How to get a job as a firefighter in 2024

Last updated: July 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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How to get a job as a firefighter in 2024
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Ever thought of becoming a firefighter? It's a physically demanding job that allows you to help others and give back to the community.

When you work as a firefighter, no two shifts will ever be the same. From putting out fires to rescue operations and medical emergencies, you'll never know what to expect.

Because firefighters are responsible for saving lives and property, they need a wide range of skills. It's not a job for everyone, but if you're a team player and work well under pressure, it can be a rewarding, long-term career.

There are opportunities available now, with the job outlook for firefighters rising at an average rate of 4% by 2031.

How can you get a job as a firefighter? And what skills do you need? Read on to find out.

What is a firefighter?

Firefighters get called to emergency situations. When a fire threatens people, animals, property, or the natural environment, firefighters arrive to minimize the damage.

They can also be called to other emergency scenes. For example, firefighters can provide support after traffic accidents, chemical spills, and natural disasters. They can also help during rescue operations or even a 911 medical emergency.

They drive fire trucks and have access to a range of firefighting and emergency equipment. They wear protective clothing and use fire extinguishers, fire hoses, fire blankets, and first aid kits.

If someone is injured, the firefighter can give them emergency medical care.

They are also called to keep accurate reports and maintain all fire equipment and the fire house.

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Firefighters are on call and can work different shifts, including days, evenings, and weekends. There can be overtime, and some shifts can last for 24 hours or more.

Firefighters can have other qualifications that can help them excel in their jobs. For example, some are trained as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), while others are qualified paramedics.

How can you work as a firefighter?

Do you want a rewarding career? Are you physically fit and calm in a high-pressure work environment?

Here is the most common career pathway for firefighters.

1. Get the basics

Before you can start the application process, make sure you meet the basic requirements. Prospective firefighters need to be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state.

You'll need a high school diploma, or equivalent, and a current driver's license.

This is a unique career, and there are multiple steps to take before you can start work. We recommend speaking with individuals already in the field, so you know what to expect.

Once you have all the information, you can decide whether the career path is right for you.

2. Undertake further education

Depending on where you live, an EMT certification may be required.

Even if it's not essential, a college degree or certificate can improve your chances of getting a job. Plus, the knowledge you'll gain can help you excel in your role.

For example, you can complete a degree program in a related field. Your choices include degrees in fire science/technology, fire administration, emergency and disaster management, or psychology.

Some colleges also offered a combined degree in firefighting and paramedics.

Make sure you have a first aid certificate and CPR training.

3. Work on your fitness

Firefighters need to be physically fit. The role can involve lifting, pulling, climbing, and twisting, and you'll need strength and stamina to get through each shift.

When you apply to be a firefighter, you'll need to pass a medical exam. Because the job is so physically demanding, there's a long list of conditions that may be red flags.

For example, if you have chronic asthma, joint pain, diabetes, or problems with your eyesight, it could impact your chances.

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Plus, there are timed strength and agility tests. From carrying mannequins to using a sledgehammer, you'll need plenty of endurance.

Weight training, pull-ups, and cardio will all help you prepare for the physical examination.

4. Have a background check

During the hiring process, you'll need to pass a criminal background check. Even if you are only applying for a volunteer position, you'll still have to meet the same criteria as a paid firefighter.

The criminal background check looks at a range of areas, including felonies, misdemeanors, and driving history. It's also used to verify your work history and education. You can expect this check to go back at least seven years.

Not everything on your background check will be a dealbreaker in the firefighting field. If the incidents were a long time ago or you've made life changes, you could still get the job. A history of arson or assault will usually be no-nos.

You'll also need to pass a drug screening test.

5. Pass the exam

Before you can work as a firefighter, you'll have an oral interview. There's also a firefighter exam and a psychological evaluation.

The examination process helps the recruiter get to know you better. For example, the psych exam will have multiple-choice questions that look at how well you'd work in a team, how adaptable you are, and how dependable you are.

Other sections of the exam check that you meet the minimum requirements. They want to know that you have basic knowledge of mathematics and English.

Don't forget that you'll need to pass a medical examination and physical fitness test if you want to be a firefighter.

6. Complete a training program

Once you have completed the application process and meet the requirements, you'll be invited to attend academy training. The duration can vary depending on your location, but it's usually between three and six months.

The training will focus on fitness, and you'll learn specific firefighting skills. For example, you'll learn how to tie knots, perform rescues, climb ladders, and use fire hoses.

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You'll also participate in live drills and experience different emergency situations.

Academy programs are usually full-time with early morning starts. The training can be intense, but once you've completed it, you'll be ready for the job.

7. Complete your probation

Once you finish your academy training, you can start your career as a firefighter. It’s important to note that there is usually a probationary period.

You may also need a certification or license, depending on your location.

What skills do you need to be a firefighter?

Interested in becoming a professional firefighter? Here are some of the skills you'll need for the job.

1. Communication skills

Firefighters need excellent communication skills. They work closely with others, including firefighter colleagues, dispatchers, and members of the public.

If it's an emergency situation, the firefighter needs to be calm and confident. Sometimes, they need to direct people to an emergency exit or deal with those who are injured or distressed.

When the firefighter has good verbal communication skills, it puts people at ease. They need to be excellent listeners and use body language and gestures to overcome any language barriers.

Firefighters write detailed reports, so written communication skills and computer skills are also important.

2. Problem-solving skills

Firefighters can be faced with a range of situations. From fitting into a tight space to removing hazardous material, these workers have to think on their feet.

To be successful as a firefighter, you'll need excellent problem-solving skills. Every job is different, and you'll need to come up with a plan before helping in an emergency.

During the hiring process, your problem-solving skills will be tested. The type of exam can depend on your location, but there’s usually a multiple-choice questionnaire.

Alternatively, you may be asked to watch videos of different scenarios and think about how you'd respond.

3. Manual dexterity

Another skill that a firefighter needs is manual dexterity. Of course, physical fitness is essential, but so is being able to use your hands and fingers.

You'll need manual dexterity for a range of tasks, such as connecting hose fittings, driving fire trucks, tying knots, climbing ladders, and cutting chains.

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You may even have your coordination and dexterity tested during the fitness exams. Remember, wearing gloves restricts some of your hand movements.

4. Decision-making skills

Next on our list is decision-making skills.

There isn't time to wait in a crisis. And firefighters can be first responders to medical emergencies, hazardous spills, and active crime scenes.

To be successful, you'll need to think clearly and make decisions without hesitation. You should always try to minimize the risk to the public, your team, and yourself.

Your job training will give you the confidence to make the right decisions in any situation.

5. Teamwork

Firefighters need excellent teamwork skills. No one can do this job alone, and these brave individuals need to work together.

Firefighters usually have a team leader that gives instructions, such as a fire chief or battalion chief.

When attending to an emergency, everyone has a role to play while looking out for their peers. If there's no teamwork when you’re on duty, it can increase the risk of injuries or death.

In the firehouse, everyone is responsible for maintaining equipment and keeping the facilities clean.

  1. Medical knowledge

All firefighters need medical knowledge. As first responders, they often have to treat people on the scene and wait with them until an ambulance arrives.

Firefighters need CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training and should know how to administer medication. They can check blood pressure, monitor patients, bandage wounds, set up intravenous lines (IVs), and support people who are in shock.

Firefighters talk to dispatchers, paramedics, and hospitals and give them information about the state of the patients. They need to understand medical jargon and communicate any medical details clearly and confidently.

How much does a firefighter make?

The salary for firefighters can vary depending on your location, experience, and education.

In the US, the average firefighter salary is $50,700 per year or $24.38 per hour.

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Those in the lowest 10% make less than $29,030 per year, while the highest earners make more than $81,640 per year.

Firefighters working for the federal government have an average annual salary of $55,330. Those employed by the state government make ​​$53,800, and local government firefighters make $51,220.

New Jersey is the highest-paying state in the US for firefighters, with an average salary of ​​$84,930 per year. Next is California, where the average yearly salary is $80,990.

In Washington, firefighters make around ​​$ 76,280 per year, and in New York, it’s $72,670.

Texas is the state with the highest employment, with 29,530 firefighters. The average salary there is ​​$53,310 per year.

Where to get a job as a firefighter

Once you meet the basic eligibility requirements, you can start looking for firefighter jobs.

Our job board is updated regularly with new career opportunities. You can browse firefighter positions in your area to see what's available now. Alternatively, you can look for firefighter EMT positions or firefighter paramedic positions.

While you're there, sign up for a free Jobcase account. You can set up job alerts, chat with other community members, and build your professional network.

Is there a fire department in your area? There may be an official website you can browse. You can use it to learn more about the organization, its values, and the hiring process. There may even be an employment section with an application form.

Starting a career as a firefighter

Can you imagine yourself putting out fires, offering assistance during medical emergencies, and being part of rescue operations? If the answer is yes, a role as a firefighter could be the perfect fit.

There are a few skills you’ll need to work in this field. For example, you’ll need good communication, problem-solving skills, manual dexterity, decision-making skills, and teamwork skills.

Plus, you’ll need to meet the minimum age requirements and have a high school diploma. Consider completing a degree or certificate and working on your fitness.

You’ll have to pass a background check and a series of exams. Then, there’s a training program, followed by a probation period.

Ready for a new challenge? Start your job search today. Visit our resource center for more useful articles.

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