How to know if you're cut-out to be a firefighter

Many want to be firefighters, but should they be?

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The first question that anyone considering a career as a firefighter asks themselves is, "Do I want to be a firefighter?" This is usually an easy question to answer. One considers the job, often over glamorizing it in the process, and decides whether or not they can see themselves in that position and wearing the uniform.

One should always then ask themselves an even more important follow-up question: "Should I be a firefighter?" It is imperative that firefighter candidates understand the difference between, "want" and "should" very early on in their pursuit of the career.

Just because you may want something, does not mean you are cut out for it. Wanting to do something does not mean you will be good at it, even after spending time trying to master it. We’ve all seen the American Idol tryouts.

There is no shortage of people who want to be pop stars, but when they step in front of the judges, it becomes quickly and often painfully apparent which ones have potential and should pursue their dreams, and which ones should abandon their dream for a new one. We are not all cut out to be pop stars and we are not all cut out to be in the fire service.

So once you have answered "yes," to the question, "Do I want to be a firefighter", ask yourself the next, much tougher question, "Should I?" Here are 5 things to seriously consider while answering that important follow-up question:

1. Am I "wired" for the job? Everyone has natural talents, predispositions and abilities that help them to excel at different things. We all have natural weaknesses too, which cause us to struggle in certain areas. Being a good firefighter requires a certain skillset that some are naturally suited for, while others simply are not. The best firefighters are those who have the ability to maintain their composure while, multi-tasking and thinking on their feet in the face of life and death emergencies.

They must be able to organize a great deal of information in a short period of time under extreme mental, physical and psychological conditions. People who have a history of not handling stress well, or are prone to overreact (for example, have ever had a panic attack), do not make good firefighters. Do you thrive under pressure and stress or do you get flustered and crack?

2. Am I an extrovert or introvert and am I a team player? The position of firefighter requires a great deal of public and personal contact requiring a wide range of interpersonal skills. Introverts or those that prefer to avoid social settings or have a narrow comfort zone when it comes to social interactions may find some aspects of the job uncomfortable and not be a good fit.

firefighters should be good public speakers, comfortable interacting with people of all ages, races and economic levels and do so in various conditions and settings. Are you outgoing or do you tend to withdraw socially? Along very similar lines you must also ask yourself if you are a team player. As a firefighter you will be a part of a team.

A team that works, plays, laughs, cry’s and lives together for days at a time. For individuals who prefer to work alone, have an overbearing need for control or who typically do not work well in groups for any reason, this will be an issue. 

3. Do I have and will I be able to maintain the physical strength and fitness required for the job? Everyone knows that firefighting is a physical job, but most people do not realize just how strenuous it can be. The aerobic and anaerobic capacities as well as the strength required for the job should not be underestimated.

Are you prepared to dedicate the time and energy on a regular basis to your fitness for the next 30 years, and do you have a genetic predisposition that may make maintaining a high level of fitness even more challenging?

4. Will my family (significant other and/or children) be able to handle my work schedule and the other obligations that go along with the job and will pull me away from my family? Being a firefighter is tough, but so is being married to one or living with one.

Working 24 or 48 hour shifts and spending at least 1/3 of your days and nights away from home can strain a relationship, especially if your partner works more traditional full-time Monday through Friday hours. There are many other personal facotrs to consider besides the shift schedule; working holidays, having to rest when you get off duty, the stress for your partner fearing you may not be safe, having to dedicate extra hours for department events, fundraisers, political actvities, training, etc.

These can all be deal-breakers for many people. Not everyone is cut out to be a firefighter and not everyone is cut out to be married to one. There are many firefighters who have had to quit their jobs to save their marriages and there are far many more marriages that have failed at least in part because of the factors I have mentioned. Will these be factors for you and yours?

5. Do I really want to perform all of the duties and will I be able to, or am I just drawn to the excitement and glamour of the job? If you want to be a firefighter because you dream of making entry into a burning building and performing a primary search or extinguishing fire, you may be sorely disappointed. Time spent fighting fires will make up a tiny fraction of your time spent on duty.

Even in the busiest firehouses there are 100 other tasks and assignments that you will be performing much more frequently then fighting fires. Even when working a fire, more often than not, it is not a very glamorous or exciting job.

Once a fire is knocked down it can quickly lose its appeal for those who are not fully aware of the job duties and actual tasks that need to be performed in order to protect property once the life safety hazards are mitigated. In short you must be aware of all aspects of the job and be willing to perform them all with equal amounts of dedication and attention to detail. I can’t think of any other job that requires a wider range of duties, knowledge skills and abilities than firefighting.

Most of which are anything but glamorous. If you are only drawn to one part of the job, you may want to realistically consider the long list of job duties that will be expected of you.

So separate the want from the should. Once you do and have decided that you "should" be a firefighter, as well as "want" to be, I encourage you to pursue your dream as aggressively and whole- heartedly as possible, because for those people who do answer yes to both, there is no greater career in the world.

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