While firefighter requirements vary form state to state, county to county and city to city, the similarities are far more significant than the differences (which tend to be petty in comparison). It should therefore come as no surprise that wherever you pursue a firefighting career, it is going to be a rigorous path to success and a challenging job once attained. Below I detail the requirements that virtually every aspiring firefighter is going to have to meet. Fortunately, there are tools out there to make the requirements more attainable. Once you score an interview, check out this course designed to help you smoke your entry-level firefighter interview process.
I don’t know if “loop-hole” is the right word, but there is a significant difference in training between volunteering and working full-time. In many states, training is not even required for volunteers. Of course, training is strongly encouraged, and is probably the difference between who gets the position and who doesn’t, but as far as the rule book is concerned, training is not required.
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1: Basic Requirements
Before you can move on to the “real” tests, you have to possess a few necessary characteristics. For starters, most states require firefighters to be between the ages of 18 (sometimes 17.5) and 29 by the time you have begun the application process. There is technically no age-limit to how long you can work as a firefighter, but you have to apply while you’re young.
- You also must be a U.S. citizen.
- You must be able to prove your identity and the right to obtain employment in the United States.
- It is usually required that you speak and understand English.
- A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement.
- Must pass background checks and “proof” of character tests.
- Must also pass a drug-screening.
2: Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
Becoming an EMT is a great place to start. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) it will serve as an introduction to the type of work you will be doing as a firefighter, 2) the majority of departments require EMT certification to apply; and the ones that don’t require it usually do as soon as you’re hired. I highly recommend getting it first because the competition for becoming a firefighter is far more intense than you are likely to have imagined. In big cities like New York, the waiting list for most departments is two to four years long (and I would say those are optimistic numbers). If the department is going to have to provide EMT training to you or devote time to you becoming certified, they may be less likely to hire you.
Paramedics are in high demand for fire departments, but don’t get your EMT and then paramedic licensing just to get “in” at a department. The old bait-and-switch won’t fly in that scenario.
3: Practice Makes Perfect
Let me make something perfectly clear: testing is literally the only way to get hired. So the sooner you start taking the tests held at departments, the sooner you will be prepared to pass. Most people fail at least a portion of one of the exams: the physical, the written or the oral. It would be unusual for someone to pass all three on the first go. Going through the tests multiple times is excellent practice, as it reveals your weaknesses.
IMPORTANT: Do yourself a favor and sing up on FireRecruit.com. This will keep you posted about when departments in your area are testing. Why is this important? Because most departments only test every 2-3 years, and departments in big cities (again, like New York), where the waiting list is already pages long, they might only test once every 5-10 years (that’s right, 10 years!). Needless to say, you do not want to miss these infrequent opportunities.
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4: Prepare Your Background Information
Why is this a requirement? Because if you are fortunate enough to be asked to provide this information, it is almost always time-sensitive. In other words, if you cannot provide detailed information within a week (that’s a realistic time-frame), then you are automatically disqualified. So don’t ruin your career on a silly mistake. Here are the things you will need:
- Complete employment history. Not just your last three employees, everyone you have ever worked for. Location, dates of employment, title, duties, salary, supervisor name and information, etc.
- Complete educational history, starting with high school. Again, location, dates, degrees awarded, GPA, standardized test scores, etc.
- Contact information for family and friends. As part of the background check, departments will talk with those people who are closest to you.
- Any certification that you possess, relevant or not relevant. You must show copies of any certification.
- Credit history, banking history, debt, etc. Bad credit can hurt you, so you might want to start straitening that out if possible.
- Complete driving record. Licenses held, dates, locations, all accidents and tickets, etc.
- Military information, if applicable.
As you can see, this would not be easy to assemble in one week’s time, and maybe even impossible depending on how quickly institutions like the DMV can process your requests. If you need help getting your credit in line, cleaning up driving record or just getting back on track personally, don’t be afraid to give this class a gander on 10 personal development elements for success.
5: Get In Shape
If you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle, now is the time to start. You might not consider this a requirement, but it absolutely is. If you think the physical exam is going to be easy, you’ve been deceiving yourself. You don’t need to be a marathon runner to pass the firefighter’s physical test, but you do need to be able to do things like run long distances, climb long flights of stairs in full gear (which weighs 60-75 lb.), dead-lift 200 lb., etc.
On a similar note, it’s time to get serious in other areas of life, as well. If you’re racking up traffic tickets or have DUIs on your hands, set strict boundaries for yourself so you don’t get into any more trouble. Everything will turn up on your background check, and you don’t want to fail the substance abuse policy either. A healthy lifestyle is good for your career and your longevity. Just do it.
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6: Pro-Active “Requirements”
I guess you could say these are not technically requirements, but when you consider the intense competition you’re up against, they might as well be. First, you should have a very real passion for firefighting. This would be demonstrated by volunteering, not just at fire stations, but anywhere in the community. Firefighters believe in public service, so you should, too. This will greatly strengthen your application, as well.
You should also start visiting different departments. Real firefighters are you best resource for finding out tips and advice for making your dream a reality. And again, this will demonstrate a sincere interest in the career.
Finally, learn everything you can. Start reading firefighters’ magazines, of which there are more than I can list (start with FireEngineering for print and FireRescue1 for online). Common interview questions will test your knowledge on the current state of firefighting; politics, new legislation, etc.
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