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7 tips to prepare yourself for the fire academy

Don‘t relax because you got accepted to a fire academy; this is the perfect time to be proactive and get things done

California Regional Fire Academy

By dressing each morning before academy, you‘ll know how long it takes each evening to wash, clean, iron and prepare your next day‘s uniform.

Facebook/California Regional Fire Academy

Preparing for a life in the fire service can be a challenge. I‘ve written in the past about being ready for 24-hour shifts, but there is something you‘ll need to have the hang of long before then: life as a probie.

Depending on your fire academy, it could be casual or para-military or anywhere in between. The fire academy will be disorienting and will hopefully rock you to your core, preparing you to be a firefighter.

However, your first day in the firehouse will be a completely new shock to your system. I hope to lessen that shock and have you ready to ease back into firehouse life following the academy instead of feeling lost.

Follow these steps to prepare yourself now for the changes coming up.

1. You‘re waking up early

Wake early enough so you can leave, drive to the farthest station and arrive an hour early. If Station 127 is an hour drive away, you need to leave home at 6 to arrive at 7 for the 8 a.m. shift change. So wake up early enough to be fed, dressed, and ready. How long that is depends on how much we get done.

Use this time for a solid breakfast and some basic exercise. Pushups, situps and a quick run are a good idea for now. When academy starts we‘ll be doing whatever it is they do, just in smaller quantities. You may assume that doing extra is wasteful or will tire you out, but this extra time is invaluable and will be noticed by your instructors. Plus, when academy is over you won‘t be surprised and thrown off by having to wake up earlier than usual to make it to Engine 127 by 7 a.m.

2. Dress the part

Each morning, after exercise, dress in clean, pressed pants and a clean polo shirt with a straight, flat collar. The reason? During academy it is likely you will need to wear a clean, pressed uniform each day. By dressing each morning before academy, you‘ll know how long it takes each evening to wash, clean, iron and prepare your next day‘s uniform.

And don‘t cheat by hanging up your pants for the next day. Get in the habit of getting everything in the wash before dinner so you have time to prep for the next day. Even if you have enough uniforms for more than one day, your new profession is being prepared, not putting things off. Now you‘ll be ready for every shift with a clean, fresh uniform.

3. Chores, chores, chores

Regardless of how things usually run in your household, you have now been assigned as janitor, chef and errand boy. Each morning you‘ll be cleaning the dishes, floors and toilets regardless of how clean they appear.

You‘ll also be giving the kitchen a good once over and making the bed. At least one load of laundry needs to be going by lunch, too.

4. Make a menu

Lunch and dinner need to be planned, shopped and cooked before noon. If your family usually shops weekly or biweekly, you‘ll need to change that for awhile during our prep time. Use your menu choices from our previous discussions and plan accordingly.

Leftovers are for the weekends, except for Sunday when you‘ll be preparing brunch. If you don‘t practice your recipes now, there won‘t be time before probation. Keep in mind that you will be at fire academy all day and won‘t be able to cook.

5. Time to study

After lunch you‘ll be reading NFPA manuals or any other study materials your academy has given you. For at least two hours, learn about your new profession. No need for tests or fancy preparation guides, just get used to reading and understanding new material.

Read about safety gear, ladders, ropes, knots and fire behavior to start with. When you reach the firehouse there will be no TV or leisure time for you until the completion of your probationary time. Even then your free time will be mostly chores, studying and drills.

6. Turn off the TV

Except for “Dr. Who,” you don‘t even know what a TV is. Instead of staring at the tube you‘ll be taking up some professional development reading. First is “Step up and Lead” by Frank Viscuso. This will give you the mental prep work to not only be a good leader but a good follower during the fire academy.

Next is “A Paramedic‘s Story: Life, Death and Everything in Between” by Steven Kelly Greyson. This will prepare you for the 80 percent of your workload of being a firefighter: medical care.

Also in your cart needs to be some fun fiction. Although we need you 100 percent focused on the fire academy, your brain will melt if you don‘t have something you can escape with. Find an old favorite or a series you‘ve always wanted to start and let this be the time to dive in.

7. Get on a budget

One of the most beneficial things we have ever done is get on a written budget. If your academy is anything like most, the time you are in class means a smaller than usual paycheck. Getting on a written budget now means no surprises later when things get complicated.

There are a number of resources you can use from a simple spreadsheet to YNAB (You Need a Budget), a phone app, all the way to a personal financial coach. Start by making sure you and your spouse understand the challenges that are awaiting you. Be honest and agree to have weekly meetings to touch base on money. With less time spent together as a family, the last thing you want to do is spend that time fighting about money.

Don‘t take a deep breath and relax because you got accepted to fire academy. You still have to pass, graduate, finish probation and make a positive impression on your first house. This is no time to rest. This is the perfect time to be proactive and get things done.

This article, originally published in 2016, has been updated.

Next: From recruit to probie: Advice for the newest members joining the ranks

Justin Schorr is a rescue captain for the San Francisco Fire Department, where he has served as a field paramedic and a firefighter, a field captain and an administrative captain. He is ARFF-qualified and oversees EMS response for San Francisco International Airport. Schorr spent 25 years in the fire service and is experienced in rural, suburban and urban firefighting as well as paramedicine. He runs the blog The Happy Medic.