7 Steps to Start Your Firefighting Career
A career in firefighting can be very rewarding, and it become a lifelong calling for those wanting to serve their communities. However, starting a fire career can be a challenging and competitive experience. And it’s no wonder; firefighters must be mentally and physically tough, highly knowledgeable and well-trained, and able to accomplish things that most people cannot.
While it’s true you might be up against hundreds or even thousands of other candidates, depending on your location, there are ways to make yourself more prepared and your application more attractive to the hiring committee. The added benefit is that it can also set you up for success at the academy and beyond. Below are seven steps to starting a career in firefighting.
Step One: Meet the Basics
Make sure you know and understand the baseline requirements to apply for a position at your preferred fire department. For example, most departments require you to be 18 years old, although some up that to 21. Most require a high school diploma or GED and a clean criminal record. You most likely will need corrected 20/20 eyesight and be in good physical condition.
Take the time to research exactly what your agency requires so that there are no surprises and you are prepared to meet all the basics. It’s also a good idea to research and understand the hiring process for your particular agency. For example, most conduct a detailed background check and may ask you to provide a long list of documents that could take some time to locate. Avoid a scramble later by starting to gather documents that will be requested during the hiring process.
Step Two: Clean Up
Once you meet the basic requirements to apply, begin a little housekeeping. Be aware that the hiring committee will be researching in depth as a candidate. It’s a good idea to audit your online presence in, removing anything that might be considered risqué or inappropriate. It may even be worth shutting down your accounts for a while.
Work hard to resolve any personal matters that might reflect poorly on you. Know they will most likely review your fiscal health and credit score as well. Stay out of trouble and focus on activities that reflect your desire to serve your community, better yourself, and participate in the fire service. If you have past mistakes in your history, don’t lie about them (the hiring committee will know about them from your background check anyway). Take proactive actions that display your willingness to learn from and correct any past issues.
Step Three: Lay the Groundwork
Next, turn that positive energy to activities that will specifically prepare you for a career in the fire service. A great way to learn more about your local agencies and departments is to stop by for station visits. Talk to the firefighters working there to learn more about what they like and what they don’t like, what to prepare for, and any other advice. There may be volunteer opportunities that serve as a foot in the door, while also helping you get a taste of fire service life. These steps will help educate you AND look great on your resume. You will also have excellent material for your oral interview questions.
Most fire departments require firefighters to either acquire their EMT certification (or complete it soon after hiring). Consider starting (or even completing) that process ahead of time to not only better prepare you for your career, but help your application stand out from the competition.
Another great recommendation is to attend a college academy, where there is more leeway for retaking exams and a bigger learning curve. Acquiring your Firefighter 1 certification is another excellent way to prove your commitment to the career path and show your hiring committee that you’re ready to hit the ground running.
Step Four: Go the Extra Mile
Just like any job application, experience and the “extras” can make your application stand apart. Look for ways to serve your community through health and safety-related nonprofits and organizations; those volunteer hours not only look great on your resume, but they will truly help you learn more about community service. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other healthcare professionals and community leaders, an important skill for firefighters who are highly visible in their communities.
You can also use this time to build your own fire safety knowledge, which, again, not only looks great on your application, but it could make a difference in the field. Many local community colleges and online educational institutions offer courses in topics, such as building construction, fire science, and fire behavior. You can also check with your state’s fire marshal office for courses and workshops to learn more skills and practical knowledge.
Finally, take some time to ensure you know the basics of non-fire related skills that firefighters are expected to have. If you don’t have much mechanical knowledge, spend some time learning how to use the most common power tools and steps in basic mechanics. Also be sure you know how to take care of household responsibilities that may be a part of your job in the firehouse (washing dishes, simple cleaning and cooking, etc.). These are skills you’ll be expected to have when hired, not something your department will be teaching you how to do.
Step Five: Prepare to Be Tested
During the hiring process, you’ll be tested on multiple levels. You’ll complete a written test, an oral interview, a psychiatric test, and a physical. For some of these, you can prepare; for others, you cannot. But do your best to study and be ready. The written exam consists of multiple-choice questions, divided into categories, while the psychiatric evaluation will look at your mental and emotional stability to withstand the stresses associated with the job.
The CPAT events for firefighters are stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue, ceiling breach, and pull. This is a great time to prepare for the test AND the physical nature of the job itself.
Step Six: Sell Yourself
The hiring committee is looking beyond the resume to see how you would fit into the culture of their team. Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions. Look to highlight your own experience, involvement, and preparations for the job. Be prepared to answer honestly about why you feel a career in firefighting is right for you, focus on what makes you passionate about the job.
Don’t be surprised to receive questions about where you see the fire industry in five or ten years. Being up to speed on current topics and trends can set you apart and demonstrate your commitment to the job.
Step 7: Toughen Up
Know that the hiring process for a fire service career can be lengthy and highly competitive. Once you get the job, you begin 16-week academy classes that are designed to test you mentally and physically. You must be strong in body and mind to succeed – just like career in the fire service industry.
With some proactive work and a focus on your goals, you’ll be better prepared to make your application stand out to your hiring committee and ready to meet every challenge and test that is put before you during the hiring process. This rigorous process is designed to help ensure that the “best of the best” are always ready to serve and protect their communities with the strongest team possible. Good luck!