The most common question I am asked is a very general one and one that is very difficult to answer, "How do I become a firefighter?"
I find it difficult to answer this question because there are many different paths one can take to a full-time firefighter career.
There are many factors that can help you to determine the best path for you to take. In this article, however, I will describe the most straightforward and most recommended path that will offer you the best chance for success in the shortest possible time frame.
Many of the following steps can and should be done concurrently, but none should be skipped.
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Start testing with any fire department that you qualify for. Every test better prepares you for the next one. Figure out your weaknesses and work on them. For example, if you find the math portion of the written exam difficult, work to improve your math skills, or if you left a puddle of sweat under your chair when you walked out of the interview, seek help.
Enroll in and get your EMT certificate in the state you live in and get your National Registry certificate as well. This alone will make you eligible to apply for many departments in the U.S. (In most States, EMT courses can be taken at select community colleges. Keep in mind that these classes often fill up fast and priority will be given to current students, so you may need to sign up for other classes before getting in).
Take general education courses and work towards your AS degree in fire science as well as anatomy and physiology, which are often prerequisites for paramedic school.
Once certified, apply for EMT jobs with private ambulance companies, hospitals, etc., to get some hands on experience.
Enroll in a Firefighter 1 Academy.
Get involved in a volunteer, reserve or cadet program. If such a program is available in your area prior to obtaining your certifications get involved now.
If considering paramedic school, find a good one, get enrolled and get your paramedic license.
Continue working towards your AS degree in fire science and once achieved consider a Bachelors degree in a related field, such as public administration or emergency management.
Take as many specialized courses as possible: Driver operator/EVOC, wildland firefighter, haz-mat tech and specialist, rescue systems, high rise tactics, confined space rescue, swift water rescue, truck company operations, engine company operations, etc.
Following these steps in chronological order will provide you with the most opportunities in the fastest possible timeline while building your resume and preparing you for the career.
The biggest mistake I see candidates make is starting at step #3 and waiting until they are done with paramedic school before they start testing. This means years of wasted opportunities that at the very least would have made them better prepared for the testing process and possibly landed them a job much sooner.
I have heard candidates argue that they feel they should finish schooling before getting hired and that is why they do not test. The main goal of school is to get a job.
School will always be there. Most departments support continuing education and pursuing higher degrees and the firefighter work schedule allows for this.
Having to make a decision such as taking a job offer, or waiting to finish school is a dilemma you want to have to face, not one you should avoid.
Also, keep in mind that departments often take years from the time of accepting applications to actually hiring and putting candidates to work. The timing of the hiring may work out great, but only if you apply.
One thing I can guarantee with absolute certainty is that you will not get hired if you do not submit an application, so do not delay in getting your applications filed and beginning all the other steps that are going to help you earn the job of your dreams.
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