attacking fire

5 steps involved in being hired as a firefighter

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So I was on facebook the other day, and I saw someone I went to highschool with back in Worcester, MA post a letter where he was recently invited to attend the 2022 Worcester Firefighter recruit academy. Very happy for him, and chimed in with “best career in the world”. I had the original poster and someone else DM (direct message) me a question if I was also in the fire service, and how they too can join. So instead of writing something for only one person, I’ll give you all my thoughts on how to do it.

 The Firefighter hiring process contains about 5 major steps that you must complete:

Step 1: Get In Shape

Step 2: Know The Minimum Requirements

Step 3: Education Options

Step 4: EMS Training

Step 5: Testing

Having these five things complete will set you on the path to success. Let’s go a little bit deeper in each of these.

Get In Shape

firefighter running

Getting in shape should be one of your top priorities as an aspiring firefighter. This is one of those careers where your life literally depends on your physical fitness. I wrote a pretty in depth article about some of the best strength workouts for big guys entering the fire service. 

In a short summary, here are some key things you need to focus on

  1. Flexibility
  2. Cardiovascular endurance
  3. Muscular endurance
  4. Brute strength
  5. Strong core foundation

Flexibility

As a big guy, flexibility becomes extremely important for my survival. If you have ever experienced a firefighter confidence course, a lot of the course consists of confined space situations, where you can easily get stuck. First time I went through the confidence course, I got stuck in between exposed wall studs. The way I was able to get out was because I had decent flexibility on my chest and shoulders, which gave me the ability to swim backward and out of the obstacle.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Maintaining an above average cardio conditioning, helps you conserve some oxygen in your O2 tank. Having great cardio also helps remain mentally calm. Nobody can remain relaxed when they’re gassed, and have to worry about completing their assignment, even worse if you are rescuing either a victim or a fellow firefighter.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance and cardio endurance really go hand in hand. Being able to perform hard work for an extended period of time, will correlate directly to your cardiovascular. One of the crappiest yet important jobs on the fireground is pulling a charged hoseline. It is heavy, and easily gets caught on every corner possible. I wrote another article about how heavy a charged hoseline can be in this article.

If you have never pulled a charged hoseline before, you will find that it is much more difficult than you would expect. I have personally felt pretty gassed from pushing/pulling a charged 2 ½ inch line up only ONE story. When I become that tired, I have to catch my breath before attaching my regulator, in order not to use up all of my oxygen.

Brute Strength

Brute strength is also very important to have. I’m not saying you have to be competition ready for a powerlifting competition, but you need to have a balance between muscular strength and endurance. Imagine being assigned to a RIT/RIC team, and your team gets activated to go grab a downed firefighter. 

The average weight of a firefighters full PPE including SCBA is around 70lbs. Now an average lightweight firefighter may be around 180-225 lbs. So a 200lbs firefighter plus the 70 lbs of PPE, is around 270lbs of deadweight that you need to carry or drag out of that dangerous environment. Muscular endurance alone will not get the job done, you also need strength.

Strong Core Foundation

Having a strong core is like the bread and butter to put all of this together. Your core transfers power from your lower body to your upper body and limbs. You need to have a strong core when it comes to the dynamic weight of a charged hoseline. Unlike a traditional weightlifting weight, a charged hoseline is awkward and shifts around.

Minimum Requirements

Each department will have certain requirements to work there. While almost all departments will have certain requirements such as Firefighter 1, depending on the location of the department, they can be different. In my area one department requires applicants to only be 18 years old, and to have at least 60 college credits. Another department only a few miles down the road requires applicants to have a fire inspector certification, aside from fire 1&2 with EMR as a minimum. Yet another department requires paramedics. Knowing these requirements will make it easier for you to quickly obtain those certifications, and delay the ones you do not need at the moment.

Education Options

Your options for education vary when it comes to the type of department you are looking to get into. Many volunteer departments don’t necessarily require you to have a college education aside from your fire certifications. Many full time (career) departments want you to at least have 60 college credits. Furthermore, if you want to get promoted to a fire officer position, many times a career department will want you to have at least a 4 year degree. Keeping this in mind will help you decide if 2 year, 4 year or a postgraduate degree is right for you.

EMS Training

The fire service in the past has focused primarily on fighting fires. As time went on, and populations and cities became bigger, so did the responsibilities of the fire service. Now besides fighting fire, firefighters also do vehicle extrications as well as EMS. I wrote this article here that talks about if firefighters have to be EMTs. 

Gone are the days where a fire department would ONLY focus on fighting fire only, they are also expected to respond to medical emergencies. Firefighters usually range from first responders to paramedics or even some with a critical care endorsement.

Testing

Finally, testing is the process for a department to hire you. In general when you apply to a fire department, the successful completion of the following steps results in a job offer. 

  1. Written Test
  2. CPAT
  3. Panel Interview
  4. Background Investigation
  5. Police & Fire commission Interview
  6. Psychological Evaluation
  7. Polygraph
  8. Medical Screening

Not all departments use these steps in their respective hiring processes. What’s important is that you are prepared for each of these steps. Don’t let your lack of preparation cost you a job.

Conclusion

The steps to become a firefighter are simple, but not always easy. There are a lot of certifications that need to be obtained, education, physical fitness, and usually just a lot of stuff a normal job would not require of you. Since you have chosen this path, be prepared to be the best in each step of the process.

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