You’ll often hear people saying that it’s never too late to make a career change, and this is often correct. Sure, you can become a teacher, painter, or banker at any age - you’re just changing locations from one office to another.
However, does this advice still apply when it comes to the more active professions, such as being a firefighter? Many people who want to switch careers to firefighting after their 30th birthday will often think one thing - am I too old for all of this?
After all, it’s not the easiest job to do, and many firefighters start their training straight out of college. So, is it possible for you to become a firefighter a little later in life, or has the opportunity passed you by?
You’ll be pleased to know that you can definitely become a firefighter at 30, 40, or even 50 years old. Sure, there are some departments with age limits of 28 or 40, but others have no age limit and recruit people regardless of how old they are.
If you’re struggling to find a department with no upper age limits, volunteer fire fighting organizations often don’t judge you on your age.
Today we’ll be looking at the common age limits for firefighters and why you might not be able to become one depending on how old you are. Let’s get right into it so that you can get an answer once and for all - can you become a firefighter?
Am I too old?
Ah, the question that no one wants to ask in life - am I too old to do what I want to do with my life? Technically, there is no upper age limit for becoming a firefighter. If the department is willing to hire you, you could still become a firefighter only a few years before retirement.
However, that is the exact problem - most fire departments are looking to hire younger and fitter people. Some departments are more strict on this than others, and we know of people who have been hired in their roles at ages 40 or even 50!
The average age that fire departments stop hiring as many people as 35 years old. Anyone under this age shouldn’t worry about being too old in the eyes of the hiring managers, because you’re still fit and able to do everything that the younger trainees can.
You might even be wiser and stronger than them, which is a big plus in your favor.
An example of this would be the Santa Clara County Fire Department in California, which has an average age range of their new firefighters of 21 to 35 years old.
With that being said, other departments do not have an age limit at all. The Seattle Fire Department has no upper age limit and will hire people of all ages to be a new firefighter.
Therefore, there is technically no age limit for firefighters and you are not too old for the switch in career path.
However, we will say that your age might play a role in the restrictions that you might face in your new role, as there are sometimes limited options for firefighters that you can apply for after hitting a certain age.
We will explore these later to see whether it’s worth you applying to the department after all.
What’s the average age of newly hired firefighters?
Thanks to a lot of fire departments having different upper age limits, it is difficult to say with certainty what the average age of new firefighters is. However, it is no secret that most fire departments are looking for young and fresh meat to hire into their roles.
A 21-year-old is like a clean slate that the department can whip into shape however they wish. This person won’t have any poor working habits as this is likely their first job, and they’ll have at least 30 years of working in front of them.
The younger the new firefighter hired is, the better the investment for the fire department. They can train this young person up and utilize them on the force for at least 20 to 30 years, getting the most back from their initial investment.
With that being said, there is still no average age for new firefighter recruits. This is most likely due to all of them having different age limits so the data is inconclusive.
An experienced firefighter would say that the most common ages that they see hired are between 25 and 35 years old, but there are certainly exceptions to this. Don’t be put off of applying just because you are out of this age range, as you can definitely still be hired as a firefighter.
Can you work as a firefighter after retirement age?
While there is no set maximum age for becoming a firefighter, you cannot work for a department once you hit retirement age. This doesn’t only apply to firefighting; however, as you cannot work for any business once you have excelled the legal age to work.
The current full retirement age in the USA is 66 years and 2 months.
This means that if you’re between the ages of 30 and 50, you’re still well within the age limit of being a firefighter. Some departments might even prefer to hire someone older than the youngest age to vary maturity levels and keep the young firefighters in check.
If you’re struggling to find a fire department that will hire you, whether it’s due to your age or not, you can still apply to be a volunteer firefighter.
There are stories of people joining the volunteer fire department at ages 55 and 56, so there’s hope for you yet!
Volunteer firefighters don’t have to worry about any upper age limits, so as long as you can meet the demands of this taxing job, you can be welcomed onto the force. Sure, this isn’t a full-time job and it might not be what you’re looking for, but it is a way to mak
e your dream a reality if there are no departments hiring.
Rockaway Township Fire Department in New York has a volunteer firefighter still going strong at 85 years old!
Volunteering to be a firefighter is a very common thing to do among older people who cannot get hired by fire departments in their area.
This is an incredibly generous thing to do and you’ll often find yourself with many other people around your age, volunteering their time and safety for their community.
However, volunteering as a firefighter is not just for older people, as many young people choose to do this as well. Volunteering can give them a step up into the profession once a job opens up, so you’ll be surrounded by people of a great range of ages.
Volunteer firefighters can be as young as 16 years old, with some departments even hiring people of younger ages.
Of course, they’ll be treated differently than people over the age of 18, with fewer responsibilities and duties. They’ll also often not be able to do much more than observe the work of the other volunteers.
Why are there age restrictions in place?
It’s not intentional that the fire departments discriminate against certain ages. In fact, age restrictions are often only in place because they are what’s best for business.
If they could choose between a 21-year-old with 30 years ahead of him and a 50-year-old with considerably less, they’re going to go for the former to maximize their investment.
However, there are many considerations to think about before discarding a 40-year-old to make way for a 20-year-old. For example, a 40-year-old could be fitter and stronger than a 20-year-old, making them more favorable in the eyes of the fire department.
Generally, though, the 20-year-old will be the fitter applicant. So, you’ll need to prove yourself and show that you can work just as hard and effectively as the younger applicants.
What characteristics do you need to display as an applicant?
There are a few characteristics that you need to show the fire department that you can display to have a better shot of being hired.
As you’ll be older than a lot of the other applicants, you might have to work harder to prove your place on the squad. Unfair, we know - but true. Here are the characteristics that you should work on to increase your chances of being hired.
Physically healthy, fit, and strong
The main killer of firefighters, much to everyone’s surprise, is not burns from fire or smoke inhalation. Instead, it is coronary heart disease. This can be more dangerous to people who are not fit and healthy.
Younger people are less likely to suffer from this and therefore will be at lower risk of contracting this often fatal disease. The fire department doesn’t want you to die due to the job, so they will only hire you if they think you are fit enough to handle it.
Moreover, you’ll be carrying around 75 pounds of equipment every day, for hours without putting it down.
You’ll be expected to climb stairs with it, crawl on the ground while carrying it, and maybe even hold it while you’re carrying another human to safety.
If you’re not strong enough to do this, the department will certainly not hire you over a younger and more fitter applicant.
Mentally fit and prepared for the job
Fire departments will often carry out reaction tests to see if you’re mentally fit enough to deal with the burden that sometimes comes with being a firefighter. On the whole, it is seen that younger people do better on these tests than older people.
Mental health is also seen to decline slightly with age, meaning that you’ll have to prove yourself even further when it comes to mental health.
Ready to commit
We’ve already touched upon this, but it cannot be stressed enough that fire departments want people who are going to be in it for the long haul. This is the biggest area that older people tend to fail in because they’re closer to retirement age than younger applicants.
This doesn’t mean that you definitely won’t get the job; however, as there are many other roles in the fire service that you can take on.
However, younger people will be more likely to land firefighting jobs because they can be trained and used for the longest time.
Overall, you can definitely become a firefighter when you’re 30, 40, or even 50 years old. However, you might find it more difficult to secure a job with a fire department due to your age. Younger applicants are more favorable and therefore will often be hired over older applicants.
This isn’t to say that you definitely won’t be hired, though. There are plenty of success stories of older people becoming firefighters. Plus, if all else fails, you can join the volunteer force and protect the community through that!