How Does Someone Become a Firefighter? - The Steps A Person Might Possibly Take to Become One of America's Bravest
Becoming a Firefighter
The First Step
The first step to becoming a firefighter or anything else is asking yourself, "is this what I want to do for a third to half of my entire life?" Becoming and working as a firefighter can be a very rewarding job. Each day is dynamic, thrilling, and active. Additionally, most career fire departments offer great benefits and a decent salary. There are some downfalls that should be made clear to those who are interested in the profession. Here are some possible things:
- It can be both hard and beneficial to home life because of our odd schedule. I personally work a shift cycle that entails 24 hours on and off. This requires a strong relationship between man or woman and his husband or wife that includes trust and good communication. As taboo as it is in Asian culture, I personally went through a divorce.
- Statistics show that firefighters have a higher chance of contracting cancer.
- The long term effects of the job can be brutal on the body. I have seen many of our older firefighters forced into retirement because of bad backs and hips from the job.
- You see the worst of people in their most dire circumstances at times. I have performed CPR on children and babies, and seen people with disfigured bodies. I think you get the point. Some people cannot adjust to this type of experience.
Please do not misunderstand what I am trying to accomplish here. I am not deterring anyone from becoming a firefighter. I am making aware of some possible risks or problems one can encounter on the job. I absolutely love what I do and cannot imagine myself doing something else.
Which Path to Take?
The information I am providing is based on my knowledge of the process in California. Since I work in the great Golden State, I am limited to my own personal experiences. I will share the road I personally took to obtain my dream job.
In the beginning, once you have decided that this is the career you would like to pursue, there are a number of options you have. You can pursue one, or multiple option concurrently. For larger departments in Southern California such as the Los Angeles County FD, Los Angeles City FD, Long Beach FD, Torrance FD, and the Orange County Fire Authority, they only require a successful completion of a physical agility test, and be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma. Many people try this option first in hopes that they may be one of the few who are hired by these large departments. The remainder of the mass who are pursuing this career enter into a fire academy.
Fire academy requirements general consist of classroom course work and an acceptance into a program. Most community colleges offer some type of fire technology program. The course work consists of seven classes including fire chemistry, building contraction, fire protection systems, and physical fitness and nutrition. Since many smaller departments cannot afford to fully train someone off the street, they require a fire academy certification. A full-time academy can last up to 4 months, Monday through Friday. This takes a large commitment since a person cannot hold a full-time job while in the academy. The part-time option lasts approximately 10 to 12 months, usually 3 days a week. Once you have been picked in the lottery to attend the next fire academy and pass, you are now ready for the testing process.
Building Your Resume
Once you have your fire academy certification in hand and any other requirements a particular fire department requests, you are ready to apply. Remember the physical agility test I had mentioned before? There are two recognized in Southern California, the Biddle and the CPAT. Both have different fire simulated evolutions and time requirements, but they accomplish a similar goal, to filter out those who are not physically capable of performing the job.
Once you are ready, you should be applying to every and any opportunity that comes your way. Some viable options to build your resume and look more valuable to a fire department are listed below. This is not an exhaustive list.
- Volunteer Firefighter (i.e. Sierra Madre FD, La Habra Heights FD)
- Reserve/ Auxiliary Firefighter (most FD has some type of program)
- EMT-1 with a private ambulance company (i.e. American Medical Response, Cole-Schaeffer)
- Emergency Room Technician
- Fire Department Ambulance Operator (great experience working closely with firefighters- i.e. Glendale FD, Downey FD, Compton FD)
- paramedic school (6 months to 1 year of school)
- Fire Prevention Bureau (inspector or aid)
Getting the Badge
Once you have built your resume, and done well on the testing process, then it is time to celebrate your accomplishments. It is possible with perseverance and a bit of luck. Here is the exact chronological order of events that took place in my career search.
- 2001 to 2002 - I took all seven classes within one year and was accepted into the fire academy.
- March 2002 to June 2002- I attended a full-time fire academy.
- June 2002 to October 2003- I looked to build my resume and gain as much experience as I possibly could. I worked 6 days a week. (4 days on a private ambulance as an EMT-1, 1 day as a volunteer firefighter, and 1 day as a reserve firefighter)
- October 2003- I was hired by a career professional fire department.
It is not impossible for someone to enter this career however, it is extremely competitive. Let us be realistic. Unfortunately, not everyone gets hired. During my process, the number of applicants started with 1200 and the department hired only 8. Again, the recipe for success includes perseverance, dedication, and definitely a bit of luck. I hope this hub was helpful and as always, thank you for reading.
Useful Links on the Fire Service
- Become a Firefighter in California - Fire Academy Directory - FireLink.Monster.com
California Fire Academy Directory
- Rio Hondo Fire Academy | Biddle Physical Agility Test
Information on the Biddle Physical Agility Test from a local fire academy
- CA Firefighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee - Candidate Physical Ability Test
CPAT Physical Agility Test