As I was sitting in my living room today watching some basic training videos on youtube from each branch of the military, It brought me back to the time I was in Army basic training myself. As I watched these privates getting smoked on the videos, and it being hilarious, it brought me back to the times I got smoked for smiling like all the time. The Drill sergeant/Drill instructor would yell or be upset at us about screwing up his/her formation, and I would smile. Then they would something to the effect of “ what’s so f***ing funny private?! I’ll give you something to smile about, HALF RIGHT, FACE, front leaning rest position move!”
Yea, I was that guy, that would get the platoon smoked for smiling. Then I compared it to other public service basic training such as those in police academies and fire academies. So I started googling some questions, and the one that kept coming up was if the fire academy was harder than bootcamp?
Both Fire Academy and Bootcamp are hard, but to say one is harder than the other is very relative to the person. As a person who has done both, Both Fire Academy and bootcamp will be very hard for you if you are not prepared physically with a solid fitness foundation, and if you cannot follow direction, or have the ability to learn quickly. Not being able to do those things I mentioned, will definitely get you kicked out of the Fire academy or bootcamp.
Many of these academies can be vastly different from each other as opposed to basic training, where the difficulty is pretty standardized throughout each branch. I am going to go a bit deep on each.
Military Boot Camp
As I was mentioning above, basic training in the military is pretty standardized. Now I want to be clear, I am not talking about those behavior based boot camps designed for teens who need to get their act together. I’m talking about the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force & Coast Guard. For each of these branches, when you enlist, you are “shipped off” or sent to a specified location. Army has 4 basic training locations ( Ft Leonard Wood, Ft Jackson, Ft Sill, Ft Benning). The Marine Corps has 2 basic training locations ( MCRD Parris Island & MCRD San Diego). The Air Force has 1 location being Lackland Airforce Base, and the Coast Guard also has one location being Camp May.
Basic training in the military is designed to get you in the correct mindset, and learn the ropes of that specific branch in the shortest amount of time possible. Unlike a fire academy that can last anywhere from 6 months to even a year, In the military, you are trained to the minimum during basic training anywhere between 8 to about 13 weeks.
The barracks in basic training are usually large open bays that can house around 20 or more recruits. And this is usually their home for the next 8-13 weeks during their basic combat training. They are pretty much responsible for all cleanliness, and organization of it. If it is not properly and neatly maintained, they shouldn’t be surprised to find their mattresses and lockers completely flipped over and scattered through the bay, I speak from experience.
Those are the guys with smokey the bear hats that love to yell and scream at recruits. Depending on the branch, they are called different things, Drill Instructors(Marine Corps), Drill Sergeants (Army), Military Training instructors (Air Force) or RDCs (Navy). No matter what you’ve heard them referred to, they all have the same function. They have to get you to be comfortable being uncomfortable. They need to train you to perform under pressure. If you cannot perform your job under pressure, you will be a hazard to your team and probably get yourself and your squad killed. Is this sounding pretty similar to firefighting yet?
Just remember that with drill instructors it is never personal. The reality is they know that someday, you may be their partner or in their squad, and they don’t want you to get them killed, or they don’t want you to get yourself killed, knowing that your skills are a direct reflection of what they taught you.
Teamwork in the military, especially in combat is so vital to each and every member’s survival. Knowing what your job is and how to do it can save you from getting killed in combat, as well as the lives of your team. In basic training, you are put through obstacle courses and other scenarios that are meant to teach you guys to work together and find a solution to a problem or task that cannot be performed by only one member. That’s also the point of mass punishment, which is extremely common in basic training.
An example of this is one of your squad members or platoon members doing something they’re not supposed to, such as sneaking food from the dining facility to the barracks. Many times the person who snuck the food will not get punished, but everyone else will. This is meant to learn to trust one another to do what they are supposed to do at the time they’re supposed to do it, or end up paying the consequences .
Remember how I told you that military boot camp is pretty much standardized throughout each branch on how they train? Well with fire academies, it’s a bit different. There’s usually two types of fire academies, you have an “academy” that takes place at a community college, and you have department in house academies. Each have their pros and cons
These in-house academies are common among very large departments, such FDNY, Chicago Fire, or LA Fire. Many times these very large departments have the ability and the need to establish their own academy, where the person who is hired through the department is usually hired as a cadet, and are not considered a firefighter until they have graduated the recruit academy. Similar to how the Marine Corps does not consider a new recruit a Marine, until they graduate from basic training.
In these academies, a recruit earns his/her firefighter 1 &2 certifications, as well as their hazmat, pumper/operator certifications. They even give you the required EMS training needed in order to obtain your EMS license. Some of the positives of an inhouse academy is that the department can teach their recruits how to do things the department way, as opposed to a generalized way that the regional departments teach people looking to get hired by a department.
The negative side to in-house academies, is that sometimes there are some methods or certifications that may or may not be accepted in other jurisdictions, for example. I live in the state of Wisconsin, and In Wisconsin, there is no such thing as a fire inspector 2. The fire Inspector 2 certification is recognized in other states, but not in WI. So if you have a certification that may or may not be accepted in another state or jurisdiction, it may keep you in a certain jurisdiction, if you didn’t want that certification to go to waste.
Now let’s talk about the more common type of fire academy, and that is simply taking classes at your local community college. Most fire classes that you will take at a community college would be the same as a department’s in house academy. The reason regional academies are so popular is because fire departments do not need to pay or maintain the academy, it is state regulated, and most people pay out of pocket to obtain those certifications. This is a great option for many departments that are strapped for cash, and do not have huge budgets like those very large fire departments.
A benefit about the fire academy is that a student has the ability to pick and choose the certifications they want to pursue. For example if a department you want to be hired by does not require having a paramedic license, you can choose more fire heavy classes and pick up the exact certifications needed to get hired by those departments.
Mini academies is something that is very common with those smaller departments, that kind of bridge the gap between an in-house department and the regional department. Even our law enforcement counterparts do the same thing with their smaller departments.
The way these mini academies work is just as the title says. After a student who has obtained the fire certifications needed to obtain a job with a local department, Some departments will have a mini academy where they will give refreshers on the things the new firefighters already learned in their fire classes, and then add their style on how to do it. Remember, that regional academies cannot teach the ways one department does things, because many other departments who may do things differently also hire out of those academies.
Fire instructors are there to teach you how to do things the right way. Similar how drill instructors in the military have to be able to get you on the edge of stress, and get you to still be able to perform in the face of danger, these fire instructors, who many times are still serving on departments, have to make sure that they get you to be able to work under pressure.
While on the fireground, you won’t necessarily be worried about getting shot at, but you will be facing another type of danger. In either case, once you are inside of a structure fire, you need to be able to do your job, because the firefighter behind you is depending on YOU doing your job so they can come out of that structure fire uninjured.
You see that the instructors don’t necessarily yell at the recruits like in the military, but they still get the recruits stressed. Even in their workouts, they look like they train similar to a college football team. And then there are times where they push the recruits’ comfort levels during live burns.
During fire academies you are taught a lot of teamwork. Communication is one of those things that is harped on a lot, because when you and your team enter a structure fire, most of the time, you will not be able to see anything. Just intense heat, with almost no visibility at all. You need to communicate where you are going when you are the pointman, as well as yelling if and when you need more length on the hose line. You may not be able to see them, but you will be able to hear them. By the way, that is why the SCBA alarms are very audible. They are designed with the assumption that you will have zero visibility.
Just like in the military, you are taught to build teamwork through tough uncomfortable situations. Depending if you are in an in house fire academy or not, you will be sleeping in bay style rooms, and just like military basic training, be responsible for upkeep and cleanliness of it. Otherwise you will pay for it as a group.
PT is one of the most important things you need to be performing even BEFORE you get into the fire service. As I mentioned at the start of this article, if you do not have a solid physical fitness base, you will struggle.
I found out very quickly when I first got into firefighting how weak my core truly was until I advanced a charged hose up 3 flights of stairs. That was some of the hardest physical work I have ever done in my life. So I make sure to heavily work on my core strength. The goal for me is functional strength, not 6 pack abs.
PT on both fire academies and bootcamp is designed so you can perform functionally well when you’re tired. When you are wearing your full bunker gear and SCBA, your body heat cannot escape, causing you to be more exhausted, then breathing through an SCBA lowers your normal performance.
If you are unsure of what cardio workouts you can do. You need to read this article where I show you some great cardio workouts if you do not want to run. As well as strength training exercises that are firefighter specific, read that article right here.
One aspect of the fire academy that can make it harder than basic training, is that you have state and national certifications that need testing. Your EMS certifications and Fire certifications are things that are regulated at the state and national level. So you have to learn the best you can, because a military medic such as an Air Force PJ, Firefighter at an in-house department and a student at a local community college will all be taking the same exact test.
In conclusion, The fire academy and boot camp are both difficult tasks, but can be done. They are relative to each person, because some people may find bootcamp extremely easy, while others may find it to be harder.
Fire academies have many tests that you need to pass in order to successfully finish. Basic training can be very physical and psychologically more challenging than a fire academy may be.
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