How to Become a Firefighter
Firefighters begin their careers by attending fire academy training.
Firefighters typically need a high school diploma and training in emergency medical services. Most firefighters also must pass a written and physical test, complete a series of interviews, and hold an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. All firefighters receive extensive training after being hired.
Applicants for firefighter jobs typically must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. They must also pass a medical exam and drug screening to be hired. After being hired, firefighters may be subject to random drug tests.
The entry-level education needed to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some class work beyond high school usually is needed to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) basic certification. EMT requirements vary by city and state.
Entry-level firefighters receive several weeks of training at fire academies run by the fire department or by the state. Through classroom instruction and practical training, recruits study fire-fighting and fire-prevention techniques, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures. They also learn how to fight fires with standard equipment, including axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, and ladders.
Some fire departments have accredited apprenticeship programs that last up to 4 years. These programs combine classroom instruction with on-the-job-training under the supervision of experienced firefighters.
In addition to participating in training programs conducted by local or state fire departments and agencies, some firefighters attend federal training sessions sponsored by the National Fire Academy. These training sessions cover topics including executive development, anti-arson techniques, disaster preparedness, hazardous materials control, and public fire safety and education.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Firefighters must usually be certified as emergency medical technicians at the EMT-Basic level. In addition, some fire departments require firefighters to be certified as an EMT-Paramedic. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies EMTs and paramedics. All levels of NREMT certification require completing a training or education program and passing the national exam. The national exam has both a written part and a practical part. In some departments, it is possible to earn these certifications after being hired. EMTs and paramedics may work with firefighters at the scenes of accidents.
Some states have mandatory or voluntary firefighter training and certification programs.
Working as a volunteer firefighter may help in getting a job as a career firefighter.
Firefighters can be promoted to engineer, then lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and finally, chief. For promotion to positions beyond battalion chief, many fire departments now require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, preferably in fire science, public administration, or a related field. Some firefighters eventually become fire inspectors or investigators after gaining enough experience.
The National Fire Academy also offers a certification as Executive Fire Officer. To be eligible for certification, firefighters must have a bachelor's degree.
Communication skills. Firefighters must be able to communicate conditions at an emergency scene to other firefighters and to emergency-response crews.
Courage. Firefighters are confronted with dangerous situations, such as entering a burning building, while doing their jobs.
Decision-making skills. Firefighters must be able to make quick and smart decisions in an emergency. The ability to make good decisions under pressure could potentially save someone’s life.
Physical stamina. Firefighters may have to stay at disaster scenes for long periods of time to rescue and treat victims. They must also be ready to respond to emergencies at any hour of the day.
Physical strength. Firefighters must be strong enough to carry heavy equipment and move debris at an emergency site. They must also be able to carry victims who are injured or cannot walk.