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Learning Center Experience
By Mike Brackin, EdD, EFO, CPM, Academic Chair, Fire Science Programs
What child didn't grow up wanting to be a firefighter at some point in time? Even as adults, how many wish they had actually pursued that option as a career but never did? In relation to the total population, there are relatively few who actually get to experience being a firefighter—approximately 300,000 total according to 2012 data—and helping mankind in the worst of conditions.
I remember graduating high school, getting married, and starting a family only to realize that with my additional responsibilities, I would not be able to provide very well for the family in my current occupation. My brother-in-law was on the local fire department and let me know that they would be advertising soon to hire new firefighters to support a new station. Long story short, I got my dream job and went on to make a career out of the occupation before retiring as a Fire Chief and then moving into higher education. Along the way I have picked up on many tips to help others who are interested in joining the profession; here are a few*:
Whether you want to be a firefighter, a fire inspector, or fire investigator, most departments fill these positions within. This means you get hired at the entry level and gain experience before you can move into other roles within a department. While there may be exceptions to this rule, they are far and few between.
As a former State Fire Training Director and Fire Chief I have seen what it takes to become hired and know what I looked for in an individual when hiring someone. One of the first things I looked for in an individual, if they were not currently being paid as a firefighter at another department, is if they had any volunteer firefighting experience. The fire service is one of the few occupations that still have a sizable number of volunteer opportunities across the nation. Having served as a volunteer for a number of years indicates that the individual most likely knows what they are getting into and still love the job enough to want to make it their career. There is a sense of comfort and stability in hiring someone already familiar with the profession.
A question I often asked applicants in the interview phase was "What are your long-term goals for working at the fire department if hired?" and often the response was "To have your job and be a Fire Chief." This is an admirable goal, though not every employee may be able to reach the top of any organization. So if that truly is your goal in life, know what it takes not only to get hired but what it takes to be promoted throughout your career. That way, when you are asked a similar question in your interviews you can respond in the same manner but further explain that you know it cannot be achieved overnight an that it takes a lot of hard work and effort to get there.
Another thing I looked at in potential candidates was their education, for instance whether they had earned college credits and/or a degree. General education credits along with credits in a field related or applicable to the fire service could also be beneficial in preparing an individual with the skills and knowledge applicable to the job and future assignments. Just remember, a college degree will not typically be the sole requirements to get you hired at a department but it can be beneficial to have these additional credentials.
If you research your area of interest, you may find that there are numerous opportunities to receive training and certifications related to the fire service, some at no cost to the individual. Certifying in CPR or as an Emergency First responder or Emergency Medical Technician are all applicable to the types of services firefighters perform. That experience and credentials upfront could be a benefit when pursuing a career as a firefighter. There also a number of emergency preparedness and response online training courses individuals can take for free from the Federal Emergency Management Institute and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Again, do your research to find out which certification is most relevant to your area.
Okay, so now you know what it takes to pursue your dream job. Best of luck moving forward and now it's time to get started!
5 Tips on How to Advance in a Fire Department
Want to Be an Everyday Hero? Public Service May Be Your Calling
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And if you are considering pursuing higher education we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University’s programs and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
* Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.
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