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Your first year as a probationary firefighter: 4 keys to success

Make a good impression and launch your firefighter career on the right foot with these tips for probationary firefighters


Try your best to enjoy your probationary period.

Photo/Joe Thomas of Greenbox Photography

Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with a lot of firefighter candidates who have used FirefighterNOW’s programs to help them get through the interview. One question I’m always sure to ask is “what advice would you give to someone trying to become a firefighter?” Inevitably, I get a wide range of answers, but one that really stands out is “I wish I wouldn’t have done X, Y or Z while on probation.”

If you don’t know already that you need to be on time or look professional for your interview and first day, you probably won’t even make it past the hiring phase. However, if you’re past that, I have four unconventional tips for new firefighters to help you survive day one, and ultimately, your first year.

1. Bring an edible gift on your first day

Most fire departments will put new hires through a few weeks of 40s before they go on shift. This means your first couple weeks will be 8-hour days, adding up to 40-hour weeks. Every place is a little different, but generally there will be a process in place so you are exposed to every shift on the department. Bring something for each new crew when it is your first day with them.

Options include donuts (always a good choice), bagels and cream cheese, cookies, muffins or a healthy snack. It’s no secret that firefighters like to eat, so any kind of snack that can be shared is a good bet.

2. Address officers by their titles

Always address officers by their titles during your entire probationary period. You will undoubtedly be in close contact with lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs and other ranking officers. Regardless of how friendly or laid back they seem, always refer to them by their title.

The only exception to this is if you are told specifically by that officer to address them by their first name or in some other manner. If that’s the case, do as they ask, but when you are in public or on scene, refer to them by their title.

3. Never join in on jokes

Everyone has their turn at the fire department kitchen table, being at the center of a few well-meaning jokes. However, when you’re new to the crew, it’s in your best interest to avoid making any jokes directed at any other personnel on the department.

Some of those men and women have been working together for 5, 10 or maybe even 20-plus years. You’re too new and any jokes you make at the expense of someone you don’t know well will not be appreciated and certainly be frowned upon.

4. Enjoy it

It sounds cliché, but try your best to enjoy your probationary period. Remember, everyone in that house was once exactly where you are, navigating the awkwardness of being new, trying to always do the right thing and pretending to be way more excited than you really are to clean toilets.

Eventually, you’ll be in a place to help the next addition transition, so do your best to embrace your time and learn.

This article, originally published May 1, 2018, has been updated.

After an injury ended his professional soccer career, Mike Pertz enrolled in an EMT class and soon became hooked on the fire service. Now, he’s a career firefighter and paramedic with the Avon Lake (Ohio) Fire Department. Pertz holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in communications, and founded, a site that offers free help to those looking to become firefighters. Connect with Pertz on LinkedIn or via email.