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10 Steps to Becoming a Firefighter - For Military Service Members

10 Steps to Becoming a Firefighter - For Military Service Members

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Photo courtesy of the USAF.

Step 5: Applying for the Job

Applying for a job can often be nerve-racking. There are many unknowns that have be dealt with and overcome. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is standing out against the “competition.” In this section we’ll go over a few ways to highlight your military service to help you stand apart.

But first, here’s a word of warning. Don’t expect your military service to be your golden ticket. It is quite likely that you’re not the only service member applying for the job. Departments are looking for candidates with the complete package, so these suggestions will work best only when you couple them with the rest of the advice found in this guide.

Honorable Versus Other Discharges

Being discharged from the military with anything less than an honorable discharge will greatly reduce your chances of getting a job as a firefighter.

The best policy is to ensure you receive an honorable discharge by exceeding the accepted standards of duty performance and personal conduct, as that will be an indicator to the hiring departments of how you will serve as a member of their fire house.

Veterans Preference

As a veteran, you have a leg up on the competition when it comes to getting a job with the federal government. Make sure you completely understand how your military advantage works for you—the following section describes how to determine your veteran’s preference points, and the best way to apply for a civil service job.

Veteran’s Preference Points

Because the Federal Government recognizes the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, the Veteran’s Preference system was created to restore veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledge a larger obligation owed to disabled veterans.

Be patient – a hiring process can take months.

There is a well-known saying within the fire and rescue community that “getting hired on a fire department is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.”

Veteran’s preference points are used when civil service examinations are part of the hiring process conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and related agencies, for most service jobs including Veterans Recruitment Appointments (VRA), and when agencies make temporary, term, and overseas limited appointments. Preference in hiring applies to both permanent and temporary positions in the executive branch’s competitive and excepted services.

Veteran’s Preference Eligibility

To receive preference, you must have been separated from active duty in the Armed Forces with an honorable or general discharge. You must also be eligible under one of the following preference categories:

• Five points are added to the examination score or rating of veterans who served:

- Between Dec. 7, 1941, and July 1, 1955.

- For more than 180 consecutive days at any point between Jan. 31, 1955, and Oct. 15, 1976.

- During the Gulf War from Aug. 2, 1990, through Jan. 2, 1992.

- In a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal has been authorized, including El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, Southwest Asia and Bosnia.

• Ten points are added to the examination score or rating of:

- Veterans who served any time and who have a disability connected to their military service or are receiving compensation, disability retirement benefits or pension from the military or Department of Veterans Affairs.

- Veterans who received a Purple Heart qualify as disabled veterans.

- Unmarried spouses of certain deceased veterans and spouses of veterans unable to work because of a service-connected disability.

- Mothers of veterans who died in service or who are permanently and totally disabled.

Note: Military retirees at the rank of major, lieutenant commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans. This does not apply to Gray Area Retired Reservists – those who will not begin drawing military retired pay until age 60.

Using Your Veteran’s Preference Points

Using your Veteran’s Preference Points is actually relatively simple. You simply claim preference on their application or resume when applying for Federal jobs. Applicants claiming 10-point preference must complete Standard Form (SF) 15, Application for 10-Point Veteran Preference, and submit the requested documentation.

Applying for Federal Employment

The easiest way to apply for Federal employment is to go to the office of personnel management web site—USA Jobs – ( and follow the simple instructions. You will notice that part of the process requires you to indicate whether or not you are you are eligible for veteran’s preference points. Once you’ve selected the job that interests you, you will be given specific details on application process for each job.

Sell Yourself – Public Speaking

During your time in the military you should have had ample time to learn to speak in front of others. Public speaking is extremely important in fire and rescue. As a firefighter, you will be expected to give presentations to members of your department and members of the community alike.

Public speaking is often referred to as the number one fear in the workforce. Tackle that fear early on. If you have to, sign up for speaking classes at your local community college or through the local Toastmasters. There is no substitute for the ability to list yourself as an accomplished public speaker on your application.

Instructor Certification

Take every opportunity you can to get instructor certifications while you’re in the military. Showing a mastery of tasks such as rappelling, driving, hazmat response, etc., will add incredible value to your application. It will demonstrates that not only do you possess that mastery yourself, but also that you’re able to teach others how to master those skills.

Knowledge of Civilian Fire & Rescue Culture

Although fire departments are pseudo-military in structure, don’t be disillusioned that what is acceptable in the military will be in accepted in civilian fire culture. The key word being civilian. Civilians do not live by the rigid rules and rank structure that you do in the military. Trying to deal with civilians who don’t follow your commands immediately and to the letter can be quite the wake up call.

Also remember that civilian fire departments operate much like families. These men and women spend long hours together, share meals, and often attend family events together. Your qualifications alone may not make you the best “family member.” Put your best foot forward with a genuine attitude.

Take the time to reach out to actively serving firefighters on FireLink and find out what tips and tricks they used to overcome this.

You’ll recall that the first section of this guide started with a timeline beginning one year out from your separation date from the military. Getting hired by a fire department can often take six months or more, so it is imperative that you start your job search long before your separate date.

The hiring process takes so long for many reasons, such as scheduling your CPAT and written exams (or joining an academy), waiting for open positions, conducting background checks, or simply not getting hired on your first choice department.

It can’t be stressed enough that you need to start your search and submit your application as early as possible. You don’t want to be left without a job by the time your separation date arrives.

Step 6: CPAT & Written Exams >>