Decide if You're Ready to be a Firefighter
Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
The fire department will post the entry-level requirements on the job description flyer. In order for a candidate’s application to be accepted, the minimum requirements must be met.
While entry-level requirements vary from department to department, most require candidates to be at least 18 years of age. Some require applicants to be at least 21 years old. Most require at least a GED or high school diploma.
Some departments require specialty skills. These include a basic fire academy accredited by the state, Emergency Medical Technician, and/or a paramedic license.
Getting hired in the fire service today is a very difficult challenge. Most successful candidates far exceed the minimum entry-level standards. The more qualifications an applicant possesses, the more he or she will be able to prove to the fire department that they are the right person for the position.
Earning a degree in Fire Science shows a strong commitment to the fire service. Even if your degree is in another subject it will be a huge asset. A degree shows that a candidate has the ability to set a goal and achieve it, a great quality for a firefighter. It also demonstrates that the candidate can read and write effectively. A candidate with a degree in a subject other than fire science should take specialized classes and work toward a fire science degree.
Speaking a foreign language is a huge asset to the fire department. This is especially true if the language is one that is represented in the city. Being able to communicate with a person in need in his or her native tongue instills great confidence in the fire department. It also shows strong representation in the community.
Be careful not to misrepresent your bilingual ability because the fire department will certainly test your knowledge base.
A candidate who is familiar with turnout gear and self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA’s) will usually fare better in the hiring process. Each medical aid, vehicle fire, structure fire, hazardous material call, and medical aid provides the candidate with an experience base. The candidate will be able to draw from this experience and will make him or her a more productive member of the crew. The experience a candidate gains as a volunteer firefighter will help him or her in the hiring process to become a professional firefighter.
The fire service is about being unselfish. It is a way of life. Firefighters are continually volunteering on their days off to help out with things that are for the benefit of others. Much of our off-duty time is spent visiting sick children in the hospital, putting a roof on the home of an elderly widow who is on a fixed income, or pouring concrete at one of the fire stations.
Whatever the request, there is always somebody on the job with the expertise who is willing to lead the project. It is critical to have worker bees to help get the job done. If volunteering your time is not a priority to you before you get hired, what would convince the fire chief that you would be willing to volunteer your time after he or she hires you? Again, it is a way of life for most firefighters.
Some fire departments will bring up community involvement as part of the structured interview. Most candidates will struggle with this question. It may not be that they have nothing to say; rather, they have volunteered for the right reasons and are not seeking recognition. These candidates can usually respond well if they simply compose their answer. However, a candidate who does nothing for the community will certainly not score well in this aspect of the interview.
Ninety percent of the firefighters in the country are volunteers. It is their true desire to serve their community and make it a safer place that drives them to become a firefighter. The volunteer fire station is often the meeting place in the community. Frequently the departments are supported completely by donations and fund raising events. Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a terrific way to serve your community and to learn if this is the career for you.
You will find that professional firefighters are also very involved in the community. It is common to see the Local union or association involved in community events like Special Olympics, fill the boot for Muscular Dystrophy, or rebuilding homes for the less fortunate.
In their off-duty times, firefighters are little league and AYSO coaches. They are also involved in community activities such as PTA and neighborhood watch.
Regardless of whether a firefighter is a paid professional or a volunteer, one commonality is the genuine desire to help each other. A wise man once said, “Without helping each other, where would society be?” There is nothing like the feeling of helping some in their time of need.
The community calls upon us when they cannot solve their own problems. It’s up to the fire department to either fix their problem, or help them find someone who can help them. Firefighters do not leave the scene until the emergency has been removed from the situation. The community has come to expect this of us.