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Learn How to Become a Firefighter

By reading our informational guide, you can find out how to become a Firefighter and focus on the right steps when it comes to training and education.  When I first started looking at a career in firefighting I became frustrated with the lack of educational resources available about firefighting careers.  No matter where I went, there were websites of nothing but useless information on how to get started in this field.

Because of that, I set out to help people get their firefighting careers started off on the right foot. How many kids out there have their first big career dream of being a firefighter?  I know it was one of mine from the time I was old enough to play with fire trucks under the Christmas Tree.  We are here to help you start your firefighting career off on the right foot!

Is Becoming a Firefighter Difficult?

What most people looking to break into the field don’t realize is that becoming a firefighter is not only difficult, but it’s extremely competitive. The competition is stiff and the selection process can be taxing.  You absolutely must have guts of steel to become a firefighter in today’s competitive environment.  Firefighting is a dangerous and taxing job, but it has some of the most satisfying rewards.  Our goal is to help educate you as much as possible to help make sure you have a great shot at landing your dream job by walking you through how to become a firefighter.   There are certain requirements you will need to meet to become a firefighter and we will outline those requirements in detail so you have all the right information to help you along the way.

Requirements to Become a Firefighter:


There are a lot of requirements you need to clear if you are going to become a firefighter.  Like any job in any career field, just hitting the “bare minimum” amount of requirements isn’t going to cut it.  You need to do everything you can to set yourself apart from your competition.  Most states require you to go through close to 600 hours of active firefighting training during attendance at a fire academy or local training program.  You can expect to spend about 3-4 months completing these training courses at the firefighter academy or whichever program you attend to get your certification.
Don’t expect a 40 hour work week. You will be responsible for working through all your course requirements through the local fire academy which you attend which is usually a division of the state or somehow tied to the state programs.  Sometimes training courses are tied to local community colleges or state universities as well.

  • You need to make sure you are 18, and some states/government agencies will require you to be 21 (This doesn’t include “cadet” programs which often start at age 16).
  • You’ll need to have your high school diploma at a minimum or have the GED Equivalent.
  • Be in top physical shape – you will need to be capable of handling some of the most demanding tasks a person can handle, especially under extreme heat and stress.
  • You’ll need to be able to pass a criminal background check and not have any prior felonies in most states.  Private Industries may view this differently (think oil companies).
  • You’ll need 20/20 vision, or at least have the ability to correct your vision to 20/20 status.

As discussed, firefighting is extremely competitive and there are a couple more reasons why.

  • Some Municipalities only have hiring windows in a 1-2 year period.
  • Some State and Local Governments give preferential treatment to cadets or volunteers (this is to be expected given that these individuals have experience with these departments).
  • Depending on the hiring faction (government or private party) some departments may require you to have at least college classes or related certifications.
  • Many Applicants already have EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification to work as a Paramedic before ever starting their career as a firefighter.
  • As competition has gotten more fierce, so has Education.  Many aspiring Firefighters are going after 4 year degrees in fire science before ever applying to become a firefighter.

The Training Academy or Recruit Fire Training Program:

In figuring out the best path of how to become a firefighter, you have to know some important things about the training program.  Before you enter the Academy you’ll need to clear some other basic requirements/exams.  You’ll need to clear the Candidate Physical Ability Test otherwise known as the CPAT.  You’ll need to pass a written exam which will challenge your problem solving skills, comprehension, retention and spatial awareness.  You will also have to pass a medical exam.  First let’s cover the CPAT.

Here’s what you can expect during the CPAT:

firefighter picture
  • Stair Climb Endurance Training
  • Hose Drag
  • Equipment Carrying Drill
  • Ladder Raise Test
  • Forcible Entry for Safety
  • Search Training
  • Rescue Training
  • Ceiling Breach

The CPAT is timed, and will absolutely put your physical endurance to the test.  This is going to show both your peers and your trainers that you are physically equipped and fit enough to handle the grueling day to day demands that are going to stretch you thin as a firefighter.  The reason you need to be proficient and fit in all of these tasks is that you can expect to do each one of these on a daily basis, whether it’s just training drills at the fire station or real world application in a life threatening fire event.

The next piece of this puzzle is the written exam:

To excel in the written exam you absolutely have to study.  There are a lot of great online programs out there that can prep you for your role and get you to where you need to be in order to pass the written exam.  A lot of the questions are based upon common sense, but some of them will challenge your problem solving and analytical skills.  Here are just a couple tips to help you with your written exam:

  • Take your time.  There’s no sense in rushing yourself to provide the wrong answer.  If you feel overwhelmed, take a breath.
  • Understand the question and make sure you read it in detail.
  • If you are having problems with a multiple choice question – first thing you need to do is eliminate the bad answers.  Then make an educated choice between the remaining good ones.  This is done by many test strategists across the country and the firefighter exam is no different.
  • Study.  You can’t just walk in and wing it – and if you do, maybe firefighting isn’t a career you should be getting into, because studying for an exam will be the least of your worries when rushing into a burning building.

The Medical Exam:

Next you’ll need to pass a medical examination.  To pass the medical exam you really only need to focus on making sure that you are in top physical condition.  Usually if you were healthy enough to pass the CPAT, the medical examination shouldn’t be too hard for you to get through.  Just make sure you are in top shape, have eaten healthy and are ready to go.

Once you get into the Firefighter Training Academy:

This is the exciting part of answering the “how to become a firefighter” question.  During the academy, you’ll be participating in classroom coursework, exams and best of all, live fire training.  During live fire training, expect to work with trainers and peers on the best strategies to combat fires and get them under control.  You will be supervised, but you always need to be careful because live fire is not something to joke around with.  This last piece of the puzzle is where you really need to work to set yourself apart, because it’s the closest you are going to get when it comes to real life situations and will show people that you know exactly what you need to do in order to save lives when it counts.

What kind of equipment do firefighters use in live fire exercises?

To participate in a live training exercise, the trainee usually has to “suit up” in their firefighting gear.  This gear is specialized firefighting gear that can handle heat up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit.  There are many requirements that firefighting gear has to meet in order to be sanctioned for live use by firefighting agencies.  The typical firefighter gear consists of a fire coat, gloves, boots, pants and a helmet.  You also have a breathing mask that’s referred to as an SCBA or “Self Contained Breathing Apparatus”.  Keep in mind that even though most fire gear can withstand these excessive flesh melting temperatures, that it’s still extremely hot inside these suits!  In fact, many firefighter related injuries are actually not what most common civilians would consider “injuries” at all.  Most firefighter related injuries pertain to “heat stress” which gets much more prevalent in the summer months, especially in hotter climates like Arizona and California.  Heat stress is a whole topic in and of itself, so let’s move on.

Is live fire training important?

Live Fire Training is probably the most important part of any type of fire training for new firefighter recruits.  This is often times the make or break part of any new firefighting career.  It exposes the weaknesses and shows off the strengths of all the new candidates that are looking to break into this field.  It’s a great team building exercise, but make no mistake about the fact that it’s also extremely competitive and you are going to have to be at the top of your game to make sure everyone knows you are miles apart from your competition.

Live Fire training drills walk new recruits through the rigors of real life fire situations and help them to get accustomed to acting calm during high stress and high pressure situations.  This training is the best type of prep work that a new firefighter recruit can get.  It’s extremely important to stay frosty and alert during any situation that involves real fire let alone when you have someone’s life on the line.  During a live fire training drill, instructors set a “burn building” on fire and walk new trainees through the process of what’s required to put out the fires.

firefighter picture

What are Burn Buildings and live fire exercises?

Burn Buildings are mostly old abandoned buildings owned by the state and sanctioned for firefighting use during training exercises.  These days, almost every state municipality that employs firefighters has the ability to practice live fire simulations at a burn building so you will more than likely get the chance to train inside one.  These buildings are set on fire by fire instructors and are heavily watched and monitored by fire instructors in order to ensure that there are no issues during training.  Usually a team of senior firefighters will assist during burn building exercises to ensure that there are no complications and that the fires stay under control.

There are several types of live fire training burn buildings.  All of them are used for different training purposes and there are many different questions a fire department has to ask before acquiring a burn building when determining how to use it and what it should be used for.  Below are some of the types of building questions that you will need to solve for while participating in these drills.  Keep in mind that most Fire Departments analyze buildings that they want to pick and choose them for training on specific situations.

  • What’s the Building Made of?  Steel?  Brick?  Wood?  Concrete?
  • Where are my Exit Points?
  • Am I looking at narrow or wide corridors or halls?
  • Is this building in close proximity to another or is it isolated?
  • What’s the main objective?  Search and Rescue?  Fire Control?

While there are many other questions and issues you will have to analyze before tackling your first burn building, these are some of the most basic issues that you are going to need to address right off the bat before making a snap judgment on what route to proceed with.  Fire Departments put a lot of time into making the burn building selection process, so don’t underestimate why a building was used and make sure you are aware of the exact circumstance before acting on your plans.

Wrap Up:

Hopefully this general overview has given you some good insight into the world of firefighting and what to expect when figuring out how to become a firefighter in today’s job market.  There is still a lot of information that can help you land your ultimate dream job as a firefighter and we plan to make sure you understand as much as possible when it comes to making what could be the best career choice of your life.  On top of the training experiences, you also need to be aware of the interview and resume experience needed to get into this field as well.  Please take some time and look around at all the information we have provided at our site and hopefully all your questions get answered so you know what path you need to take to get into your desired role.

A common means to ensure glowing testimonials that virtually guarantee easy admission into the candidate’s desired training program(s) is formal fire science or emergency management training. This move always goes to prove ambition, drive and strong determination.