taking test

How to pass the firefighter 1 written exam

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As I’m sitting here talking with some of the interns around the dinner table one day, I started remembering how nervous I was about taking the Firefighter 1 written exam. I remember feeling that I was never taught certain things, because some of the questions that were asked, I have never heard of before, Just like the Driver Operator Exam. I know there are many people out there that have experienced the same thing, so I am going to answer that as best as possible.

You will be able to pass the firefighter 1 state written exam if you review:

  • Hazmat
  • History of the fire service
  • Basic principles of fire
  • Basics of wildland firefighting
  • Fire hydrant colors and associated ratings
  • Sprinkler head colors and associated ratings
  • Different types of fire attacks
  • Different types of ventilation
  • Different hose types and their uses
  • NFPA standards

Be sure to use flashcards, because they will help you immensely. With those being the summary, let’s get a little deeper into these.

What Does This Certification Do

This is the most basic certification any person can have to safely conduct fire suppression operations. Every volunteer and career department requires each and every firefighter to have at the very least Firefighter 1 (FF1).

The reason this is important is because as an entry level firefighter, you need to know how to be safe inside of a structure fire. Being able to recognize potential signs for flashover or even navigate in a zero visibility environment that can kill you if you become trapped or lost.

What Will You Learn

Some of the things you will learn are the very basic building blocks of how fire is created, and its direction of travel. I wrote another article about the types of training you learn in the firefighter 1 course in order to navigate through zero visibility environments. So this will be more of a summary.

Fire Basics

You will learn that fire needs 3 elements in order to exist. 

  1. Fuel Source
  2. Heat
  3. Oxygen

Fire also has a tendency to move in the direction where there is more fuel and oxygen. You can see a great example of this is how wildland firefighters will intentionally burn certain areas, in order to contain fire to a specific location.

Burning the area is eliminating the fuel source, which is part of the fire triangle. Not only is there a great chance you may see questions about wildland firefighting on the test, you are likely to also see questions about those 3 elements needed for combustion.

Hose Advancement

Hose advancement is one of those things that absolutely sucks to do physically, but you must know the sizes commonly carried on a truck or engine. For a quick refresher here’s a quick table.

Large Diameter Hose (LDH)4 & 5 inch diameterUsed for water supply
Medium Diameter Hose (MDH)2 ½ – 3 inch diameterUsed for water supply, relay pumping and for attack
Small Diameter Hose (SDH)1 – 1 ¾ inch diameterMost commonly used on interior attacks
Hose Size Table

LDH hoses are usually attached directly from a hydrant to the engine or pumper for its water supply. MDH hoses are used as a supply line directly from a hydrant, or it can be attached to another apparatus for relay operations. Knowing the sizes and their uses will surely come up on your test at some point. 


Ground ladders are another subject that you are likely to see on the test. In the fire service, you have several types of ladders. Some of the basic ladders you will encounter are:

  • Extension ladders
  • Roof ladders
  • Attic ladders

Ladders are typically used for rescue operations, another way in and out of a building, and also an access point for attack hoselines. Make sure to review the history of ladders, and their functions.

Smoke Reading

Although smoke reading is a little more on the firefighter 2 and fire officer courses, it is covered a little bit in firefighter 1 and it is important. Some things that you\ are taught to look for are signs for potential very hazardous conditions while you’re in a structure fire. While things like a backdraft are some things that can happen, most of the time it occurs when oxygen is introduced into a fire that needs it. So these conditions will hopefully get caught by the first arriving officer or the incident commander.

Make sure to go over the section in your textbook about smoke reading and have at least a baseline understanding of this.

Search & Rescue

Search and rescue is another section to make sure you review, and the physical portion of this course will likely solidify this knowledge. In general there is search and rescue of victims, and then there is search and rescue of downed firefighters. I wrote an article about some of the benefits of being a strong firefighter

In general, when you enter a structure fire, the company officer will decide whether or not to conduct either a right hand or left hand search. What this technique does, it ensures that you maintain constant contact with walls in order to have some orientation inside a building with zero visibility.

Another technique taught and one you should remember is that the RIT/RIC do not generally begin a search with left hand or right handed searches, similar to the primary search team looking for victims. When looking for firefighters, you follow the hose line.

How To Study For This Test

Attempting to study your entire textbook may seem very daunting, but it is also very necessary to prepare for the state written exam. What helped me study was using Quizlet. All of the notes I took were things that sounded that may be important or something that is hard to remember. As my list of digital flashcards grew, I would review them, and do other tests and matching games based off of my flashcards.

Something I really enjoyed about the quizlet is that you can study other people’s flashcards on the same subject. So I would not limit my studies to my own flashcards, I would study flashcards from others to see if I missed anything on mine. My goal was to run into questions that would stump me, and make me go back and study some more.

Hidden Terms That Are Easy To Dismiss

I touched slightly on this in the previous point, but it is something that I’ve noticed with many state tests that is not limited to the fire service. This tip will help with exams like real estate, insurance, fire, police, NREMT exams and more. 

Keep a lookout for nicknames or little tidbits of trivia that your textbook may tell you about. Many times they are not bolded or underlined like most key terms will be. A good example of it would be the following sentence. “ A popular choice with 1 ¾ inch hoselines are combination nozzles, sometimes referred to as simply a fog nozzle. Combination nozzles give you the option of a straight stream or a fog stream.”

In the above example is how you would see it written in the textbook. So if you are skimming through the book looking only for bolded text, you are likely to miss it. In reference to the above question may look like this:

“ A fog nozzle is also known as a: ”

  1. Straight stream nozzle
  2. Smooth bore nozzle
  3. Combination nozzle
  4. Solid stream nozzle

As you can see, if you missed that small text while skimming, the answer can be very confusing.


Although this post covered only the written portion of the test, everything you learned from the book is something you will need to physically demonstrate. Setting up ladders, search and rescue, fire attack, hazmat operations and more. Be sure to go through your book, utilize flashcards, and relax.

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