How to Become a Firefighter
Learn how to become a firefighter. Discover requirements, training, and how long the process will take.
- Firefighters only need a high school diploma or GED certificate.
- Graduating from the fire academy does not guarantee a job.
- Fire recruits may need EMT or paramedic credentials.
- Future firefighters may need a college education and work experience.
Do you have what it takes to climb the ranks as a firefighter? Nearly 1.1 million career and volunteer firefighters worked across the country in 2018, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Firefighters primarily provide medical help, but they also respond to false alarms, structure fires, and wildfires.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that about 89% of firefighters work for local governments. About 6% work for state and federal governments. Firefighters earned a median annual salary of $52,500 in May 2020. The top 10% of firefighters made more than $93,790.
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Ready to start your journey?
You only need a high school diploma — plus additional physical and classroom training — to become a firefighter. Learn more about the requirements to be a firefighter, how long it takes, and what to expect at fire academy.
What Are the Requirements to Be a Firefighter?
Firefighters usually only need a high school diploma or GED certificate. However, some firefighters possess a bachelor's degree in fire science or in fire technology, which takes about four years to earn. States may require firefighters to have some college credits and paid work experience.
Specific requirements to become a firefighter depend on the state. New York requires applicants to be 17.5-29 years old when they apply, while Louisiana accepts candidates 18-37 years old. Many departments require applicants to be at least 21 when their appointment begins.
States administer exams about every four years. The computer-based exam, with mostly multiple-choice questions, tests an applicant's aptitude in grammar, math, and logical reasoning. The tests can take up to four hours and may include written and physical portions.
Most fire departments contract with Public Safety Testing, the organization that administers the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). This physical exam features eight segments, including the stair climb, hose drag, ladder raise, search and rescue, and ceiling breach. Applicants wear firefighting gear during the exam and prove that they can lift at least 50 pounds.
What Does Firefighter Training Look Like?
After passing the firefighter CPAT, you can get into a fire academy. Recruits go to fire department hiring academies or college fire academies, which charge tuition. Graduating from a college fire academy —often referred to as Firefighter 1 or 2 Academy — does not guarantee graduates jobs. However, it gives them the knowledge and hands-on training needed to become a firefighter.
Recruits must train for the physical demands of a firefighting career. This means future firefighters often train in full gear. Firefighter training includes push-ups, situps, stair runs, burpees, bench presses, 400-meter runs, and body composition assessments.
Fire academy includes classroom learning, as well, with lessons on hazmat operations, firefighter safety, fire behavior and the science of fires, ropes and knots, and fire apparatus operations.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Firefighter?
Firefighter training can take 6-24 months, if not longer. The path to becoming a firefighter depends on the person, city, and fire department. The requirements for firefighters in large cities may be more rigorous than those for firefighters in more rural areas. They may also need to gain certifications that take longer to complete.
Completing EMT school can take about six months. Additional paramedic training takes 1-2 years. An associate degree in fire science takes two years, while a bachelor degree takes four. Some departments train future firefighters in as few as 18 months. Fire academy typically takes about 10-24 weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Firefighter
What disqualifies you from becoming a firefighter?
Firefighters need to display physical, mental, and morally responsible behavior. Anything that prevents a firefighter from performing their job can disqualify them during the hiring process. Drug use, a criminal record, or even a bad credit score can prevent you from becoming a firefighter.
Poor physical fitness can also stop someone from becoming a firefighter. Other disqualifications include being dishonorably discharged from the military, driving infractions, or failing to pass the psychological and medical exam that is administered after the CPAT.
What do firefighters do all day?
In the absence of an emergency, firefighters keep busy at fire stations. They test and maintain equipment, such as fire hoses and hydrants, do public outreach work, and train. Since fire stations serve as their homebases, firefighters also do housework. Many firefighters also use the time on their shifts to workout at least one hour a day.
Do you sleep at the fire academy?
A fire academy does not always lodge recruits. When a fire academy offers housing, students often live in open dorm-style areas with bunk beds or single-occupancy rooms. Fire academies that do not have housing may offer off-site apartments for rent. Attending a fire academy requires about 40 hours every week for training and lessons. Training often begins at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.
Feature Image: Roberto Westbrook / Getty Images
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