How to Become a Firefighter: Facts, Job Description & School

We are super excited to talk about how to become a firefighter today and not just because we may get to sneak a few peeks at a firefighter calendar or two…It’s all in the name of research! Being a firefighter is a pretty honorable profession that takes a special kind of person that is willing to put their life on the line one day while posing as Mr./Miss July the next. With that in mind let’s get to it shall we?

How to Become a Firefighter

There are currently over 300,000 professional firefighters in the United States right now and they all had to start out the same way that you will have to. They put their blood, sweat and tears into the mission of becoming a firefighter. As a firefighter you will fight active fires and be the front line for many emergency medical calls due to accidental injury or disaster. Everyday firefighters save lives and if you are ready, we would like to tell how to go about pursuing this honorable profession.

Step 1: Volunteer for the Trade

Many firefighters start out as volunteers. If you ask those already employed at your local fire department you will likely hear that very response when you ask them how to get started on a career path as a firefighter. A great way to volunteer your services at your fire department is to offer to help around the firehouse and at local events. This will help to get your name and face known by those in the firefighting community. You will also gain a good bit of extra knowledge this way as well.

Step 2: Find CPR Training, Get Fit and Become a Certified EMT

Being a firefighter will require you to be very physically fit as it is a very physically demanding job. You will also be working under pretty stressful conditions for long hours at a time and this will certainly be taxing on your body, which can be helped a bit by being healthy and in shape. There is a hardcore physical examination that is going to really put you through the paces that you will have to pass to complete your certification. If you are serious about becoming a firefighter then it’s time to put down the Krispy Cream and do some sit ups.

Becoming CPR and first aid trained is a pretty easy hurdle to jump over. You can usually find classes available at your local hospital or Red Cross that are available for a small fee. Having that CPR and first aid certification card can really help you along your path to becoming a firefighter. Lastly, you will probably want to get a head start on an EMT certification. It’s becoming a requirement with most departments and again having it early will only help you later.

Step 3: Get a Fire Science Degree

Getting a fire science degree will take the most time during your quest to becoming a firefighter. Getting a degree may be done at a community college, technical school and even some universities.

During your schooling you will cover all of the very important areas of knowledge that you need to know in order to successfully put out fires and save lives. You will learn all about firefighting technology, fire investigation, fire arson investigation and fire inspection.

There will also be hands on course work that will teach you how to suppress and extinguish fires with hoses, pumps and additional apparatus,’ evacuate fire structures and treat victims.

Once these major things are mastered, you will learn how to drive and properly operate emergency vehicles and maintain all firefighting equipment. Hopefully they also take some time to show you how to walk in the firefighting suits and big boots, because to us looks like a challenge in and of itself.

Here are a few examples of schools that offer programs in this field:

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Step 4: Take Exams and Apply for a Job

We are in the homestretch now, peeps! You are now ready to take your exams and then get a job!

There are two exams that are required before you can officially slide down the fire pole as a legit firefighter. There is a written exam that will cover math, human relations, problem solving ability, written and oral communication and judgment, memory and reasoning abilities.  The next exam will be a bit harder but of equal importance as it is a psychological exam. You will be tested on personality traits and how well you perform under the specific pressures of being a firefighter.

If you’ve passed your exams, you are now ready to pound the pavement and turn in applications. You can apply at your local fire departments, wilderness firefighting agencies, state fire organizations and with fire equipment manufactures. This may seem like a tedious process, but it’s well worth it in the end.

You will need to meet the basic requirements as well, which you more than likely already do if you have gotten this far. You typically need to have 20/20 eyesight (correct vision is A-ok here), a high school diploma, clean criminal record and be at least 18 years old (possibly 21 depending on the hiring agency).

Firefighter Schools

Miami Dade College – School of Justice

The Miami Dade College School of Justice has a Fire Science Program that arms you will all of the tools needed to become a firefighter. The Fire Science Program offers an Associate in Science degree in Fire Science Technology. The school also offers Fire Safety Inspector Preparation Courses, Fire Fighter Minimum Standards Career and a Community Workforce Education in the firefighting area.

Also offered is a focus on all that students need to know to successfully pass the state certification examination. The Firefighter II state and Pro-Board certifications are covered in depth as well. An added bonus study course is through the Community Workforce Education offers training and certification that is required to become a firefighter as well. This extra certification is sponsored by Florida Power and Light’s firefighter division.

St. Petersburg College

St. Petersburg College has its very on Firefighting Academy that is dedicated to preparing its students for the tough and rewarding career as a firefighter. This school is ready and equipped with the most cutting edge Fire and Public Safety Training Center and this is the real deal too. The Florida Bureau of Fire Standards and Training has certified this center as top of the line.

During your time at the St. Petersburg College Firefighting Academy, you will learn all about many important things that will prepare you to complete your academy courses as well as you Firefighting I and II certifications. You will learn about fire service orientation and culture, physical fitness training, fire chemistry, building construction, fire safety and methods of fire control and suppression. You will also learn all about how to operate that awesome firehouse and will likely get a chance to slide down a fire pole of two…need we say more?

Firefighter Salary

By now you are probably curious as to how much you are going to earn considering that you will be putting your life on the line each day that you are in the firehouse. We would be wondering the same thing, so we did a bit of research to find out exactly what you can expect.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a firefighter can expect to earn a median annual salary of $45,600, which translates into $21.92 an hour. Also reported is that the lowest 10% of salaries earned by employed firefighters is $21,960 annually. In contrast to that, the highest 10% of salaries earned by employed firefighters is $80,430 annually.

We can also see from the very helpful graphs on the BLS website that there are some variations in different states. This difference in pay is somewhat expected when you take into account different environmental factors and population densities. These things may be something that you want to take into consideration when you are thinking of becoming a firefighter.

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Firefighter Checklist: 10 Things to Do

There are some things that you can do to ensure that you are rearing and ready to go as a professional firefighter. There are also some pretty helpful things that you can do to increase your chances of scoring a job too. Here is a checklist of the top 10 things to do to prepare you for the tough job ahead of you:

  • Become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

The majority of fire departments are requiring new hires to have already completed EMT training and certification. There are currently more than 90% of departments that are requiring that this be completed immediately after you are hired if they give you a job without having already jumped through that hoop. Having an EMT certification totally makes sense considering that somewhere around 70% (if not more) of firefighters are first responders to medical emergencies. Go ahead and get this task completed before you apply to a fire department, especially since you are going to have to do it anyway.

  • Volunteer Your Time

Community involvement is a very important thing that is sought after by departments. They are looking for individuals that show that they are eager to help others and participate in the community. You don’t have to volunteer at a fire department for your time to be counted and taken into consideration. You can volunteer at the Red Cross, Boy and Girls Club or animal shelters as possible alternatives to volunteering at a fire house.

  • Take Fire Technology Courses

Taking a fire technology course isn’t usually a requirement for employment with a fire department, but it really looks good on the old resume. Gaining fire technology experience will prepare for the job as a firefighter. Most academies only offer 3 hours of building construction and 5 hours of fire behavior. When you see it broken down like that, it hardly seems like enough time given the magnitude of the job and the fires that may be fought. If you take a semester long fire technology class at your local community college, you will get about 53 hours of training. Having this extra training may not only save your life, but can also save the lives of your fellow firefighting brothers and sisters.

  • Maintain a Clean Background and Lifestyle

Now we know that not everyone has a squeaky clean past, but to get a job as a firefighter you will need to be able to pass a background check that is pretty thorough. The background check will uncover pretty much anything that you have in your past. We are talking about car accidents, speeding tickets, arrests, domestic violence and anger management issues as well. Having any blips on your record may hinder your ability to get a job. Now we know that stuff happens in life that you can’t always predict or avoid, but you can try to make some changes as soon as you decide that you may want to become a firefighter.

  • Have a Clear View of All of the Phases to Get Hired as a Firefighter

It’s super important to have a very clear understanding of what you are going to be required to do to successfully complete the hiring process. The best approach is to research how the department you are going to apply to conducts their recruitment and how the oral interview, written examination, physical agility and background investigation go down.

  • Start Taking Your Firefighter Tests

You can absolutely get a jump start and a head above the other potential applicants by taking some firefighter tests early. Each time you take a test you will learn what you need to improve upon the area that you are lacking. Use the time to study hard and improve upon any areas that need it whether they are from a physical standpoint or knowledge of fire safety angle.

  • Take a Trip to Fire Stations

Try to make the rounds of the fire stations that you will be applying to. This is a really good way to get to know the guys and gals that you may be working for as well as get a good idea of what all it takes to get into the department. This too will give you a leg up among your competition.

  • Get Some Real Life Experience

You’ll be spending a lot of time in the firehouse and you will be expected to pull your fair share of the duties. These duties will most often include cooking meals, doing dishes, performing maintenance duties and cleaning. Your fellow co-workers are not going to want to have to hold your hand through every little task, so get some life experience under your belt before you get the job.

  • Start Preparing for Your Background Check

This can actually be the make or break to you getting a job as a firefighter. Many people get through the other phases of hiring with total ease, but then fail to pass a background check because they are not honest about their past or they forget an important detail. The background check is going to be long and very thorough so be prepared and gather all of your personal information before hand to eliminate any questions. Most importantly though…be truthful. If you are not, trust us when we say that it will definitely come out and your dishonesty with bite you for sure.

  • Get as Much Hands On Experience as Possible and Learn All About Fire Safety

You likely already feel as though becoming a firefighter is not just a job, but rather a career that you are passionate about and want to do well at. A few ways for you to can get distant hands on experience while continually learning about fire service is by getting subscriptions to magazines that relate to fire house life, check out websites that have a good deal of legitimate information and being as proactive as possible to stay abreast of the goings on in the fire business…so to speak. You may be surprised by some questions that pertain to these very things during your hiring process.

The Story of a 9/11 First Responder


Most of us can remember exactly where we were during September 11, 2001. It is an event that is permanently etched into most of our minds, but none more so than the first responding firefighters on that day. Today we’d like to tell you a little about the experience John Norman, a 9/11 first responder. Here is John’s story…

Like all of us John remembers exactly where he was the morning of 9/11. In fact he was on vacation and still asleep when the first plane flew into the first World Trade Center tower at 8:46 a.m. Since he was on vacation he planned to sleep in, so he turned his phone ringer off.

Upon waking up, John was still unaware of what happened. That is until he got an “all call” on his answering machine from the department. He still was unsure why a call of that magnitude was issued until he turned on the TV and saw what was unfolding before him. Just as John was about to turn off the TV, the south tower collapsed and he knew that he had to be on the scene to help.

It took John about an hour and a half to get into the heart of the city, the area where the first responders were waiting for the green light to help those that were in need. Even just walking down the street to help out survivors was enough to put John into a state of shock and disbelief.

John was put in charge of the search and rescue operation in the days following the initial attack. He sadly was given this heavy position after others that should have been leading the mission were killed in the line of duty. He had prior experience working at the towers and that knowledge really helped. He knew all of the underground passages and where to go within the confines of the building.

He recalls the tragic landscape of the crumbling buildings as being surreal. There was so much dust and paper everywhere that is was beyond shocking. Even the streets were filled with them. None of us can forget what happened that day, but as one of the first responders and one of the people in charge, it naturally sticks with him on a different level.

John has many other heartbreaking stories that he shares in the video on the NRA website. If you’d like to hear the story in John’s words, definitely give it a watch. You may do so by clicking here.

Final Grade

Final grade times means that we give you the nitty gritty of a career as a firefighter. Get ready for us to turn up the heat and tell you how it really is. Firehouses down and let’s get to it!

  • Degree vs. Debt: B+

The degree to debt ratio is pretty reasonable. Becoming a firefighter takes 2 to 4 hours of schooling, but you can usually get a job pretty quickly after graduation. Your new job as a firefighter will also pay relatively well right away too. Your pay will make the amount of school loans (if any) that you have to pay back totally doable.

  • Difficulty of Degree: C

Becoming a firefighter is not extremely difficult, but it is definitely physically challenging at times and there is also the added pressure of remember the details of what you learned to save lives. You will not have to take a lot of math, English or history classes, but you will instead replace them with fire science, fire behavior and other similar classes that are super important.

  • Happiness Quotient: C

This is kind of a twofold answer with a mixed bag of feelings tossed in. Sure you will be helping people and saving lives during your time as a firefighter. With that comes a sense of contributing to the greater good of society, but there is another side to this job. As a firefighter you will not be able to save everyone and you may lose your fellow brothers and sisters of the ladder. This is a sad reality, but a true reality nonetheless.

  • Job Outlook:C

Unfortunately the job outlook for firefighters leaves a bit to be desired. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there is only expected to be a 7% growth from 2012 to 2022. This is a slower growth than is expected and doesn’t bode well for new firefighters looking for a job.

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Sources and Recommended Reading

Just as putting out fires is soon going to be your job, getting sources is ours. We may not get to ride in an awesome fire truck while doing it, but we do have a pretty awesome computer mouse. If you need any further information then get click happy and take a look at these links. They have a ton of helpful information that will help you get started in the path to becoming a firefighter.

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