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Former Military Officers Becoming Firefighters

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  • Former Military Officers Becoming Firefighters

    Hi everybody. I'm a 32 year old former active duty Lieutenant in the military (still a reservist) who recently made a career change to the fire service. While the transition was fairly easy due to the paramilitary culture of the fire service, it seems to me that I am a pretty rare breed. I do not advertise that I was a prior officer in the military, but when my fellow brothers and sisters find out, its a bit of a shock to them. Some of them wonder why in hell I would leave the military to start over as a rookie firefighter. A few questions for the group:

    1. Are there any other former military officers out there who have been in my shoes? Would love to hear your thoughts about your experience entering the fire service.
    2. Do fire departments value a prior military officer's leadership and what they bring to the table? Or are they looked at as over qualified?

    I love my job, and I don't have any regrets, but I will say sometimes I catch myself struggling with the thought of starting over when I get the look of astonishment on somebody's face when I tell them I was an O3 in the military. I'm humbled by this career, and I love to serve. Just want to know what everybody thinks.

    - James

  • #2
    I would say it?s two different mentalities, although it is paramilitary it?s still separate. Any leadership you serve under should understand your expertise and experience in leading people towards accomplishing goals, and respect that. You were trained to lead people in the military. It?s a little different in the fire service. I currently Work with multiple people that are both officers in the reserves and firefighters and they know the difference. You?re not giving up a career per say because you?re still in the reserves. You will still gain rank and experience there. Don?t look at it as starting over. You?re not you?re beginning a career in the fire service. I served, although not an officer, I still served and was actively deployed 02-06 for OIF-OEF I didn?t give up a career for starting over in the fire service. It?s just a different job and use it as that. You?re not boastful about it which is what normal people do and you don?t seem smug. Enjoy it man. Unless you work for a really paramilitary style Dept. I left my Dept and went to work for another Dept that seemed to really look down on people with experience especially fire service experience and military experience, and it was terrible. Wasn?t boastful about any of it. They just hated it. Can?t tell you why. Use everything you have in your aresenal of knowledge and experience and use it to your advantage when testing or furthering you career in the fire service. It?ll come in handy.


    • #3
      I can also speak as a disgusting enlisted squid. I was a Staff NCO, but I was never commissioned through the beloved OCS program. All military fun aside, you are making a step in the right direction.

      As mentioned earlier, the fire department is paramilitary, but mostly by their organization and hierarchy. Furthermore, you follow specific orders and commands passed through the chain of command and answer to your immediate supervisors. Other than that, it's not as disciplined or serious as the military. The days of paramilitary organization have gone aside. I've been on 3 organizations from large to small and can say the Fire Departments are changing in their mentality.

      The biggest obstacle for you will be your patience. You are starting a career from the bottom with 20 years old entitled kids. When you are hired, your senior firefighter may be a 25 year old with 2 years on the job. While his fire knowledge may be more advanced and disciplined, your life experience may be leaps and bounds more disciplined. Be proud, but not boastful of your military experience. Don't immediate tell everyone your experiences, stay humble and let everyone find out your background. I've had nothing but respect and admiration from my military background. You'll constantly hear the same excuse from people, "Oh man that's so awesome, I was going to join but... [insert generic excuse]".

      The biggest advantages you have is working under pressure, being able to communicate simple orders effectively, leading others, and properly listening to orders. Depending on your location in the good ol USA, some people get hired right away while others must attend years of schooling and academies before getting hired.

      In California, most departments value military experience. You're competing against thousands of applicants and they all sound the same "I workout each day at Crossfit, I work as an EMT, I went to community college at ___[insert generic fire academy]___, I love my dog, I volunteer/reserve at volunteer FD or hospital." I can assure you it's rare people have military experience.

      Best way to look at your experience coming into this career is knowing what you have to offer and showing your potential employers. Being on interview panels and hiring boards, I want to see what people bring to the table and can they be trained and adapt to our culture? (open-minded) Are they a liability? (too weak, uneducated, ignorant, etc) Are they capable enough of doing the job? (educated, experience) Show the people who you are and why you deserve a shot as a probationary employee.


      • #4
        Fire5555, NO319, and FYR MDC, thank you very much for your responses. That was very insightful, I very much appreciate the advice and value your opinions. I guess a part of me wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy for thinking the way I do. Appreciate your service as well. Thanks again.


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