So you want to be a firefighter? As you probably already know it’s one of, if not, the most rewarding careers you could get into. Whether it is as a volunteer, on-call, or career full time position, the fundamentals are the same. In order to cut down on the daily requests for advice, I’ve decided to write down a little information for you to read through before posting. If you have questions other than what has been answered here feel free to post more specific questions, but please include: Your location (state/country), what type of firefighting your looking to do (structural/wildland),and your current level of training (EMT-B,I,P, fire science degrees, etc…) To further build upon the cutting down of advice posts, please remember google is your friend. Google can yield impressive results, try googling your town and seeing if the fire dept has a separate page with a FAQ or online application. Many times the websites will answer all questions regarding what is needed in order to qualify.
How do I become a firefighter?
Realize that every state, city, county, town, township, municipality, and whatever else they’re called is different to a degree, but for the sake of my own sanity we’ll call all of the above mentioned “towns”. Some towns are civil service (this will be explained), and some are not. Some town departments in rural communities are staffed by good old boys with no training other than the on the job type, others are academy trained volunteers and on-call (this accounts for the majority of US firefighters, and in the minority is the career professional firefighter. If memory serves me correctly the majority of career jobs are in the northeast US. You’ll need to figure out what type of department your community, or community in which you plan on working has. Landing a job as a career professional firefighter is the hardest of the three listed to get.
What type of certifications do I need? Will college experience help?
This varies from every dept. Most if not all career departments that run both fire and EMS will require you to have a paramedic certification (info on levels of EMS certification will be explained). Larger cities like Boston, New York, etc… have separate fire and EMS, and only require you to be EMT-Basic certified. It’s a safe bet that regardless of the type of department you’re interested in they will require you to at least have EMT-Basic certification. Even if they don’t require it, it’s something you should look into, not only does it look better on applications, it makes you more useful to the department. The firefighting side of public safety is different than police when it comes to higher education. Most police officers are required to at minimum have a bachelor’s degree, while firefighting only requires you to have a high school diploma or GED. Fire science degrees and emergency management courses are available to take, however they carry little to no weight in the employment process. However on some departments the higher education you have the more money you can make per year. Please consult your local departments as to what college courses constitute the pay bump. When it comes to firefighter 1&2 certifications some states will send you to the approved fire academy after you have been hired, while other states give you the ability to go through the academy privately (either on your own dime, or you’re sponsored by a department). There isn’t much more information to give here, it’s up to you to do some research on your towns policy.
As far as the National Registry is concerned the three tiers of emergency medical provider are EMT-Basic, Advanced-EMT, EMT-Paramedic. EMT-Basic is the first level of emergency medicine. You’ll learn the most basic of life saving treatments, and it is the foundation of EMS. Class lasts anywhere from 4 weeks with an accelerated course, to 3-4 months with the traditional class setting. This course is required in order to become an advanced EMT, and paramedic. Advanced-EMT is the second level, you will build upon what you learned in basic school, you will be able to provide more advanced skills, IV’s, Advanced airways, etc… EMT-Paramedic is the highest form of learning. You’ll learn the most advanced life saving treatments and procedures. IV’s, advanced airways, heart rhythm interpretation, defibrillation, cardioversion, etc…The classroom portion takes between 9-10 months alone. After the classroom portion is completed you will need to complete hospital clinical time, which includes the ER, and the OR, along with ambulance ride along clinical time to practice the skills you’ve learned.
Prior drug abuse or criminal records
If you’ve ever been convicted of a felony, forget about it. There are too many applicants with squeaky clean records looking for jobs. You’re in a grey area if ever convicted of a misdemeanor, it depends on what the charge was, anything alcohol, violence, or drug related forget about it. Your background will be thoroughly investigated. If you posses a medical marijuana card for a “chronic illness”, forget about it. If you smoked weed in high school rest assured you aren’t out of the running when it comes to employment. Teenagers will be teenagers; I think that’s a pretty widely accepted fact. Whether or not you choose to admit that in an interview or on an application is up to you, honesty is generally the best policy.
Firefighter I and Firefighter II certification
In order to posses these certifications you must go through an accredited academy. Different states have different schedules as to when the academy is, and how in depth they go. Some academies are 5 days a week 0700-1600 for 13 weeks. Some academies are 2 nights a week for 4 hours and Saturdays for 6 months. For more information on what these certifications entail please visit http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=1001
Civil Service and Non-Civil Service
Everyone has their own opinion on civil service. You may believe it’s totally fair, or that it’s political correctness once again rearing its ugly head. Whatever you believe doesn’t matter, it’s here, it’s been here, and with recent court battles between judges and the FDNY over hiring, it’s not going anywhere soon. Public safety jobs are the first choice for our returning veterans, and that is represented in their placement on the civil service list. The truth is that if you have decided to seek employment at a large city with civil service, and posses no EMT certifications, you can guarantee you won’t get a letter in the mail. If you feel like spending the anywhere from $100-300 on getting experience as a test taker, more power to you. The best advice is to not bother taking the civil service exam until you at least have your EMT-Basic certification. If you are seeking employment at a town with civil service that runs their own ambulance, don’t be expecting a letter from that town without having your EMT-Paramedic license. To the best of my knowledge, there are two civil service lists. One list is for people WITH paramedic certification, and one for people WITHOUT it. That is how much weight that license/certification carries. For example, if you are a non-veteran with a paramedic certification looking for employment at a town that runs both fire and EMS you’ll have a much better shot at getting hired. Remember that for every ONE slot that opens up on a department approximately FORTY letters will go out to eligible applicants, after that, it’s a total crap shoot as to who gets hired. For more information on your states civil service exam dates, or if you are wondering if your local career dept is civil service, google is your friend, and so are your friendly neighborhood firemen. As far as Volly departments go, find out when they meet, stop by the station, call the town hall, use google, etc… We have absolutely no way of knowing what your towns policies are when it comes to getting in touch with a recruiter for the station. Non-civil service departments involve some politics, good contacts, and great recommendations. They will put out employment postings in the paper, and on job search engine websites, it’s up to you to keep your eyes out. Some departments issue their own test after applying, almost like their own private civil service exam. Score well and you’ll advance to the next phase. Remember there could be upwards of 100 applicants for one position so bring your A game.