There are many different paths into the fire service and a firefighting career. In this article you will read five brief personal stories from five very different individuals, explaining their chosen path and how they achieved their career goals.
Each person carves their own personal pathway in pursuit of their chosen career. Your career path will be based on your interests, resources and personal motivation. I hope that reading these success stories will inspire you, and perhaps guide or redirect you in your career pursuit and ultimately help you find the same kind of success and career fulfillment as these firefighters have.
1) Yvette: Yvette's Father, Uncle and Grandfather were all big city firefighters. She was always drawn to the job, but her family was anything but encouraging or supportive. They were "old school", and did not believe that women had a place in the fire service. She married her high school sweet heart at the age of 22.
Between the ages of 18 and 25 she held various jobs until her first daughter was born, at which time she started her own daycare. At 28 Yvette gave birth to her second daughter who was born with a heart condition. This inspired her to go beyond the basic CPR training that she was required to have as a daycare provider and take an EMT class. She loved it, and in spite of her family's feelings about it, she was determined to complete the fire academy at her local Community College after she earned her EMT certificate.
At 29 she had done so and decided to pursue a career as a firefighter. She also got involved with a volunteer program in her hometown. In her academy and volunteer job she was referred to as "Mom" because she was much older than most of the other students and volunteers.
She volunteered for several years and continued her education, while also being a full-time mom thanks to the support of her husband. She had been testing with local fire departments, but because she had her family to consider, working out of the area was not an option. She enjoyed the EMS aspect of the job and at the age of 33 enrolled in paramedic school.
Before the schooling had started she was offered a full-time job with a small department near her hometown. She declined the paramedic program and began working as a full-time firefighter. She was the first and only female to work for that organization—even today. She has found her teaching experience and experience working with children to be a great asset.
She now works as a firefighter/engineer and is in charge of her department's public safety education program. Now 11 years later, at the age of 44, Yvette is looking to go back to school to get her paramedic license. Yvette is a great inspiration to all women out there. She is proof that if you have the heart of a firefighter, your gender is irrelevant. She followed her passion while raising her daughters, both of whom could not be more proud of her.
2) Marty: After high school, Marty wasn't quite sure what he was going to do. He enjoyed traveling and surfing. Marty spent many years working odd jobs, including bartending to survive and pursue his surfing passion.
In his mid 20s, Marty realized that he needed a little more structure and direction in his life and looked to enlist in the military. A drastic change from his laid back, unstructured lifestyle. After visiting a few recruiters, he decided the Coast Guard was the most appealing.
One of the reasons for this decision was the guarantee they offered to be stationed in either California or Hawaii, so he would not need to abandon his favorite pass time altogether.
Marty served seven years as an enlisted Coast Guard Machinery Technician. In the Coast Guard, Marty found the discipline he needed and realized that he truly enjoyed being a student. He excelled at many things that he never before saw himself doing. To say Marty excelled is an understatement.
He received the honor of Coast Guardsman of the year, which for those of you who do not know, is an incredibly impressive achievement. After seven years in the Coast Guard, Marty stepped down from his full-time enlisted position to an active reserve position and began working as a reserve firefighter for a department near his Coast Guard station. His knowledge of the local water ways, boat operations and water rescue was a huge asset to the department.
The discipline Marty developed in the Coast Guard really showed. He truly stood out as a reserve firefighter. His passion, eagerness and professionalism made him an immediate favorite amongst his department. Although Marty was the newest reserve, he landed the next full-time job that became available. Reserves that had been there for years were passed over to hire him.
I am often asked if the military is a good way to get in to the fire service. My short response is no. If you have the discipline and resourcefulness it takes and posses both a good work ethic and are a good student than the three to four years in the military could be better spent working towards your fire science degrees and certifications and volunteer work.
But, if you lack these traits the military may be essential. It is a great place to learn what it takes to cut it in the fire service. Former military personnel understand the discipline, respect, study habits and structure that the fire service expects and as a result they tend to stand out and do very well. Marty is a prime example of using the military to obtain the tools he needed to be a successful firefighter candidate and successful firefighter.
3) Matt: Immediately upon finishing high school Matt enrolled in the Columbia College Fire Science program working towards his Associates Degree in Fire Science. As part of this program, within three years he was able to obtain his FF-I, EMT-I, Associates Degree in Fire Science, Driver Operator 1A and 1B, Rescue Systems I and various other certifications.
The college also ran the local fire department and students worked as part-time firefighters, gaining valuable hands on experience as well an education. Upon completion of the program, Matt worked for a private ambulance company and ski patrol at a winter resort. During the fire season Matt worked for Cal Fire (Formerly California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) as a seasonal firefighter.
He worked two seasons for Cal Fire. He was 23 and 24 years old at the time. At 25, Matt was hired as a full-time firefighter trainee with a fire department in his state. The trainee position was full-time, but contracted for two years.
After one and a half years as a trainee, Matt decided to leave that department to enroll in paramedic school. While in medic school, Matt continued to work for private ambulance companies and work ski patrol. While still in medic school, Matt was offered a full-time position as a firefighter.
Although he was hired as a firefighter/EMT he was allowed to finish his paramedic schooling while he was on probation. After obtaining his paramedic license, Matt was immediately promoted to the position of firefighter/paramedic.
Matt continued to pursue educational and training opportunities and has since achieved the rank of fire captain. Matt is an example of 100 percent dedication to the career. He started young and committed himself to the job from day one.
4) Dwight: Dwight lived in an area where there were many small combination fire departments. A combination department has both full-time and part-time or volunteer personnel. He became a Jr. firefighter for his local department at the age of 16.
When he graduated from high school he took basic firefighting, then firefighter 1 and 2. Dwight worked as a volunteer for multiple departments within the county he resided in. Throughout his volunteer career he worked for four different departments. He made safety officer at one department, Lieutenant at another, and soon found himself training new volunteers.
Years later he went back to the academy to obtain other certifications such as auto extrication, Haz-Mat, Medical First Responder, etc. Dwight had been applying for full time firefighter jobs at many departments in his area, but had no luck landing a full-time job.
After eight years as a volunteer he decided to start applying out of state. He found that at that time South Carolina had many opportunities and application requirements were often minimal. He applied for some jobs nearby and in Charleston, which was an eight hour drive from his hometown.
Once Dwight started applying out of state, things really started to happen. He immediately found himself getting scheduled for interviews. Within a matter of weeks, Dwight received a fulltime job offer in South Carolina and moved to the east coast.
He has been working there full-time for over three years and loves it. Now with a few years of fulltime experience he is considering testing for departments near his hometown, but enjoys where he works and loves his job and life in South Carolina.
Dwight chose to go to where the jobs were and made the sacrifice to move away from his hometown in order to achieve his dream job. Dwight is a great example of someone who sought out opportunities and was willing to chase his dream out of state, where jobs were more plentiful and his qualifications and volunteer experience stood out.
5) Patrick. At the age of 14 Patrick became a fire explorer with a busy volunteer fire department. Patrick actually did this just to occupy his time while he was in high school. He had an interest in EMS and had an opportunity to take an EMT class his senior year.
After high school, Patrick enrolled in Cal Poly Tech in San Luis Obispo, Calif., but soon realized college was not for him. At the age of 19 he returned home and began working part-time as an EMT on an ambulance and volunteering back at his volunteer department. He also took some fire science classes at the local college, but his passion was EMS.
His volunteer position gave him an opportunity to work as vacation relief and earn a little money. He decided to enroll in paramedic school in Southern Calif., later that same year at the age of 19. He was a little too young for this intense program and failed out his first class. He had to wait for the next class to re-enroll.
A year older and wiser, he successfully completed the program by the age of 21. Patrick moved back home and worked fulltime as a paramedic for the same private ambulance company and went back to working as a volunteer firefighter. Patrick enjoyed being a paramedic and tested with some local fire departments, but did not really pursue a firefighter career during this time.
He instead began working full-time as flight medic for REACH Air Ambulance in Northern Calif. He was 25 years old at the time. He also worked on a ground ambulance during this time as well and stopped testing for fire department jobs altogether and instead focused on his EMS career. At the age of 28 he was hired to start a new ALS program for another local volunteer fire department. At first, this was a part-time position, but turned into a full-time position with the title of firefighter/paramedic coordinator.
He held this position for seven years and continued to work for REACH. At the age of 34 he decided to test for a fire department that would provide better pay and more opportunities in the future. He was quickly hired as a probationary firefighter/paramedic in a Northern Calif., department.
After being hired and working for the department, Patrick went back to school to finish up his associates degree. He has been employed there for over eight years now. Patrick is a great example of someone who used EMS as a path into the fire service.
His commitment to EMS when combined with a fire service background made for a natural transition and opened up opportunities in the fire service although his primary passion was always EMS and still is.