of when trying to become a firefighter, as well as what most people don’t think of.

Here is List #1 that contains some of the more publicized things you can expect to experience in your daily life as a firefighter:

  • Respond to Fire Alerts/Alarms and Put Out Fires
  • Respond to Emergency Calls for Emergency Medical Services
  • Use Life Saving Techniques to assist people in need of medical assistance
  • Respond to Hazmat Exposure Requests to assist in sequestration and cleanup
  • Respond to Traffic Accidents and other Health Jeopardizing Incidents
  • Perform any and all responses up to State Regulatory Guidelines

Below list #2 which provides you the additional tasks you can also expect to do in your daily life as a firefighter that you typically don’t see on television or in the media:

  • Clean and Inspect all Firefighting Equipment
  • Wash Fire Trucks
  • Clean and inspect the Fire Barracks
  • Enthusiastically participate in training exercises
  • Routinely brush up on knowledge of the city you are working in, including streets and building location
  • Study and be aware of your closest geographic water supplies
  • Enter service calls/requests into content management systems
  • Assist in non-life threatening situations such as assisting and training how to install a child car seat properly.
  • Study the city’s safety handbook
  • Assist in Fire Prevention Demonstrations
  • Assist with local health agencies to visit and talk to individuals that may have been subject to local fire trauma
  • School Presentations for Youth Programs

The reality is that you probably aren’t going to do everything on either of these lists every day, and you probably won’t do everything on list #1 or list #2 all in one day either.  You will probably have a really good mix of the two.  Becoming a firefighter is one of the most prestigious yet thankless careers.  The reality is that most people try to get into this field after watching something publicized by the local media or other media outlets.  To jump into this career just based on what’s out there in popular media is not the best choice.  The reality is that you are going to end up somewhere in between and the most important thing to realize is that you are going to have to deal with a lot more tasks than you probably didn’t plan on, which is why it’s a good idea to get out and visit fire stations, make friends in the industry and talk to firefighters directly about their daily lives and their direct job responsibilities.

Firefighter Training Requirements

Becoming a Firefighter is not for everyone, this much is clear.  You have to be someone with drive, persistence, stamina and a strong mental constitution to even think about taking on this challenging career.  There are so many different factors that impact you as a firefighter and no amount of training can truly prepare you for what you are going to see when you get out into the field.  That being said, you still need training, I’m going to cover what you can expect once you are in attendance at the fire academy of your choice.

As discussed in our main article, firefighting training usually consists of courses, exercises and training functions that can add up to close to 600 hours depending on your state requirements.  Typically most firefighting academy training courses take place at varied times during the week.  Some states do full time academies but the majority of them do 10 hour weekend days with one weekday every week to two weeks.  Firefighting training academies usually break down their training into the following segments to split them up and encourage people to learn in whatever way fits them the best.  Most states require you to obtain both Firefighter I and Firefighter II curriculum training classes before you can be employed as a full time firefighter.  Other states let you become employed with Firefighter I certification while you work on Firefighter II certification as long as it’s obtained in 6 months to 1 year.

Here’s a breakout of some of the classes you will end up taking as a firefighter during your firefighter I training period:

  • Firefighter/Firefighting History
  • Fire Station Orientation
  • Fire Behavior
  • Fire Suppression I Training
  • How to use a Ladder Appropriately
  • Search and Rescue Guidelines
  • HAZMAT Handling and Awareness
  • First Aid (Most departments recommend you have your EMT Certification)
  • Hose Operation
  • Water Supply Locations
  • Hose Handling and Water Stream Control
  • Fire Extinguisher Training
  • Rope and Knot Training
  • Burn Building Training
  • Building Layout
  • Wildland Firefighter Basics
  • Heat Management
  • Stress Management

Now that we’ve covered some of the Basics of the Firefighting I training course, I also want to touch base on the typical requirements for the second segment of most academies, which is the Firefighting II certification.  Some academies will let you attend Firefighting II classes while performing your job duties as an active firefighter.  Other states like California, will require you to have your Firefighter II training certification completed before you can become employed as a full time firefighter.

Below is a list of what you can expect to learn when you are working towards your Firefighter II certification getting you one step closer to getting your badge:

  • Firefighter I Basics Review and Application
  • Firefighter Safety Best Practices
  • Fire Suppression II Training
  • Vehicle Rescue including training with “The Jaws”
  • Fire Causation Investigation
  • Command Systems Response

Now  that we’ve reviewed the fire academy firefighter training requirements, you  should have a good overview of what to expect when enrolling for fire academy training.  This is by  no means an all inclusive list as some counties and ordinances have their own pilot programs and training guidelines, but it’s a great basic overview of the general training requirements that most fire academies cover.  Obviously nothing will help prepare you to become a firefighter more than learning time on the job and experiencing real world firefighting exercises, but the fire academy in most states do their best to ensure that all entry level firefighters get their careers off on the right foot.

How about Firefighting Training Reciprocity?

Reciprocity is a term used when firefighters want to move states.  Many states will allow your training certification to transfer states.  You need to make sure that if you are a career firefighter that’s already employed full time and been through the academy, that you don’t double up and have to go back through the rigors of training a second time.  Your best bet is to make sure that you check with the firefighting department in the area you are looking to transfer to in order to make sure that they accept out of state transfers without getting additional certification.  Most states will allow the certifications of Firefighter II to cross state lines as satisfactory as long at you were trained in your prior state with IFSAC firefighter II certification compliant Fire Departments.

Wrap Up:

Now that you know what to expect in the training academy, the next step falls on you.  Go out and study, get prepared, and get ready to take the next step in  your career.  Being a firefighter is both a challenge and a privilege.  With hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck, there is absolutely no reason you can’t take that next step to land your dream job.