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So, you want to be a firefighter?

Many children go through the phase of wanting to be a firefighter or a police officer as they are growing up. For others this childhood dream becomes a career path that they are determined to follow. There are many reasons for wanting to become a firefighter and there are many ways to go about it.

This outline will focus on some of the general requirements as well as a typical job description and outlook for todays firefighter. I want to stress that while this section focuses on firefighting as a career the same duties and responsibilities listed here apply to the volunteer firefighter. Regardless of the compensation we all want to do our best to save lives and property.

What is a firefighter? - A look at the job description of todays fire professional.


A firefighter controls and extinguishes fires protects life and property operates and maintains equipment and other duties.

Essential duties and responsibilities:

Responds to fire alarms and other emergency calls. Selects hose nozzle depending on type of fire and directs stream of water or chemicals onto fire. Positions and climbs ladders to gain access to upper levels of buildings or to assist individuals from burning structures. Creates openings in buildings for ventilation or entrance. Protects property from water and smoke by use of waterproof salvage covers and smoke ejectors.Administers first aid and artificial respiration to injured persons and those overcome by smoke. Communicates with superior during fire by portable two-way radio or face to face communications. Maintains apparatus quarters buildings equipment grounds and hydrants. Participates in drills demonstrations and courses in hydraulics pump operation and maintenance and firefighting techniques. Drives and operates firefighting vehicles and equipment. Demonstrates safety awareness and safe practices in all aspects of the job.

Reasoning Ability:

Firefighters must have the ability to adapt to challenging situations under emergency conditions.

What classes should I take in high school?

A common question that arises from high school students preparing for a career in firefighting is What classes should I take? My answer: Any class that you take in high school will help you prepare yourself for a career in firefighting. A good college prep oriented schedule will put you on the right track. Why is this my answer? I answer the question that way because there is no wrong education path to become a firefighter. Every class that you can take as a high school student can be applied to firefighting in one way or another. Some may be more obvious than others but when you really think about it they all become obvious.

Math - Needed for pumping the fire engine and figuring out drug doses to administer medications.

Science - Need to understand the physical properties of fire and fire behavior.

Chemistry - Firefighters deal with hazardous materials.

Language Arts - Need to complete written reports and be able to read instruction manuals.

Social Studies - Firefighters work with the public. They need to understand different cultures how people react in different psychological and emotional situations and their heritage.

Public Speaking - Need to be able to interact with the community as well as convey fire safety messages to the public.

Physical Education - Firefighting is a physically demanding job.

Health - Firefighters need to be concerned with their own physical health as well asunderstand anatomy and physiology if they perform emergency medical duties.

Industrial Arts - Shop type or industrial arts classes will give firefighters a strong background in areas such as building construction as well as give them a good mechanical knowledge to base their critical thinking on.

These are just some general class guidelines. I for several reasons advise that you go on to college and pursue a degree. First you can still test for the position of firefighter while you are getting your education and it may take some time before you are actually hired. Secondly many departments have minimum education requirements for testing as well as mandatory education requirements for promotion. If you aspire to be an officer in the fire service some day it certainly helps to have as much education as possible. Also you may decide that after so many years of being a firefighter that you no longer enjoy the field. Having a degree affords you the chance to change careers. Finally firefighting is a dangerous job. While we try to be as safe as possible we are dealing with certain unknowns that make the job hazardous. If you sustain a career-ending injury having a degree will allow you to continue working in another field.

Getting Hired

There are several methods for achieving employment in the fire service. The two most common are the straight forward interview and the testing procedure.

The interview method is the least common of these two methods. Basically the fire department places an advertisement in the newspaper and interviews potential candidates. This method is very similar to obtaining a job in any other field.

The second method is the testing method. This is by far the most common method for hiring firefighters. Applicants for firefighter positions participate in a testing process which consist of several phases. The first phase is typically a written test. If the applicant passes this phase they then move on to a physical agility test.

At this time the applicant is placed on a numbered list based upon how they scored in the testing procedures. Firefighters are generally hired in numerical order based on this list. Your position on the list may also be affected by preference points that may be given for prior years of service military service and other factors.

However just getting on the list does not mean that you will get hired. There still may be other phases of the hiring process. These usually include an oral interview a psychological exam and a medical exam. The list will also have an expiration date. If you have not been hired by the time the list expires then you will have to complete the whole process again.

The 24-hour shift

One of the unique opportunities of the fire service is the 24-hour shift. Many fire departments operate on this schedule or a form of it. Firefighters typically report for duty at a specific time (for example 7:00 AM). They spend the next 24 hours at the fire station. Then they are off for 48 hours and return in two days to do it all over again.

All in all you end up working 8 to 10 days per month. This allows you to work another job on the side or spend time enjoying your favorite hobbies.

Other schedules include 8-hour 12-hour and variations of 8-hour and 16-hour shifts.

Job Educational Requirements

The education requirements for fire departments vary. Many fire departments require that you enter and successfully complete their fire academy upon being hired. Other fire departments require that you attend a state sponsored fire academy and are certified by the state before being hired.

Other possible requirements include:
    High School Diploma or Equivalent
    Valid Drivers License.
    21 years of age
    Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic certification

All of these items are presented as general guidelines. It is important that you contact the fire department that you are interested in working for and obtain their complete requirements. Also when beginning to participate in the testing process be sure to read and understand the directions completely. Fill out all forms and paperwork properly to ensure that you are not eliminated simply because you filled out your application incorrectly or incompletely.

Good Luck in your pursuit of a firefighting career!

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