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Here is where to start

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  • Here is where to start

    Gereetings everyone,
    Every couple of days someone starts a thread asking where to start and what path they should follow to get hired on the fire department. Here are my thoughts and I encourage everyone to add their .02. I will tell you that there will be a myriad of different suggestions from my peers. This is often confusing to an aspiring firefighter. The reason is simple; we all followed different paths to get OUR badge.

    Some people served in the military while others worked in the trades as a plumber, electrician or carpenter. Some firefighters went to college or drove an ambulance prior to entering the fire service. There is no ONE path to follow. After spending 25 years coaching and mentoring people on how to enter the fire service, I have created a path that I believe is effective. I encourage my peers to comment and give their perspective.

    Two-Year Plan
    This sample Firefighter Two-Year Plan was developed with input from Mike
    Sarjeant, a Deputy Chief on the Long Beach, California, Fire Department.

    If still in high school look into a Regional Occupational Program
    Many local fire departments have community outreach recruitment
    Graduate from high school or obtain your GED.
    A diploma is much preferred.
    Talk with a counselor at a community college that offers fire science
    Set up a course curriculum that allows you to obtain a two-year degree in
    fire science. If the local college does not offer a fire science program, find
    one that does.
    This curriculum should also allow you to complete the prerequisite courses
    for a fire academy.

    Take an Emergency Medical Technician Course (EMT).
    This will accomplish a few things. First of all, it is a course required by most
    departments. It will also let you know if this profession is for you. If you find
    you can’t handle the sight of blood or helping people during crises, the fire
    service may not be for you.

    Enroll in a state certified fire academy.
    Many departments require completion of a Firefighter 1 Academy prior to
    taking the entry-level exam.
    Completion of a fire academy prior to being hired will greatly enhance
    a candidate’s chance of successfully completing the fire department’s
    academy. Many fire departments have a 25-30% failure rate.
    Find out if your community has either a fire department volunteer
    program or Fire Explorers.
    Volunteering in the fire department is an excellent way to gain real life
    experience. This exposure will also allow you to determine if this is
    indeed the right career choice for you.

    Volunteer in your community.
    Find something that you are interested in and volunteer your time:
    church, sports, hospital, YMCA, Red Cross, etc. It doesn’t matter.
    Get involved. Volunteering is something that should be done because
    it’s the right thing to do, not because it will look good on a firefighter
    application. Firefighters are self-motivated and have historically been involved in
    their communities. The perception is that if you are helping out in your
    community now, you will be the type who will likely continue to stay
    involved after you are hired, helping out in various committees and
    groups both on and off the job.

    Visit the local fire stations.
    Interview the firefighters and elicit their help in planning your career
    path. It is a tremendous compliment to the firefighters to have someone
    aspire to be in their position. Visiting the fire stations will help you learn
    about the job and the culture of the fire service. In addition, you will
    learn of things that you could be doing to enhance your chances of
    getting hired. Ultimately, when the department hires, you will be in a
    good position since the firefighters have gotten to know you and have
    taken the time to mentor you. There is nothing better than a “home
    grown” prospect.

    Prepare for a fire department interview.
    Consider the reasons why you want to become a firefighter and be
    able to express them. Do your research and learn the rules of the road
    concerning the interview process. Participate in “mock” interviews with
    Start a log that includes everything you have done to prepare yourself.
    Include details, dates and names of instructors. Include any personal
    experiences that may be pertinent to becoming a firefighter.
    A few examples of this could be:
    You witnessed a car accident and were able to render aid.
    You volunteered your time at the Boys and Girls Club.
    You experienced a life-changing event.
    You were voted most inspirational on your athletic team or your fire
    Your high school athletic team won the championship.
    You were a lifeguard at the city pool.
    Anything that you think might be significant. There are no rules. Write
    it down!
    This information will go on your resume, or may be speaking points in
    an interview. This is preparing you to answer difficult questions in an
    interview, such as, “Please share with the panel a stressful time in your
    life and how you dealt with it.”
    The log should just be an easy and accessible memory jogger for you. If
    you are comfortable with a pencil and notepad, keep them in your room
    in a convenient spot so you won’t forget to use them. If you are more
    comfortable on the computer, then use it to formulate your thoughts
    and ideas.

    Get in shape.
    Firefighting is a very physical job requiring peak physical strength and
    endurance. If you are not in good physical condition, it will become very
    evident during the physical ability testing or the pre-hire medical exam. It
    is also important to look as if you are physically prepared for the job.
    If you see a firefighter who looks out of shape, don’t look at him and
    think, “If he got hired, so can I!” Odds are he was in better physical
    condition when he was first hired. You are trying to do everything you
    can to improve your chances. This is a very important part that you
    have complete control over.
    Look the part!
    The rule of thumb in an interview is to hire someone who you can see
    becoming a member of your crew tomorrow. A candidate who walks
    in with excessive facial hair, large tattoos or body piercing that is not
    permitted by the department’s policies presents as a candidate who
    is not ready for the position. Do not make the mistake of saying that
    you will remove them when you are ready to be hired. You are making
    a statement. It is important to understand that the fire department is a
    paramilitary organization. These will definitely not improve your chances
    of success.

    Dress professionally.
    Invest in a suit and tie. Although not required for the interview, a
    candidate who does not wear one stands out. First impressions are
    critical. Make sure the suit is conservative, not flashy.
    Dress professionally whenever you will have contact with members of
    the department. This includes station visits. Remember, it is important
    to make a good first impression.

    Enroll in a service that lets you know which departments are testing.
    There are several businesses on the Internet that will inform you of
    which departments are testing and what their requirements are.
    Most departments test every two to three years. They will then hire from
    the “eligibility list” until it expires. The window to file an application is
    usually very small, ranging from as short as one day to as long as 30
    days. Once the filing period is closed, the department will not accept
    any more applications. If you don’t have a subscription to one of these
    services, you will miss a lot of opportunities.

    Talk to your family.
    The decision to become a firefighter is a monumental one. It will most
    likely be a long road that requires a lot of time and sacrifice. If you don’t
    have a family or friend support network, it will become extremely difficult.
    Most importantly, if your spouse does not support your decision, you
    are destined for failure.
    Surround yourself with reputable people.
    A firefighter position is a life choice, not just a job. You must be prepared
    to live your life with excellent moral and ethical values. For this you will
    need the support of family and friends who are good role models. If your
    friends are not a positive influence in the community, you may want to
    find a new set of friends. Remember the old saying, “Birds of a feather
    flock together.” A background check will scrutinize not only you, but also
    the company you keep.

    Learn a trade.
    Woodworking, framing, electrical, plumbing, welding and automotive are
    all common examples of a trade. Firefighting is a very physical job that
    requires good psychomotor skills and a hands-on approach. Typically
    those who have learned a trade possess these applicable job skills. If
    you know how a building is constructed, you will be able to predict how
    a fire will travel through it. If you know where the electrical and plumbing
    is typically run behind the drywall, you will most likely know where it
    would be safe to open it up. You will also have become very comfortable
    with power tools. The importance of being able to work with your hands
    cannot be overstated.

    If you don’t currently have this kind of experience, start taking classes
    in a trade at your community college. You will at least learn the
    basics. Back this up with some real life practical experience. It will be
    invaluable knowledge and will play out well in an interview. Mechanical
    aptitude cannot be learned in an Internet class or while sitting behind
    a computer.

    Improve your public speaking skills.
    If you are uncomfortable getting up in front of a group, you must take
    steps to overcome your fear. The largest percentage of the testing
    process is the interview and ultimately a large part of the job deals with
    public speaking! You won’t talk a fire out, but you will talk to different
    groups about how to prevent them. If you can present yourself well in
    an interview, you are leaps and bounds ahead of the others who can’t.
    Even if the other candidates have more experience than you, the job
    will usually be awarded to the candidate who can present him or herself
    in a clear and concise manner.

    If public speaking is your downfall, it is imperative to join Toastmasters
    or take some courses at your community college. A speech and debate
    class is an excellent way to get over the jitters. Acting or drama classes
    can also be an excellent way to feel more comfortable in front of a

    Teaching others can also help you learn to think on your feet. Whether
    you are teaching CPR and First Aid or your local Sunday school class,
    it will help you learn to present information clearly and field questions.
    A typical interview question might be, “What do you consider a weakness
    about yourself?” Your answer could be, “I used to feel uncomfortable
    getting up and speaking in front of a group. I knew this was a very
    important part of my chosen vocation. I took several classes at my
    community college to help improve my comfort level. Since then I feel
    much more confident in my ability to speak in public.”

    You can have all of the best traits in the world, but if you can’t effectively
    convey them in an interview they will go unnoticed. Now that’s turning
    a negative into a positive!

    Maintain a clean driving and criminal record.
    It goes without saying that firefighters are held to a standard that is
    much higher than the average citizen. The road is littered with firefighter
    candidates who have failed their background check due to a poor driving
    or criminal record.

    Maintain a good credit history.
    Your credit history is a reflection of your reliability, honesty, organization
    and attention to detail.

    Update your resume.
    Make sure your resume has no technical or grammatical errors, is well
    organized and comprehensive. Ask reliable friends or family to proofread

    Improve your Education
    Got to school! Earn your Associates degree. If you already have one consider earning your Master’s degree. You must understand that many Chief Officers either are currently working on a Bachelors, had one when they started in the fire service, or earned one while working as a firefighter. You are in a bad position when asked about your educational plan and you do not have one.
    Recruit fire academies are very academically challenging. You must have the academic background to make us believe that you can read technical information one night and be tested on it the next day. Additionally, we are looking for people who we can send to Paramedic or Hazardous Materials School. The more education you have, the better chance you will have of making it through tough academic programs.

    Consider Becoming a Paramedic
    A paramedic license will absolutely help you stand above the competition on most fire departments. DO NOT go to paramedic school just because you think it will help you get hired. Go because you like running EMS calls and would like to better be able to treat sick people.
    Paramedic school is very tough. Do not go unless you are a very strong EMT and are ready!
    Paul Lepore
    Division Chief

  • #2
    Thank you Paul. That was a great read. I like many other on this site have been trying to get on for years. I have a bachelors degree in a field not fire related, I have my EMT-B, and intend to go back for my medic this fall. At this point it is the best chance I have as age will be a factor soon. I will be 34at the end of March. Thanks again Paul for the tips, it is appreciated by many on this site.


    • #3
      I'm not sure I agree with that, although I support the attitude.

      In my neck of the woods, New York / New Jersey, combat veterans are almost guaranteed a job. Military service will soon become nearly a prerequisite, at least here. If I were to make one bold move toward becoming a firefighter, it would be to enlist and serve in Afghanistan; not paramedic school, etc.


      • #4
        Originally posted by thisisavalidusername View Post
        I'm not sure I agree with that, although I support the attitude.

        In my neck of the woods, New York / New Jersey, combat veterans are almost guaranteed a job. Military service will soon become nearly a prerequisite, at least here. If I were to make one bold move toward becoming a firefighter, it would be to enlist and serve in Afghanistan; not paramedic school, etc.
        I am from St. Louis and being a vet as I am helps however a medic license guarantee's you a job. It also open's a lot more opportunities and places to apply. Just goes to show everywhere is different and you have to look at your area or where you are planning to work before you decide what path to take.


        • #5
          I am going to go ahead an comment on the paramedic portion of this thread. Paul, I hope you don't mind my input here.

          Well I am currently enrolled in paramedic school. I really do enjoy it. Here is the kicker. Prior to paramedic school I attended a 4 year college, left that to attend my local community college and get my associates if fire science, of which at the time with no connections to the fire service, I only knew it was what i wanted to do. I am very happy with my decisions but had i known how little the fire science degree carried i may have re thought it, looking back i would change nothing though.

          Worked, still work, for a private ambulance company for a year prior to applying to medic school thinking i would never want to become a medic, it seemed really hard and intimidating. It was always in the back of my head but i was scared, yeah i said it. My partner at the time was currently enrolled in the program i am now in, and constantly got on me about it, "you could really make a great medic, you know your ****, dont be intimidated" so on and so forth. well one day he shows up to work with an application, makes me fill it out then proceeds to call our dispatch and tell them we have to go to so and so hospital, they oblige, he makes me turn it in. At that point i kind of had to continue with the process. I get accepted. class begins.

          Not to try and toot my own horn here just putting it in perspective, i never have really had to try hard in school, I would go to class, take some notes, take tests and do well. Well I have never in my life put so much time into something before. And to my surprise I have never wanted to succeed at something so bad either. I was hesitant going in on the basis of, can i do this, i dont know if i can, this seems tough. Then out on the street for my company i see medics that shock me, which caused me to believe I can do this. Effort takes you a long way. As well as common sense which a lot of people preached to me.

          I am still just at the beginning of paramedic school, but have really come to love it, its more of a love hate relationship due to all i have to do and stressing over the "80% rule" but it is beyond interesting and really makes me feel like i am bettering my education, and myself. Unlike the usual undergrad prereqs you do at a college.

          My point is, if you have done your emt and liked it, worked as an emt, either 911 or even transport like myself, and liked it, really think about paramedic, but make sure you are willing to put the time in. People dont lie. Also make sure you have a good supporting cast. I am still young, live at home so i dont have to worry about as many bills. I also have a lot of friends from work who are medics and help me study on a regular basis. Just make sure you are prepared, but dont let the fear of failure or not feeling up to the challenge deter you, you will never feel ready. If it werent for me friend i may not be in the great position that I am in and loving every minute of it.

          If you have the desire to better yourself as an EMS provider, take the leap. But this is not for the weak of heart.


          • #6
            My 2 cents. First off great thread a lot of info for people thinking about the field. I think maybe I'll just reiterate and add.
            First of all know that the field is ultra-competetive in desired markets. Can you go to the middle of nowhere and work and fight fire and have fun yes but if you're like most people on here testing with major cities and their suburbs it's you against hundreds or thousands of people for a handful of positions.
            You can't be over educated so get certs or degrees the sooner the better but don't act like those mean anything other than the paper they're on. This is a real world experience job workers know the job. A guy with 20 years and no degree doesn't care about your paper he cares about your ability or lack of. But the city and department will and soon enough promotions wont happen without some kind of paper so if you desire advancement desire education.
            Test everywhere not just where you want to work, a jobs a job. You may end up somewhere you didn't expect that you really like or you'll know that you want to keep testing and move on. No one city is gauranteeing you a job. Bigger isn't allways better and you don't allways have to promote or get paid more. If your happy enjoy it.
            Sensetive subject but know in advance that minorities get preference. I write this to all the white guys that use there color as the reason they don't have a job. It is whats it is get over it. You know what else family helps family so dads and sons do work for the same department its ok don't cry.
            Make friends the fire world is a small world people know people. A buddy overhere can hekp you overthere. And vice versa don't make enemies it only takes one no even if theres 99 yeses.
            Just to give some weight to my ranting I've worked for 3 cities in few states over the last 10 yearsor so. I've taken dozens of tests and gone through multiple fire academies. I'm a paramedic and even went through a medic academy for a city even though I had been a medic for a few years. I'm in school currently working on a fire degree thats been an ongoing challenge for the last few years. I sat for my first fire test at 18 and I don't know when I'll sit for my last but it'll probably br when I work for the right department. So when you're out there testing no matter how much experience you have or how many tests you've taken or how burnt you remember there's grinders like me. If you really want it you wont quit and not quitting is the only way you don't fail.


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