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11 requirements to become a firefighter

The firefighting career field is very competitive; here’s a quick breakdown of what you should and should not do as you prepare to join the fire service

Becoming a firefighter is no easy task. It requires hard work, long hours of training, dedication and a sincere desire to help others.

The firefighting career field is very competitive, too. You’ll be up against hundreds, possibly thousands of applicants depending on the department. How will you stand out and where do you start? Complete the form on this page to download an infographic on how to become a firefighter.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you should (and should not) do as you prepare to join the fire service.

1. Meet basic requirements to become a firefighter

In order to become a firefighter, you will need a valid driver’s license and meet the age requirement of 18 years old. For those younger than 18, you can look into limited involvement as a junior firefighter. There also will likely be a maximum age, usually between 28 and 35 years old, depending on the department you’re applying to.

2. Meet (and exceed) education requirements

At the very minimum, you’ll need to obtain a high school diploma or GED. Many firefighters earn a degree in fire science to advance their career. It’s also wise to become an EMT. Having both a fire and EMS background will improve your odds of being hired. Some departments might even require an EMT certification; larger departments may require a paramedic’s license.

3. Get in good physical condition

Becoming a firefighter requires passing a physical ability test. The CPAT events are stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue, ceiling breach and pull. Prepare yourself for the physical nature of the job as well as the demands of the test.

A comprehensive firefighter workout program that will get you “Fit for Duty” in 28-days by Aaron Zamzow, host of the Better Every Shift podcast.

4. Stay out of trouble

At one point in your life, you’ve probably done something you’re not proud of. How you’ve acted to rectify your mistakes will be important when applying to become a firefighter. FireRescue1 columnist Mike Pertz, who founded a website aimed at helping others become firefighters, wrote an article on this very subject.

If you are asked about your past record during an interview, do not lie. Instead, take ownership for your mistakes. Explain to the hiring panel how you’ve changed and what you’ve done to change. Also, be upfront about your driving record – include dates, locations and outcomes of tickets and accidents.

5. Keep your social media nose clean

If you use Facebook or other social media platforms, be mindful of what you post, repost, comment on and like. Expect all potential employers to scan your social media presence. If there are embarrassing, immature, risqué or otherwise inappropriate posts on your pages, remove them. Ask your friends to remove any such posts involving you from their pages. In some cases, it makes sense to close out your accounts.

Top books on how to become a firefighter
Read these books to accelerate your journey to becoming a volunteer or paid firefighter

6. Prove your fiscal responsibility

This is often overlooked, but the required background check covers credit score. Bad credit will hurt you. Be disciplined about improving your score if need be.

7. Get involved in your community

Working in public safety is all about community service. Volunteering your time for a great cause is one way to prove you’re ready to serve your community. And it doesn’t matter if it’s fire-related or non-fire-related. There’s a lot of great opportunities out there for you to make a difference. The American Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity are two excellent options.

8. Pass the written exam

Study, study, study. And, when in doubt, study some more. The written exam consists of multiple-choice questions and is divided into categories. Check out these test-taking basics to give yourself the best chance at passing with flying colors.

Watch: How to become a firefighter
Watch our four-part video series that tackles the key steps to becoming a firefighter.

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Plus learn tips for what chiefs are looking for in new recruits as well as the importance of public trust
Breaking down key factors involved in getting into a fire academy, the differences among the types of academies, and how you can set yourself up for success
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9. Prepare for a psychological evaluation

You can’t study for this one. This evaluation will look at your mental and emotional stability to withstand the stresses associated with firefighting.

10. Graduate from a fire academy

Getting your state entry-level firefighter certifications, such as Firefighter I and II, is a great move. You’ll still need to attend a department’s academy once hired, but this gives you a leg up and helps you learn the book and practical skills of the job. Joining a volunteer fire department is one way to get into an academy.

11. Ace the interview

Why do you want to be a firefighter? Cliché, we know. But you better prepare for this question. Here are four additional questions you’ll be sure to get in a firefighter interview – how you answer will influence a panel’s hiring decision. This is your time to shine and stand out.

The requirements to become a firefighter can seem daunting. Stay up to date on firefighter employment and hiring information with these resources:

Additional Resources
The requirements to become a firefighter can seem daunting. Stay up to date on firefighter employment and hiring information with these resources:
Learn your learning style, focus on fitness, and understand your place on the incident scene
Tips for new firefighters looking to make their mark on the crew
While completing fire academy training is a rigorous challenge that’s not for everyone, it’s a necessity if you want to enter the rewarding field of firefighting

This article, original published March 24, 2017, has been updated.

    Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, is the senior editor of Police1.com and Corrections1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

    Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.

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