How long does it take to become a firefighter?
This is one of the most common questions regarding firefighting and a question you have likely asked yourself if you are thinking about, or aspiring to be, a firefighter.
While the ballpark answer is simple, it is not a definitive answer as, to put it simply, it depends on a number of factors.
These factors include the extra training and educational pursuits you choose to undergo, the fire department itself (or the number of fire departments) that you are open to working for and the general competition you face at the time of your application.
This also does not account for whether you want to be a professional firefighter as a paid vocation or a volunteer firefighter.
So, as you can see, there is no clear answer to this question as every aspiring firefighter candidate is different.
This guide, however, will help to answer this question for you personally.
The Factors Involved
As briefly mentioned, how long it takes to become a firefighter depends on your own personal firefighter journey, as well as the fire department you aim to join.
First off, it is not required to have a college degree to become a firefighter. You can, in fact, become a professional, paid firefighter by passing the minimum requirements, acing the hiring process, before completing the department’s fire academy training and probationary period.
Why do we say that it depends on the fire department? Because the requirements for each fire department are not the same.
The above is one example, but there might be another department that requires extra qualifications such as a paramedic license, a college degree in a fire-related field and some form of volunteer work.
In this case, you would have to invest several years in earning these qualifications. At the same time, however, this can work to your advantage!
Of course, the more qualifications and certifications you have, the more you are going to stand out and the more likely you are going to be hired, therefore speeding up the process to becoming a paid professional firefighter.
This is why it depends!
Professional Firefighter vs Volunteer Firefighter
Do you want to be a professional firefighter or a volunteer firefighter?
This question is important as this also affects how quickly you can become a firefighter - depending on which one you want to be.
Generally speaking, becoming a volunteer firefighter is a faster, easier process. While volunteer firefighting involves the same work, knowledge, mindset and basic training, the process will be longer if you are aiming to be a firefighter as a paid profession.
In other words, you will have to earn your salary if you want to be a professional firefighter.
With this in mind, let’s go over the minimum requirements for becoming a paid professional firefighter.
Firefighter Minimum Requirements
The minimum requirements for becoming a professional firefighter can be broken down into three areas: the “basic” requirements, EMT certification and a clean background.
While you may already have the basic requirements and a clean background, earning EMT certification will require you to study in a practical environment for up to six months.
These requirements are what you will have to present at the application stage for any fire department to be considered for the hiring process.
- 18 years of age (in some cases 21 years of age)
- Legally allowed to work in the US and the state concerned
- US driving license
- High school diploma
- Physically and medically fit
These are all requirements needed to apply to become a firefighter, so if you are not legally able to work or do not have your driver’s license yet, these are things you will have to acquire.
As you are also required to be physically and medically fit, it’s best to start preparing early on! If you do not consider yourself physically fit (not just strong, but having good stamina and endurance), this is something that is worth working on and investing your time in.
Emergency Medical Technician Certification - EMT
In addition to the above, an EMT certification is a requirement for applying to be a firefighter. EMT, which stands for Emergency Medical Technician - involves acquiring knowledge and practical skills for providing effective care and treatment for patients on a foundational level.
As firefighters save lives, this is an understandable requirement and certification to have under your belt.
EMT training generally lasts six months, and does not require any prior medical experience or training.
For a general idea, you can expect to learn life-saving skills such as CPR, giving oxygen, administering medications, resuscitation, trauma response, treating various allergic reactions and asthma attacks, patient extrication and so on.
Firefighters are public representatives and providers of public service. For that reason, one of the minimum firefighter requirements is to have a clean background.
This includes a clean criminal record, good credit score and even a clean social media history (which also has to be maintained). If needed, you will have to clean up your social media profiles and ask friends to remove any public photos of you.
If you do not have a clean criminal record, you must be able to demonstrate how you overcame any past offenses or are currently working to overcome them to stand a chance at meeting this requirement.
Optional Training And Certifications
As touched on above, there are optional training and educational degrees that you can undertake to make you more prepared, and make your application more attractive, as a professional firefighter candidate.
While this requires you to invest extra time and effort - which can be anything up to several years, in theory making the process longer - passing the training and earning the relevant certifications and qualifications can in fact help you get hired faster than usual.
This is because there are many fire departments that prefer to take on candidates who show more dedication in terms of what the job necessitates and represents.
If, for example, you are aiming to work for a specific fire department, the more qualified and trained you are the better chance you have of standing out among the competition and passing the application stage.
In short, you can apply with the minimum requirements and hope to be accepted for the fire department. Or, you can invest some time in bolstering your application, and practical knowledge, to make yourself stand out at the hiring stage.
Paramedic training is an optional program that can be seen as an extension to EMT training.
The courses involved will broaden your knowledge and skills in various medical procedures, life-threatening emergencies, medication administration and so on through a combination of lectures, classes and practical training.
The training can last anything between six months and two years.
As paramedic training succeeds EMT training at an educational level, being an EMT is one of the admission requirements.
Paramedic training will involve medical procedures, cardiology and physiology, medication administration, providing life-saving emergency care and so on. It is not easy - and is more physically demanding than you might think, as well as mentally demanding - but it will serve to provide you with valuable skills in becoming a professional firefighter.
Another way to make yourself stand out from the crowd for the application process is to have a degree in a fire-related field.
This can be fire science, fire technology - anything, in fact, that is considered important to the job of firefighting itself. Once again, this will require taking on an education degree that can last as long as two to four years.
You will also have to pay for any fees involved.
Fire science classes can be an alternative to going to college, and will help to make your application look more attractive to any and all fire departments.
Of course, being a firefighter isn’t just about using a hose and saving lives. You have to know how fire behaves and moves in any given situation or area. Learning about fire science, or fire technology, will help you more than you might think.
Having a degree or any form of educational background in a fire-related course will also prepare you and help you down the line when you have to take the written exam that is part of the application and hiring process.
As firefighting is a public service, you are going to show greater commitment and dedication to the role, when you are applying, if you have some volunteer work under your belt.
This can include any form of firefighting volunteer work or even volunteer experience for a public service-orientated organization or program that is not fire-related.
Requirements for becoming a volunteer firefighter are Fire Academy certification, EMT certification and a clean background.
As for public service volunteering, this can be charity work, community events or programs that help the local community in any way.
The bottom line here is that going the extra mile to provide some kind of public service work as a volunteer is going to show any fire department that you have the right character to become a professional firefighter - that is, you care about the community and are inclined to put others first.
Fire Academy 1
Fire Academy 1 is a college program that can further prepare you for becoming a firefighter (volunteer firefighter and professional firefighter) as well as help you to look more appealing and dedicated as a firefighter applicant.
The program can last up to 24 weeks, during which you will apply your EMT knowledge and learn firefighter basics through classes, physical tests and manipulative skills training (practical evolutions involving equipment under various situations).
You will also have to pay the academy fees yourself.
Fire Academy 1 operates on a first come, first served basis, so it is best to get your application in early.
While every fire department will put you through their own fire academy training after the hiring process, having a FireFighter 1 certification will have you prepared beforehand and can increase the chances of you being hired in the first place.
To give you an idea of what to expect in Fire Academy, some of the firefighter basics you will have to learn include fire science, fire control, firefighter safety, PPE, how to tie various knots, different types of alarms and extinguishers, the various hoses and nozzles, rescue and extrication, hazardous materials, ventilation and more.
So, you have met the minimum requirements and have acquired some of the certifications. How do you get hired as a firefighter?
You might have a particular fire department in mind close to where you live, or you might be more open.
The fact is, the more applications you send out to near and far fire departments, the higher your chances will be of getting accepted - therefore speeding up the process of becoming a professional firefighter.
Fire departments tend to hire in batches - rarely on a single person basis - which can mean you can spend months or years waiting to be accepted if you are only choosing to apply to one specific fire department.
Again, the more certifications and qualifications you have, the more attractive your application will be.
There is usually a lot of competition when it comes to the batch hiring process, so this will make you stand out. In other words, if you only apply with the basic requirements, you can expect to be considered after those who are more qualified.
The processing of your application itself can also take months, depending on the fire department. And this can involve physical tests, written tests, interviews, background checks and medical exams.
Therefore, it’s best to go into the application process as prepared as possible!
If your application is accepted, you will then become a firefighter recruit. This will involve around six months of Fire Academy recruit training, during which you will learn firefighter basics.
If you earned a Firefighter 1 certification at a Fire Academy college, you will still have to go through this process. However, you will be better prepared.
The firefighter recruit training will test your physical endurance, knowledge and field skills through a program of classes, physical tests and manipulative training. It is both mentally and physically challenging.
You will also learn firefighter work ethic and how to fit in and work with others as a team.
Again, you will have to learn and apply skills in fire science, fire control and suppression, firefighter safety, PPE, ropes and knots, types of alarms and extinguishers, hoses and nozzles and which ones to use, rescue and extraction, hazardous materials, ventilation, water supplies and lots more.
The probationary period is the final stage of becoming a paid, professional firefighter. Consider yourself hired at this point, where you will perform public firefighter duties with a paid salary.
Probation can last anything up to a year or two years, depending on the fire department and how well you perform in the role.
You will also be under constant supervision to ensure you are employing all the necessary practical skills, training knowledge and are fitting in as a firefighter who can work well in a team.
As a result, you will continue to develop further skills and knowledge from your experience working in the field.
Probation will come to an end when your fire department supervisor decides you are ready to become a fully-fledged professional firefighter.
So… How Long Does It Take?
As you can see, there are many factors involved in becoming a professionally paid firefighter, which makes it impossible to give a definitive answer.
The factors include where you apply, how many fire departments you apply for, how physically fit you are and whether you stand out from the competition with the certifications you choose to invest time in achieving before you even apply.
In general, however, the process to becoming a professional firefighter can be anything from 3 years to 5 years - sometimes longer.
If you want to be a volunteer firefighter, the time frame is much shorter.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Every firefighter journey is different, so it’s important to remember that it really depends on the amount of dedication you are willing to put into becoming a professional firefighter.
It’s also important to make sure to enjoy the process.
While earning the title of a paid, professional firefighter might seem a long way off at first, throughout the process you are learning everything you need to know and picking up the necessary skills in becoming a firefighter.
And, of course, it’s not easy being a firefighter, or training to become one!
Similar to military training, becoming a firefighter involves raw dedication and a tough mindset.
You will be challenged both physically and mentally, through classes, practical exercises, fitness tests and real-life drills - whether through college or recruit training - often taking up the same number of hours as a full-time job.
And at the end of the day, you will still have to squeeze in a few hours to study.
So, do you think you have what it takes?