Firefighter Training Guide

Have you always been curious about firefighting and wished to become a firefighter? Find out what you need to do to join a fire department.

If you have always dreamed of helping members of your community, one of the top ways to do so is to become a firefighter. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates there were approximately 1,080,800 firefighters in the United States in 2019. They provide essential and often life-saving services daily. Firefighters throughout the country routinely go towards problems average people try to avoid. Those situations extend beyond fires to car crashes, drownings, and many other emergencies. Firefighters are true heroes in their communities.

Due to the wide range of emergencies firefighters must handle, becoming one is not an easy process. If you are committed to the idea of a career in firefighting, you must prepare for a difficult application process. You also must understand graduating from a fire academy is only half the battle. Serving as a firefighter is a difficult process with unique challenges. The information below can help you determine if firefighting is the right career for you and, if so, the steps you must take to get a job as a firefighter.

What Can You Expect When You Become a Firefighter?

If you become a firefighter, the first thing you can expect is the need to work long hours. Often, firefighters work 24-hour shifts. Then they have two or three days off. In some cities and towns, they live at their firehouses for a week or two and take any calls that come in during that time. Then they go home for a week or two. Firefighters are also often called upon to respond to emergencies during their time off. They work with other members of their departments on an almost constant basis. Therefore, the ability to work well in groups is a major fire fighting requirement.

You can also expect lives to be on the line when you work as a firefighter. The emergencies you encounter may often have potential dangers for you personally, such as if you enter a burning building to extinguish a fire. There is the possibility of becoming trapped or having portions of the building collapse. In 2020, 140 firefighters died on the job. Although not all died while fighting fires. Many more were injured in various ways. Even if you do not encounter dangers to you on certain calls, the lives of others may often depend on your decisions and actions.

What Can You Do Before Applying to a Firefighting Academy to Improve Odds of Success?

To apply for firefighting academy, you must have a certain level of physical health and strength. Testing includes many different physical challenges. They are designed to ensure firefighters can handle any emergencies and challenges encountered on the job. Common physical tests include:

  • Carrying Hoses

  • Raising Ladders

  • Carrying Equipment

  • Forcing Entry into Structures

  • Other Pulling and Carrying Tests, Such as Carrying Dummies During Fake Rescues

For the best chances of firefighting academy acceptance, it is also important to have a good personal reputation. It is likely you may have to undergo a credit check. Your social media may also undergo inspection. If you do have any type of negative history, it does not automatically disqualify you for a firefighting academy. Honesty and transparency are vital when explaining past mistakes during the application process.

What Certifications and Experience Do You Need to Become a Firefighter?

In some states, you cannot join a firefighting academy until you meet certain other requirements. For instance, you may need to pass written state certification exams. Often, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification is also required. Commercial driver's licensing is also a prerequisite in certain states. Check the regulations in your state for a full list of requirements.

Many states and individual fire departments have much more relaxed requirements for volunteer firefighters. When you volunteer you can reap several benefits. For instance, you can gain training that can help you pass the firefighting academy later. Volunteering also gives you an opportunity to network with other firefighters. You may even get called first when a paid position opens at the department for which you are volunteering.

What Are the Minimum Requirements to Apply to a Specific Firefighting Academy?

The minimum requirements to become a firefighter vary by region, department, and type of position. For example, an applicant must be at least 18 years of age to become a federal Wildland Firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. That age minimum exists for all firefighters throughout the United States. However, individual fire departments can raise the minimum age requirement at their discretion. In many departments, applicants must be at least 21 years of age. Almost every fire department in the United States also requires academy applicants to have high school diplomas or GEDs.

What Else Must You Do to Graduate from a Firefighting Academy?

You must meet several standards to pass firefighting academy training. In 1997, the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) became required for all firefighting candidates throughout the United States. It is still a requirement today. Additionally, firefighting agencies have determined firefighters must demonstrate excellent mental health to perform their duties properly. Therefore, you must submit to a mental evaluation to complete academy training.

Beyond those requirements, each academy has its own standards. Some firefighting academies may place higher values on certain skills, experiences, and attitudes than others. It is important to demonstrate well-rounded fire fighting abilities, as well as the ability to work well with other firefighters on team efforts. Demonstrating genuine care for individuals and the community can also help you pass firefighter training, as well as improve your chances of obtaining a firefighting job after graduating.

How Long is a Typical Firefighting Academy Training Program?

The final consideration before signing up for firefighting academy training is time investment. Academy training lengths vary by state and agency. An average program consists of approximately 600 hours of training. Those hours are typically distributed over a course lasting approximately three to four months. Due to the commitment involved, you may not have the ability to keep a full-time job during training. You also, many do not have much free time. However, provided you have the family support and financial stability, a career as a firefighter can pay financial and emotional dividends in the long run.