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 2014 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*:
1. Volunteer and gain experience.
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.
2. Know your state and local jurisdictions requirements to get hired and promote within your department of interest.Becoming a firefighter in most jurisdictions is not an easy task. Most require some form of entry level knowledge exam and some form of physical examination. One of the most popular physical examination for entry-level firefighters is CPAT. Other departments may add in other types of examinations such as psychological evaluation. It's important to research the state and local requirements and make sure you can pass the requirements by the time the testing begins. You cannot wait until a week or so before the testing and expect to do well. Fire service positions are some of the most sought after positions in public service so your competition could be intense. I recommend that you start preparing early and have a strong showing during the testing phase.
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.
3. Assess your education.
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.
4. Take training courses and work toward certifications related to the field.
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!Mike Brackin is a faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.
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