Being a firefighter is a dream of many people, but how exactly do you get there? How do you get to the point where you are taking home a paycheck for saving countless lives?
In reality, the answer to the question can vary depending on a number of different factors.
Usually, it tends to take the vast majority of individuals from 3 to 5 years in order to get to the point where they are a professional firefighter that’s earning money for their career.
Of course, this can sometimes change. If you want to become a volunteer firefighter then it will usually take you a lot less time.
We know - this is a slightly vague response, but the reality is that the amount of time that it can take depends on so many different things.
Sometimes people take less time to reach their goal, whereas for others it may take a little more time. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive answer, keep on reading.
How Long Does It Take to Get Hired?
Oh, the billion dollar question. If you’re looking to become a firefighter, you may be amazed to learn just how long it can take to get hired as a professional firefighter.
It’s not as insane as you may think though - there are various firefighting departments throughout America, and thus there isn’t one single timeline that you can go by.
In some cases it’s possible to join the fire service if you only have a diploma from high school. In other situations you may need to get some particular qualifications, and these can take quite some time to complete.
Of course, the hiring requirements aren’t the only reason that it takes so long to become a firefighter.
It’s ultimately down to the fact that there are a lot of people looking to get this kind of job, meaning that it’s harder to find yourself in the role. This is the case even when there aren’t very high entry requirements.
You also need to consider how nuanced the term ‘firefighter’ can be.
There are a lot of things that people can mean - are you referring to an individual with a career in a fire department, a person that is good at fighting physical fires, or do you mean someone that’s a jack of all trades when it comes to the fire service?
Now that we have all of that covered, we’re going to break down a few of the things that you may need to do in order to become a firefighter, in addition to the length of time that it may take to complete all of the criteria.
Becoming a Firefighter: How Long Will It Take?
Let’s just break down a couple of things that it takes to become a firefighter. Once we have done this, we’ll cover the duration that it may take to complete each aspect of the training.
Let’s just say that we combine all of the time that it takes to get hired, get trained, pass probation, learn fire science and then training as a paramedic.
All of that time combined could take a whopping 14 years in some cases. In other cases though, it could take as little as 5 years.
You may not need to do every single bit of training in order to become a firefighter, of course. In addition to that, all of the different steps could take varying amounts of time. Ultimately it depends on the fire department that you are applying to.
In some cases, you can also do a number of steps at once. For instance, you can do your Fire Science classes at the same time as you are in EMT school.
Here are the 7 key steps to becoming a firefighter that you need to consider.
The Path to Becoming A Firefighter
Sometimes it is possible to become a firefighter so long as you have a High School Diploma or a GED.
In most circumstances though there are other things that you need to do in order to increase your opportunities of achieving your dream of becoming a firefighter.
In the vast majority of fire departments, it will be a requirement to have at least a few of these qualifications before you even stand a chance of becoming a firefighter.
You don’t always need to do every one of these steps to get this career, but in most cases you will be competing against other candidates who already have some of this training.
Paramedic or EMT Training
One of the first things that most firefighting departments are going to expect to see on your resume is a basic EMT certification.
This is because a lot of fire departments also run a lot of medical calls, so it’s important that firefighters are well prepared for the medical part of their career.
If you wish to have a better chance of becoming a firefighter then it can also help to become a licensed paramedic. This will make it a whole lot more likely that you will find a role.
This can take an additional year of training to do but it’s worth it for all of the extra doors that it will open. In some cases a fire department might only hire someone who is a licensed paramedic.
Fire Science Degree
In the past, the fire service wasn’t a job that would require a great deal of training - all you would need is a basic high school education.
As time has gone on, however, it is expected that would-be firefighters can do so much more, and this requires an advanced level of learning.
In some cases a lot of fire departments don’t need you to have a degree from college, but you can certainly increase your chances of getting the job if you manage to get a higher level of education.
It certainly helps you to stand out in a highly competitive industry.
A college degree is always a useful thing to have, even in the fire service. For this reason, a lot of firefighters opt to do some degree training in the field of fire science.
You can complete the college course in 2 years if you decide to get an associate degree. If instead you prefer to go for a 4 year bachelor’s degree, you’ll find that it’s much easier to advance in your career later down the line.
If you don’t like either of these options, you can instead go to fire science classes that can make you stand out as a candidate. You’ll find it much easier to pass the written exam if you have taken these classes too.
It can take quite some time to become a professional, paid firefighter. This is not so much the case when you want to be a volunteer. If you have a volunteer position on your resume, you can be sure that you will stand out from the crowd.
As a professional, you will be trained and you will perform much like other professional firefighters. As such, this lets your future employer know that you are suitable to be a professional firefighter.
It’s possible to get experience by volunteering for other organizations and programs that aren’t directly related to the fire service. It’s a good sign of your resolve if you are willing to spend some time helping others. It makes a big difference to recruiters.
Applications and Getting Hired
The next thing that you need to do is fill in an application and go through the hiring process. This can consist of things like doing background checks, passing tests and more, so you can imagine that this will take a while.
It’s also worth noting that training firefighters can be quite demanding, so a lot of fire departments will hire people in groups, rather than hiring one person at a time.
As such, it may take some time before you even notice a job listing for the fire department in question. You may see one four months from now or in 5 years - it’s often hard to predict.
With that being said, it’s best not to wait around. Apply to all sorts of different fire departments as this will increase your chances of getting the role. Even if you don’t initially succeed, it can help you to be more knowledgeable about the testing process.
If you do this then it means you are much more prepared when the perfect role comes along.
In general, the application and hiring process can take from 6 to 8 weeks at the earliest. In some cases it can even take as long as a year, sometimes more.
You will need to complete a written test, an application, a physical agility test, a background check, interviews and a medical exam. As such, you could expect to spend from 2 months to 5 years trying to find a job to even get into the fire service.
Your journey doesn’t end with getting the job either! Now you’re in the early days as a firefighter recruit. You are fresh meat, and that means that things are going to start to get tough.
To begin with, you can expect to have around 6 months of basic training as a recruit. During this time, you will start to learn the key skills you are going to use, the way that different things work and you will start to fit in with the people that you work with.
Of course, you can alternatively put yourself into a college Firefighter 1 Academy before you even get the job. This is ideal if you want to know more about the basics before you start, and it can help you to adjust to the role much more easily.
You may find that the timeline and schedule can be quite different for these academies, however.
These very early days of your career are going to be all about getting used to the job and learning how to do it effectively. This is known as your probation period, and this time can last from one to two years.
During this time, you will be learning from your seniors and any training that you have had will be put to the test. You’ll begin to learn more about what life is like in the fire station - it’s a good chance to figure out whether the role is right for you.
At this point, you are going to be constantly supervised and tested. Once the period is done, your supervisor will make a decision about whether or not you can move on to becoming a professional firefighter.
Even once you have passed your probation, you still have plenty to learn about being a great firefighter!
You are always learning and training as a firefighter. You may need to review skills that you don’t use very often, or you may need to read new protocols for EMS.
You may also need to familiarize yourself with new equipment, learning new skills so that you can advance in your role or you may change your position entirely. A firefighter never stops learning.
This will help you to learn more about your firefighting craft, and it will also help you with working in large teams. If you wish to lead a team of firefighters in total, then doing this is also worth your time.
It’s important to note that as a firefighter, it is your job to pursue your own development.
Don’t just think that you’re all out of learning as soon as you’re paid and you are passed your probationary period. You need to recognize that there is always room for learning, and there are always opportunities to become more informed about what you do.
What Are The Minimum Requirements?
So what are the essentials for when you are trying to become a firefighter? The most important thing is that you have a high school diploma.
You need to be able to handle the most intellectually challenging aspects of the role. Any firefighter is going to want to know if you have what it takes.
That’s not all you need, either. You also need to ensure that you are physically fit. The department will make you take a CPAT test and this is rather demanding. You need to have a clean record too, or you should have the ability to show the department that you understand where you have previously gone wrong and you are making active attempts to improve things.
In addition to this, it’s important that your social media history is clean. Get rid of any of those incriminating photos on your social media, and don’t do anything that may be looked upon badly on your field. You should have a good credit score too, and have some history of helping in your community, such as through volunteer work.
When you get to the application process, you are also going to need to pass the written test, the psychological test and the interviews.
It may seem obvious to say, but there are a lot of criteria that you need to meet in order to become a firefighter so it’s important that you keep this in mind.
How long is the path to becoming a firefighter? Ultimately, the answer can depend on so many different things. There are many factors affecting the length of time that it takes.
As we have established, things like doing a college degree, doing paramedic training and so much more can take a lot of time to do, and this time can all add up before you even get to the application process.
Then you have to consider the length of the application process, which can take longer than a year in some circumstances.
If you want to become a professional, paid firefighter then the process generally takes between 3 to 5 years, depending on entry requirements and the fire department in question. If you want to be a volunteer firefighter then it tends to take less time.
The main thing to remember is that yes, it can take some time to become a firefighter, but it’s certainly worthwhile to have a rewarding career.
Firefighting is the kind of career that is well suited to individuals who want to help people, and who are willing to put in the work to have a fulfilling career. So long as you are willing to make the effort and spend the time, you are sure to get that role of your dreams in the blink of an eye.