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How do I Become a Firefighter?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Many children dream of becoming a firefighter when they grow up. The career is dangerous, exciting, and varied: as a firefighter, you will experience a wide variety of situations on the job. Firefighting staff contribute to the areas they live in, often providing medical support and other emergency response support in addition to firefighting. They also participate in public safety education and regular fire inspections. Depending on the career you are interested in pursuing, there are a number of options available, including wildland firefighting, urban firefighting, and industrial firefighting.

Firefighters are physically fit and thoroughly trained. If you are interested in joining this profession, you should start by keeping yourself in excellent shape. You'll need to be agile and very strong. When hiring, fire departments have a physical examination which all applicants need to be able to pass. This exam includes handling high pressure hoses, breaking down doors, and other skills that are valuable in firefighting situations.

In high school, take a wide variety of classes, including a foreign language if one is offered. In some areas of the United States, knowledge of a second language such as Spanish, Chinese, or Vietnamese can be highly useful. While some fire departments will accept recruits straight from high school, many prefer recruits with an associate's degree in fire science. This will prepare you for advanced training.

In some areas, you must apply and be accepted into a firefighting department in order to receive advanced training. In other regions, it is possible to attend a school first and apply to departments afterwards. Advanced training at the time of application will give you a competitive edge. In addition, you may want to consider getting basic training in first aid.

The application process begins with the civil service examination, which is administered by the department you apply to. If you pass the exam, you will be kept in the pool of available applicants eligible for advanced testing and interviews. After passing this stage, you will be sent to firefighter training. When you return, you will be accepted into the department as a member of the firefighting team.

Urban firefighters focus on structural fires in cities. Wildland firefighters are usually employed by the federal government, and work on forest fires. Industrial firefighters are trained to deal with fires unique to industrial situations, including response to chemical explosions. In small areas that cannot afford a full scale fire department, members of the community act as volunteers to fight fires. Volunteer firemen are an important contribution to the area they live in, receiving basic training and minimal pay for emergency response.

Many fire departments also handle responses to terrorism, rescue needs, crashes, and medical emergencies. Like other public safety personnel, firefighters have to attend continuing education classes in order to remain employed. Continuing education updates individuals on advances in fire science, new medical techniques, and other changes in their professional field. Becoming a firefighter is hard work, but many people find it well worth the effort.

PracticalAdultInsights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon268822 — On May 15, 2012

Why do you have to be 21?

By anon262024 — On Apr 18, 2012

Don't even bother if you live in Ontario. They graduate far too many from the college program. Hundreds apply for a few vacancies, and have to pay to take the tests each and every time, plus pay hundreds to keep up the CPAT certification. It's a money grab for city finances.

There should be a moratorium on all Ontario college programs until there are jobs available. It's disgusting that so many young men spend $20K in college costs for nothing.

By anon155479 — On Feb 23, 2011

yes i agree it may be the best job, but when the job wasn't successful and someone's life was lost. knowing that you were called for rescue would be pretty hurtful.

By anon135084 — On Dec 17, 2010

I think being a firefighter is probably one of the best jobs to get. Well, anything in medical of any kind is really good. You save people and then when it's over you can feel on top of the world because you did one of the most highly looked upon things in the world!

Everybody loves a person who risks their lives for a complete stranger and if you disagree you're just being stubborn.

By anon121446 — On Oct 24, 2010

Do you have to have a high school diploma or GED to be recruited on a Volunteer Fire Department? I was wondering because my father is Retired from the Cave City Volunteer Fire Department in Cave City, Ky. So I was wondering if you can join without a high school education or GED?

Eddie S. Cave City, KY

By anon116471 — On Oct 06, 2010

Wow, I would say this article leaves a lot out. I would say that, without exception, you have to get your EMT, and be an incredible interviewer as well. The fact that so many people want fire service jobs makes them ultra competitive to become a firefighter --Thomas

By anon109466 — On Sep 07, 2010

what is the weight limit?

By anon100089 — On Jul 28, 2010

What is a female firefighter's job? does she have to have all the strength and get all the fitness training as the men do?

By anon84796 — On May 17, 2010

what do i need get in the studies of fire fighting?

By anon78829 — On Apr 20, 2010

how many years of training doe it take to be an official firefighter? where do they train?

By anon72193 — On Mar 22, 2010

can't wait. sounds like a great job.

By anon68385 — On Mar 02, 2010

What do firemen do while there are no fires?

By anon52559 — On Nov 15, 2009

Malena: Firefighting is a great job, no doubt. However a few things should be clarified, the hours are *not* great, shifts range from 10-24 hours sometime 36 and 48 hours straight. Holidays, birthdays graduations and family events are non-existent when you are a firefighter. The benefits vary greatly from department to department. 50 percent health with no dental or vision is not a great benefit.

Getting hired is another story. Hiring should be based on merit, not who you know. If that is how hiring is done within a deptartment that you are interested in, I would recommend another department. The "good ol' boy" network is not something to be proud of.

By anon47466 — On Oct 05, 2009

well I can't wait to be 18 because i am going to shadow them my senior year. I also want to join because i want to help people and i think being a firefighter is the way to go for me that is.

By anon46383 — On Sep 25, 2009

1. First, know why you want to become a firefighter. 2. Interview firefighters both women and men. 3. Research what schooling and training is needed. 4. Join a fire academy for training and skills. 5. Map out a plan and time line to reach your goal. 6. Don't listen to failure stories, instead learn from them. 7. Find a mentor or trainer (best to find a firefighter as I did.) 8. Stick it through, stay positive and remember during the tough times what your ultimate goal is and you can get there. I am an aspiring firefighter. I am also a mother of four children. I have a blog about my journey to becoming a firefighter. You can do it too! ~Athena

By chaseatoms — On Mar 16, 2009

Hey guys and gals, there's a great movie out there that will show you exactly what you're in for when you enter the fire academy. It's called "Ricky's Rib Shack, a Firefighter's Journey" It takes you right into the middle of the training. It's a real eye opener. Check it out.

By korey1234 — On Dec 15, 2008

How physically fit would you have to be to get by?

By anon21914 — On Nov 24, 2008

what is the high to become a firefighter?

By anon13225 — On May 22, 2008

Hi, I just found a great guide to becoming a firefighter from a company called how2become which has told me everything I need to know to start my new career.

By Marknelson — On Apr 26, 2008

Also if you join a volunteer station. (which is EASY) make sure you go on medical calls. nothing is worse than a firefighter that only goes on Fires or MVA's.

By malena — On Feb 01, 2008

I have a few firefighting friends and have heard, from different people, about the difficulty of getting accepted. Being such an exciting job with great hours and benefits, lots of people apply. And because of that, it can be hard to get accepted. I heard that knowing people within the firefighting community can be a real help.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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