Becoming a Firefighter – Top 10 Tips and Resources
Tip #1: Become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
If you already have the certification, you are a more attractive candidate because it’s one less thing the department must pay to teach you. And besides making you a more qualified candidate, the prerequisite makes sense since most fire calls also require emergency medical response. Work experience as an EMT on a emergency response ambulance is also extremely valuable.
Tip #2: Volunteer.
A sense of civic duty underlies the firefighting profession. As such, you should demonstrate your commitment to community by performing service work, in both fire-related and non-fire-related contexts. Volunteer as a CPR instructor for the American Red Cross, or seek out opportunities in burn camps, homeless shelters, big brother programs, Habitat for Humanity, and so forth. You will add to your resume, build your network, and provide service to your community all at once.
Tip #3: Learn everything you can about your fire department, its jurisdiction, and the fire service as a whole.
Take an active interest in your department, from the names and ranks of the top-tier chiefs to the janitor. Seek information about the history of the department, its heroes and achievements. Know your department’s jurisdictional boundaries, and learn the layout of the streets so that you can navigate them at any time of day, in any state of mind – including at top speed in the middle of the night, as you’re driving toward an emergency. Mark each station on the map, and understand what units are assigned to each station.
Also, highlight main target hazards such as schools, hospitals, major transit centers, city buildings, shopping malls, community centers, and so forth. The more automatic your knowledge of the jurisdiction, the quicker you can respond. Finally, put your finger on the pulse of the fire service as an industry by subscribing to email lists and relevant publications, such as Firehouse Magazine and FireEngineering.com. Other helpful resources include your state fire marshal’s office and the FireHouse World Expo.
Tip #4: Familiarize yourself with the hiring process, and take firefighting tests.
Firefighter employment requirements and schedules vary by department; the hiring process may include oral interviews, written exams, physical agility tests, and a background investigation. The written exams may be offered as often as twice a year, or as little as once every 5-10 years in large metropolitan areas. Research your region’s requirements, calendar, and standards, and mold yourself into an ideal candidate. Begin taking the firefighter tests as soon as possible. Even if you fail a portion of the test, you will have exposed yourself to the process and given yourself a chance to succeed.
Tip #5: Maintain a clean lifestyle.
If you seek to ask others to put their lives in your hands, you should be beyond reproach. Candidates with a record – that is, a history of violence, arrests, drug abuse, anger management issues, and so forth – are extremely unlikely to advance in the firefighting profession. If you have a past, you will need to work extra hard to overcome the assumptions that others will make about you. But never lie about your background, no matter how colorful; it will undoubtedly blow up in your face later.
Tip #6: Be social.
Visit fire stations and introduce yourself to everyone you meet. Asking questions and demonstrating a genuine interest in the answers makes a great impression whenever you meet someone new. As a sign of respect, always address officers by rank and last name. Identify the senior firefighter, the person who can answer questions like “Where is the mop?” so you don’t have to bother the captain, as well as anyone who may be interested in being your mentor.
Tip #7: Be humble and proactive.
Your actions both in the firehouse and out will be closely scrutinized. Valuable firefighting team members are those who understand what needs to be done and do it without being asked. Do everything in your power to be helpful, pleasant, and unassuming. Arrive early. Be the first to rise, answer the door, and do the dishes. Be the last to serve yourself at a meal, voice your opinion, and go to bed. Adopt a mindset of extreme helpfulness and humility; everyone from first-day probie firefighters* to time-tested veterans must be willing to lend a hand, whether that means washing rags, cleaning up the station, or making minor repairs.
(*Adopt this mindset for the duration of your career, but especially when starting out – you are the probationary firefighter, or “probie,” and you will be expected to kowtow as such.)
Tip #8: Develop a thick skin.
Experienced firefighters are notorious for putting probie firefighters through the ringer. This is because, at some point, that person’s life may be in your hands. They want to know they can trust and depend on you. No matter what you do, you will be teased even for the most well-intentioned actions (like rising early to make everyone coffee, you brown-noser, you), so be ready for it. Reign in your temper and develop a thick skin for sarcasm.
Tip #9: Always be prepared by carrying the following things at all times:
- A pen, for taking notes and writing down critical information
- A glowing watch with a second hand, for taking vital signs and knowing the time
- Your annotated jurisdiction map
- In your car, some toiletries and an extra set of clothes, to change into when you get sweaty or dirty
Tip #10: Embody and exceed the standards set for firefighters.
Firefighting is one of the noblest and most respected professions. For every working firefighter, there are dozens more people who want the job. If you are skilled and fortunate enough to become a firefighter, treat your profession, uniform, and fellow firefighters with the utmost respect. Every interaction with the public is a microcosm of public relations and a chance to make a good impression. Little kids and adults alike think you’re a hero. Act like it.
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