Being a firefighter is not an easy job. It requires a level of physical and mental preparation that not everyone can handle. To see if you’re up for the task, fire departments will require you to attend a fire training academy.
This intense training course will prepare you for the pressures that come with being a firefighter.
Like the job it’s training you for, the academy is not an easy task. Even the very first steps of training require a high level commitment, and it’s just not the right path for everyone. Before you begin day one at the fire academy, you need to be ready for what might be thrown at you.
If you’re thinking of joining the fire academy, then this guide will prepare you for what to expect. We cover what you can expect from the course, and how best to prepare for it.
Firefighting is a difficult job, but a worthy one. By following this guide, you can be ready to face the challenges it throws at you.
What is the fire academy?
If you want to be a firefighter, you will have to attend some sort of fire academy. This is not a job that can be done without training. That training is difficult, but necessary. How much training is necessary will depend on where you work, and the experience you have.
There are two different types of fire academy: College Fire Academy, and Fire Department Hiring Academy.
- College Fire Academy, sometimes known as Firefighter 1 or 2, is a preliminary training course. It’s run through colleges or trade schools, and candidates pay to attend. This is a training program, not a hiring program.
Attending a college fire academy isn’t a necessary step, but it is beneficial. Fire departments will appreciate the effort and willingness, even if it isn’t a mandatory part of the hiring process.
If there are multiple candidates applying for a position, then a Firefighter 1 course may be a requirement.
This also provides potential future firefighters with an opportunity to understand the trade, before they commit to it full time. If you can’t handle a Firefighter 1 course, then you aren’t prepared to be a firefighter.
This course takes roughly 600 hours to complete.
- The Fire Department Hiring Academy is what most people think of when they hear fire academy. This is run by the fire department itself, to train employees. Often this will occur after the hiring process, before you can be sent out on duty. As the training is run by the fire department, it will give employees personalized training, to prepare them for the unique needs of the job. Before attending this course, a candidate will need to pass a physical test, and a written test.
Smaller, local fire departments may not have the budget/time/space for their own academy, and will require prior experience, such as a college training course.
What do you learn at the fire academy?
Fire academy has an intense training schedule. It’s a lot of information, very fast. The things you learn will include:
- Fire safety
- Suppressing and controlling a fire
- The science of fire behavior
- Fire alarms
- Water supply management
- Knots and ropes
- How to force entry to a building
- How to raise ladders
- How to pull a hose line
- First aid and EMT training
- How to wear a hazmat suit or PPE
- Documentation and incident reports
Alongside this, you’ll be put through intense physical training, to ensure your body is up to the task. Training will also vary depending on the state you learn in. Some courses will teach navigating wild lands, but only if it’s relevant to the area.
Fire department academies will give specialized training, which covers the specific needs of the area you’ll be working in.
The training is both physical learning, and classroom learning. It’s vital that a firefighter understands the science behind fire, so they can correctly respond to all types of situations.
There are also drills, which assess how you use your learning. These can be simulated, but at some point you will have to contend with a real fire. A trainee will need to demonstrate that they can work under pressure.
During your training, instructors will be assessing you both on your performance and your role within a team.
Is the fire academy difficult (and what’s the hardest part?)
Think of it like this: do you think being a firefighter is a hard job? If you answered yes, then you can imagine the amount of training that’s required before you can take on the task. (If you answered no, then you’re not ready to be a firefighter).
The fire academy is difficult because it has to prepare you for a career as a firefighter. Firefighters work long hours, are physically tasked, and need to think fast. This is all the kind of thing that’s taught at the academy.
For some, the physical training will be the hardest part of it all. Undoubtedly, the fire academy demands a fitness commitment from every applicant. Before starting, you need to be prepared for the kind of training you will face.
Focus on improving all areas of the body, from strength to endurance.
While most of us expect the physical aspect, some may be surprised by just how mentally challenging the fire academy can be. Fighting a fire isn’t just about pointing a hose.
It’s about understanding how fire works, assessing the dangers, and making an informed choice. Because of this, a large part of the fire academy is studying. Expect to study for long hours, and receive information thick and fast.
You must be serious about this area, because if you fail the tests, you can be kicked out.
Many trainees expect the physical side, but aren’t prepared for the classroom aspect. Because of this, they find the learning to be the hardest part of all.
Finally, you may find that the schedule of the fire academy is the hardest part. This is an intense, full on course. For months at a time, you’re expected to work long hours.
Anytime you aren’t in training will be spent trying to grab a (healthy) bite to eat, refreshing yourself on the information you learned, or fitting in as much sleep as you possibly can. Within all that, you’re expected to remain disciplined, clean, and alert.
If you’re used to working a 9 to 5 job, or you’re even coming straight out of college, the fire academy might be a massive surprise. Remember, it’s just preparing you for the realities of the job.
If all that sounds like too much, then you’re probably not prepared for the fire academy. However, if it sounds like a challenge you’re ready for, then it might be time to start applying.
How to get accepted by the fire academy
Getting accepted into the fire academy depends on the sort of course you’re taking. If you intend to complete a college Firefighter 1 or 2 course, then this is self funded, and a relatively simple process.
Each college will have a different list of prerequisites, but nothing too unusual. Sometimes, the biggest factor is the popularity of the course. They can run out of spaces quickly, so it’s better to get on the list early.
On the other hand, a department hiring fire academy has a fairly lengthy list of requirements. This is essentially getting hired for a job, so they won’t take just anyone. Basic requirements are being above 18, with a high school diploma.
There may be a cut-off age as well, although this varies from department to department. Other forms of education aren’t necessary, but they can definitely help. Especially prior firefighting qualifications, or EMT certifications.
Next, expect to be screened to see if you are mentally and physically healthy. A fitness test is standard, as is a general aptitude test. Expect to have to complete a written test as well. If you fail these, it’s a sign that you aren’t ready for the training.
The fire department is also likely to request a mental health check. Firefighting can be a mentally tough job, so this is done for your own health and wellbeing. You will also need to pass a background check.
If everything else goes well, the department is also likely to want to interview you. This is basically a job interview, and it will assess just how ready you are for a career in firefighting. Remember, they will be paying attention to your personality.
Firefighters need to demonstrate that they can work as a team, and fit in with the rest of the group.
Are you paid at the fire academy?
Again, it depends on which academy you’re attending. A college Firefighter 1 course won’t be paid. In fact, you’ll need to pay to attend.
This isn’t a job, this is a basic training course, therefore you’re expected to fund yourself. These courses are typically between $1000 - $5000. Although you might be put off by the cost, they are a valuable training experience.
It also looks good to potential future employers, as they can see that you’re serious about the job.
If you attend a fire department fire academy, then you probably will be paid. You’re essentially being hired, so you’re paid as an employee. Some departments will pay you less than the full salary, as you’re still going through your training. However, others will pay the full amount.
Can you fail the fire academy?
Yes, you can fail the fire academy, and people do. The reality is that firefighting is not a job for everyone. A person may fail because they don’t have the physical or mental aptitude, they aren’t a team player, or they can’t show commitment.
Your attitude does play a part as well. The fire academy needs to see that you can recognize and respond to authority, work with others, and show a willing attitude. If the academy feels you don’t have the right personality to be a firefighter, then you may be let go.
Failing doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never be a firefighter. It could simply mean that you aren’t ready right now.
However, by the time you figure that out, you may have already put in a significant commitment of time and money. If you’re feeling unsure, it’s better to wait and prepare, rather than rushing in and failing out.
In some cases, failing will mean the end of your firefighting career. If your behavior has been too poor, it can ruin your chances at ever finding work as a firefighter.
How to prepare for the fire academy
The academy can be tough, but there are some things you can do to make it easier.
- Be physically prepared. This is a demanding task, and you need to be up for it, or you’ll fail on the first day. Don’t make the mistake of working solely on your strength. Add in endurance training and cardio, to be prepared all round.
- Understand what’s expected of you. Take some time to learn the basics of the course, whether by looking online or speaking to people who’ve been through it before.
- Understand the commitment - and prepare for a long couple of weeks! Don’t start the fire academy training with a large pile of laundry for the weekend, and a busy social schedule. Your free time will be spent trying to get as much sleep as possible, including many early nights.
- Understand the basics of firefighting. No one’s expecting you to know everything, but if you can get in a bit of preparation, it will help you through those first few days. Training is a lot of information, coming very quickly.
- Create a schedule (and factor in time to sleep). Meal planning, laundry, basic hygiene - when the fire academy has thrown you in at the deep end, routine flies out the window. Make the most of your free time by planning how to use it best.
- Have a positive attitude. If it sounds too intimidating, then you may not be ready for the academy. A positive attitude will help you to build a good team, and to push you through those hardest bits. Helping to foster a friendly atmosphere will make everything that bit easier.
- Remember that you can never be prepared. No matter how ready you think you are, the academy will somehow find a way to demand more of you. You can’t ever be truly prepared for what the course has in store.
Being a firefighter is an incredibly rewarding job, but you do have to work hard for it. An intense training program like the fire academy is a necessary step to prepare firefighters for high pressure situations. It tests every part of you - the physical and the mental.
If you’re interested in applying to a fire academy, then the best thing you can do is prepare.
Look online for videos of training exercises, put in a few more hours at the gym, and read up on what’s expected of a firefighter. If you’re serious about the job, then you must be ready for what it entails.