I recently stopped by the regional fire academy I attended when I was first getting my certifications to get into the fire service. As I sat there in the classroom watching these young 18,19 & 20 year old people learn and eventually ask for some pointers on getting hired at our department, I remember wondering the very same things that they were, and feeling the same way as well. For me personally, I was much bigger than everyone in my fire classes, And i’m currently one of the bigger guys in the department. So a question I remember scouring the internet was how can a big like become a firefighter?
You need to first of all know what you’re getting into. You need to research your dream department(s) to know their hiring requirements. You need to start obtaining certifications that will get you hired. As a big guy, size can sometimes work against you, and you need to be able to perform hard work for extended periods of time. You also need to start connecting with other professionals in the fire service, reputations get around the fire service very quickly.
Know What You’re Getting Into
It is important to know what you are getting into if this is something you want to do. Most people looking to become firefighters/police officers and other public safety positions often have been wanting to do this job, or another public safety job for a very long time, or as often heard, since they were a child. This is no knock on those people at all, but in my opinion, people often fall in love with the perceived glamour that this job gives you. There are however a lot of things that may be hard to cope with. I actually wrote this post, that goes deep into some of the hardest parts of being a firefighter. I am going to touch on a few points from that post here.
One of the biggest things a lot of people do not expect is that there are no fires that occur every shift. Fires don’t even happen on a monthly basis in many jurisdictions. So what are firefighters doing? Check out this post I wrote about 19 things firefighters are doing when they’re not fighting any fires. Firefighters nowadays are responding to mostly medical emergencies. What tends to second medical emergencies are usually motor vehicle accidents. If you arrive on scene to a head on collision, it is very likely that you will have to extricate the victim(s), possibly with hydraulic cutters and spreaders. After they are out of the vehicle, you will have to render them medical aid.
Some more things that firefighters tend to deal with are seeing a lot of deaths. Motor vehicle accidents, traumatic injuries, or even natural causes, some people cannot handle seeing that amount of death, while others become so calloused to death and sickness, that they can tend to come off very cold to other people. It is important when you see traumatic events like this, that even if it doesn’t bother you, you talk about it with someone. It is very unhealthy to bottle all that in, because it may not seem like it will have an effect on you at first, but it can be detrimental.
Study Your Dream Departments
As a big guy joining the fire service, you need to have every advantage possible in your favor. At the end of the day, you have to stand out from among literally hundreds of other applicants for the same positions. You MUST know what your dream departments require candidates to have in order to consider them for employment. Most departments tend to have very different requirements from each other, than you might expect.
In my area, about 10 different fire departments have VERY different requirements from each other. For example, a large department around here only requires you to be 18 years old, and they do not have their own fire academy. While another department about 10 minutes down the road, requires their candidates to be 21 years old, have FF1 & 2, Fire Inspector 1 and EMT-B.
Knowing the requirements of your dream department does a few things for you.
- It gives you a direct path to obtain the exact requirements needed to be eligible for hire
- It can save you money by not getting certifications not needed in order to be considered for that department
At the end of this article, there is a sign up form, where I will send you a very simple 4 step guide to get hired by your dream department. Make sure you check that out at the bottom of this article.
I touched on certifications very briefly in the last section, and that section is important, knowing your dream departments that you would like to work for. Although all departments do not have the same requirements, some requirements are required by ALL departments. Some of these certifications are Firefighter 1 also known as firefighting principles, and some form of EMS training, whether that is EMR, EMT, AEMT or Paramedic. Those tend to be the basics. Some other important certifications needed are things like Firefighter 2, Pumper/Operator, and sometimes even Fire Inspector and Fire officer.
In firefighting principles, this certification course teaches you the basic survival and firefighting skills that every firefighter needs in order to survive, navigate through hazardous environments, ladder usage, water supply. You also learn how to use and become confident with your SCBA. At the end of the day, this is firefighting basics.
Firefighter 2 tends to teach more advanced techniques, and an intro to the role of a fire officer and more team decision making. This certification is very helpful and great to have, not only to give you a leg up in competition, but also will help you to survive on the fire ground.
This certification is necessary if you ever plan to be promoted to an engineer (Driver). This certification course teaches you not only how to drive the truck, but how to do it going lights and sirens. Both Engines and trucks are the size of school buses or longer, and you need to know how to maneuver them through tight how to pump water into the truck and from the truck to the hose lines. There is much more than simply attaching a hose to the truck. As a pumper you need to know how much pressure to pump into the hose taking into consideration the distance the water will travel, the angles if it will be going up vertically, and the drop in psi due to that. As a pumper, you have to make sure the firefighters have enough pressure to put out fires.
This is another important certification to obtain. As a firefighter, you will without a doubt, encounter situations and environments where there are hazardous material spills. Being able to recognize the spilled or released material can literally save your life, and that of your fellow firefighter, but it will also teach you how to protect the environment, such as water supply, from those dangerous chemicals.
This certification isn’t required by most departments, but they are at some. This certification course not only teaches you how to recognize fire hazards, but it gives you an in-depth understanding on how sprinkler systems work, water supply, sprinkler heads and their ratings, as well as pressures that should be available in fire hydrants in your district.
As a big guy, it is important for us to be aware of our size and consider both the negative and positive impacts of being a big guy. I personally love being a big guy, but there are times I wish I was slightly smaller, slightly. I am 6’ and about 275lbs, and I am mostly muscle, and I work out very frequently, and that is primarily heavily cardio focused. Some limitations i’ve noticed in myself, is that I feel like I go through my SCBA bottle much quicker than my skinnier & smaller counterparts. So almost no matter how much cardio I do, my bigger body and muscles demand more oxygen for doing the same amount of work. If we do search and rescue scenarios with limited visibility in an inhalation hazardous environment, by the time I finish a floor and a half, my low oxygen alarm begins to rattle away to infinity.
When building your workout program, it’s essential to build a program where you build up your work capacity and endurance in your body and muscles. I wrote about this in this post here. I’m gonna talk about it here either way. I’m certainly not suggesting we become smaller or lose size, but we have to train our body to be able to perform hard work, for an extended period of time.
I personally absolutely abhor running. It flat out sucks. I will still run around once a week, but certainly not long distances. Some of the things I like to do are a lot of high intensity interval training (HIIT). I like to rotate high knees, airdyne bike sprints, jump roping, jumping jacks, and mountain climbers. I will typically complete a workout where I do 4 or 5 exercises, and I will do those exercises at high intensity for about 40 seconds, followed by 15-20 seconds of rest. I would do about 7 or 8 sets. Just enough to get me to about 30 minutes of cardio.
Make sure to incorporate as many firefighter related movements as possible. Such as core training, farmer’s carries, stair climbs. Get used to doing these movements with both trapped heat, and at least 40 lbs of weight.
The next thing is that you want to be able to network, and leave a GREAT impression on everyone you meet, especially in the fire service and EMS. There are many ways to get your name out there. You can join a volunteer department and start gathering experience. This will also start building your reputation as a firefighter. In my home state, many departments have firefighter internships.
The way these internships tend to work for those departments is that they hire interns, most of them are unpaid, but some do pay their interns. Doing this both gives the department an opportunity to mentor the intern, as well as to give the intern both experience, and a very credible reference if they decide to go apply for another department. To add onto that, if you’re a person who is lazy and does not like to do any work, word about you will get around quick. And not only in the department you intern at, but all the other departments in your jurisdiction and much further than you ever thought possible.
Please keep in mind that perception is everything, and your reputation literally spreads like wildfire throughout the fire service. Know what certification you need to be considered for a position at your dream department. Remember that even in the classes you take, you must always leave a great impression, because most instructors are usually current or retired firefighters and officers. Start from now preparing yourself physically for the workload you will be doing, the older you are, the longer it will take for you to be in the physical shape necessary to do this job.
I have a simple 4 step guide that you can download in PDF format completely free, you just need to tell me where to send it to.
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