If you want to become one of the bravest heroes in the country, becoming a firefighter might be for you. This is one of the most unique fields with many different career paths. Let’s look at how to become a firefighter, some different career paths, and what a firefighter does each day.
Steps for Becoming a Firefighter
1. Get your High School Diploma
Before you can take any other step towards becoming a firefighter, you’ll need to get your high school diploma or equivalent. This will be required when you want to become a firefighter.
During high school, you should also make sure you get your driver’s license. Also, avoid issues with your driving record, as a clean driving record is vital.
You must be 18 years old to work as a firefighter. However, you can start your training as young as 16 years of age. You should also make sure you’re in good physical shape before entering training.
You can volunteer for your local fire department. This can be a great way to break into the field. It’s a rather competitive field, so volunteering can help you get your foot in the door.
3. Get Trained in CPR
You don’t need to wait until you graduate high school to become trained in CPR. You can take a CPR class from the American Red Cross and gain the necessary training. This can help speed up the process and give you a step towards becoming a firefighter.
4. Get the Right Education (Optional)
You don’t have to get any type of formal education after high school. However, some specialties for firefighters will require advanced education. A degree in fire science can be helpful.
You can also complete firefighting technology programs. These programs offer preparation to become a firefighter, fire investigator, fire inspector, or fire arson investigator.
5. Pass the Necessary Tests
While a degree isn’t necessary to become a firefighter, it can be helpful. You will need to pass all the necessary tests. There will be a written test and a physical test you must complete and pass.
After you’ve completed the first round of tests successfully, you’ll need to go through specific interviews, as well. All of this is necessary to enter into the firefighter training program.
You will need to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test. This test will include distance running, climbing flights of stairs quickly, and lifting more than 200 pounds.
The written section of the test will include around 100 questions. The test will cover topics such as logic, spatial awareness, reading comprehension, and mechanical reasoning.
In some areas, you will need to become an EMT before you can become a firefighter. Make sure to check your state’s requirements and the requirements of your local government.
6. Complete Fire Academy
After getting accepted into the Fire Academy, you will need to complete the online and in-person training. Your training will include courses covering:
- Decision Making
- Fire Investigation
- Effective Communications
Fire Academy might be free if you’re already in the medical field or want to become a first responder. Along with the classroom or online training, you will also gain training in all of the following:
- Car fires
- Vehicle extractions
- Water rescues
- Basic rope rescues
- Live fire training
- Victim recovery
- Search and rescue
- Emergency egress
The fire academy will provide these types of training in-person and hands-on. You will learn everything you need to help you fight all types of fires and deal with other types of emergencies.
7. Continue to Gain Education
Even after becoming a firefighter, you will need to continue your education if you want advancement opportunities. Your fire captain may help to determine the path you may take as a firefighter. In addition, some jurisdictions will need to complete an EMT and paramedic certification.
A fire science degree can be a good step after becoming a firefighter, too. This type of degree can help you move up to a higher-paying firefighting job.
Potential Career Paths for a Firefighter
While the most common option for firefighters is to become a firefighter, this can take on many different career paths. There are several options to choose from in a local fire department or even a specialty department. Some of the most common firefighter career paths include:
- Firefighter – If you want to protect life and property, becoming a firefighter is a great choice. This is the most common option and is considered to be the lead emergency medical technician.
- Driver/Operator – If you become a driver/operator, you’ll be responsible for getting the crew to the scene and back to the firehouse. You will operate the fire pump during fires and help with hose deployment, ladders, and other duties. This position also includes day-to-day maintenance for the fire apparatus.
- Fire Captain – If you want to be in a leadership position, becoming a fire captain will put you in charge of the fire apparatus and station management. You will also be responsible for responding to incidents and supervising training.
- Shift Battalion Chief – As a shift battalion captain, you will oversee the shift operations. You will be in charge of the management and discipline of your shift.
- Training Battalion Chief – If you want to coordinate and control the department’s training, you must become a training battalion chief. You will oversee new hires, testing, and recruiting.
- Fire Marshal – As a fire marshal, you will enforce the Uniform Fire Code and compliance. You will assist fire inspectors and investigators, as well.
- Special Operations Battalion Chief – This type of position will allow you to work under the Operations Chief to help construct facilities.
- Operations Division Chief – You will have fire training and suppression responsibilities with this type of position.
- Director of Administration – Working under the Fire Chief, you will be responsible for payroll, policies, insurance, PFA Board, financial management, and other administrative areas.
- Fire Chief – The fire chief is responsible for the operation of the department. It’s one of the highest positions in firefighting.
As a firefighter, you will likely follow a specific progression if you want to be promoted. It starts with a promotion to crew manager and then a watch manager. The station manager is next up, with the group manager and area manager coming after that. You can also earn a position as a brigade manager, deputy CFO (Chief Fire Officer), or assistant CFO.
The names of these roles can vary from one department to another. The top position for many firefighters is Chief Fire Officer or Fire Chief.
It’s also possible to take a career path that isn’t in a local fire department. You can specialize in fighting specific types of fires, such as wildfires, forest fires, and more. You can also become a firefighter in the military or work for many national departments.
Daily Duties for a Firefighter
While the glamourous part of the job, saving people and putting out fires, might be what you think about, firefighters do more than just fight fires. Some of the daily duties you will encounter as a firefighter include:
- Enforcing codes
- Responding to alarms
- Treating injured people
- Finding and rescuing victims
- Taking education workshops
- Handling minor medical care
- Keeping the firehouse running
- Preventing fire damage
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Firefighter
How much do firefighters make?
The average firefighter will make about $54K per year. However, the average salary will depend on the type of location. If you work in a smaller town, you’ll likely earn an average salary of around $32K per year. While a small town won’t pay as much, you can make as much as $100K per year in some areas.
With the right certifications and specialization, you can make a higher salary and earn promotions. Your salary can also vary, depending on the hours you work. Many firefighters end up working overtime.
How long does it take to become a firefighter?
You can become a firefighter within four to six months if you enter the fire academy or similar training. Earning a fire science certificate can take a few weeks to a year. Of course, you can also get an associate degree in fire science, which takes two years.
The career path you choose will also help determine how long it will take you to become a firefighter. For most, it will take a few months to a few years.
What types of certifications are common for firefighters?
It’s common for firefighters to gain an EMT certification. In some jurisdictions, this is a requirement. You may also earn a confined space certification, AEMT (Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians) certification, or a CDL (Commercial Drivers License). A driver’s license is necessary, and you may need the right endorsement for some firefighter positions.
Will you need to complete on-the-job training to become a firefighter?
Yes. Most firefighters will complete paid on-the-job training before they can become official. It’s also necessary to complete several weeks of training to become a part of the team.
How can I make more money as a firefighter?
The easiest way to earn extra money as a firefighter is with overtime. Many departments are understaffed and provide extra shifts when necessary.
Another option is to join a crew that works for the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or the National Forest Service.
Am I too old to become a firefighter?
Depending on your jurisdiction, the maximum age to apply to become a firefighter will be 39 or 40. As long as you’re under this age, you can apply to become a firefighter.
Related Learning Opportunities
How To Become a Paramedic
Interested in becoming a paramedic? If you're ready to jump into a challenging career, let's look at how to become a paramedic.
How To Become a Police Officer
Maybe you've dreamed of being a police officer all your life. With the right training, you can start a career in criminal justice.
How To Become a 911 Operator
Do you want to help save lives every day? Learning how to become a 911 operator will show you how to do just that in your town.
How To Become an EMT
As an EMT, you will be at the forefront of the healthcare industry. This position is one of the most common in emergency medical care.
Outdoor Careers: Enjoy a Job Working Outside
Maybe you're not the type to sit in an office all day. There are many outdoor careers you can choose from. What would you do to stay outside?