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How To Become A Firefighter

Many people want to know how to become a firefighter, which is a professional who responds to any type of emergency in the community. Firefighters put out fires, but they are also responsible for public safety and rescue as well as responding to environmental and medical emergencies.

In some communities in the US, firefighters are volunteers but in larger municipalities, they are city employees and members of a large firefighting force.

Most firefighters work a 24-hour shift. When they are on duty, they live and sleep at the fire station. During the day, they do chores around the station and are available for immediate response to any emergency call. Because most of the calls are medical emergencies, most firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians, or EMTs.

What type of training do firefighters have?

Before new recruits can work as firefighters, they must attend probationary school or a fire academy. They participate in training over an 18-week period learning about vehicle operations, emergency medical procedures, investigating fires, the science of fire, hazardous materials, terrorism response, domestic violence and rescue. While attending fire academy, recruits participate in simulations that teach them different firefighting techniques for fires in various types of buildings.

Physical fitness is crucial for a firefighter because of the physical demands of the job. Recruits go through rigorous physical training on a daily basis that includes exercise, running and completing obstacle courses.

Does a firefighter need a license or certification?

Most firefighters must earn state certification. Each state sets its own standards but most of them include the following:

Minimum age requirement: Firefighters must be at least 18 years old in some states. Other states have a minimum age requirement of 21.

Minimum education requirement: Most states require firefighters to possess a high school diploma or equivalent.

EMT certification: In some states, a firefighter must earn an EMT certificate.

Assessment and training: All candidates must pass practical and written certification examinations after attending a training course approved by the state.

In states where certification is required, there are several tiers and most new firefighters start with a level 1, or basic certification. With additional training and experience, firefighters can earn advanced certification as a level II firefighter, fire inspector, fire investigator or fire officer.

How long does training and certification take?

If a fire department hires an individual who has no training, it takes 18 weeks to complete basic training as a new recruit. In states that certify firefighters, it takes additional time to meet the specific requirements.

After basic training, a firefighter either begins an apprenticeship or starts a probationary period that lasts from two to four years.

How much money does a firefighter make?

Salary depends on rank and each rank offers a salary within a specific range.

In the US in 2010, paid firefighters earned a median annual wage of $45,250. Firefighters in the lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,050, while individuals in the top 10 percent earned in excess of $75,390 per year.

What is the outlook for firefighting jobs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US will have a need for approximately 26,600 new recruits from 2010 to 2020, which represents a 9 percent increase over that period.

Competition is high for paid positions, so if you take fire training classes and improve your level of physical fitness before submitting an application, you are more likely to be hired. Many local fire departments weed out the weakest applicants by requiring them to take a physical fitness test and a written exam and comparing their scores.

What is the long-term outlook for firefighting jobs?

Firefighters can seek promotion to lieutenant, chief, or captain after receiving additional training and experience. In some fire departments, promotion requires earning a higher level of certification or a college degree.

If you specialize in a specific branch of firefighting service, you will have the opportunity to earn promotion and a higher annual salary. You can participate in advanced training in incident management, terrorism response, executive development, fire prevention or fire investigation through the National Fire Academy, the fire marshal’s office in your state or the local fire department.

How do I find a firefighting job?

Contact the fire department you are interested in working for and find out about the age, education and other requirements. You will have to apply for a position by either filling out a general application with the county or city where the department is located or applying directly to the fire department, depending on where you are seeking employment.

You will need to take a written aptitude examination as part of the process of application. If you successfully pass this test, you will advance to the physical fitness test, which is usually the CPAT, or Candidate Physical Aptitude Test. The International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters joined forces to create the CPAT as a way to determine whether a candidate has the necessary physical skills to excel as a firefighter. You will increase your chances of gaining employment if you prepare for the CPAT and the written exam before you fill out your application.

Most departments will require you to submit to a medical examination, a background check and a drug test.

Where do I learn more about earning a job as a firefighter?

Fire departments in the US educate the community as part of their mission. You should visit the fire station in your area to speak to firefighters and ask for a tour of the station.