California is one of the largest states in the country and is the 8th largest economy in the world. California has some of the most dense living quarters per capita, and also has some of the most fire-prone government owned national forest areas in the country. As a result, firefighting careers are in very high demand, but are also highly competitive. You want to make sure you are doing everything possible to set yourself apart from your peers while learning how to become a firefighter in California.
For starters you must meet the following basic requirements:
Be 18 years of age. Possess a High School Diploma or Equivalent. Possess an Emergency Medical Technichian (EMT) Certificate. Some cities will want the candidate to have college level fire training. Some cities will want a Certificate of Completion of California’s “Firefighter 1” or State Fire Marshal’s approved alternative through a regional Fire Academy. Be willing to undergo a criminal background check with the state of California as well as an FBI background screening.
Now that we have covered the basic California requirements, you will want to make sure that you go above and beyond the “bare minimum” to get accepted. There are a number of different routes you can go to make sure that not only does your resume stand out, but that you have attended functions and training sessions that may introduce you to important people that could have influence in your field.
Networking is important in every line of work, and firefighting is no different. Let’s take a look at the 2 basic firefighting roles in the great state of California. Please keep in mind that these are actual job titles – not the certifications that you need to get. California requires you to get your Firefighter I/II certification in the firefighting academy. Once obtained, the job functions below are what you start off as in most counties (Firefighter 1) and move on to when you become full time (Firefighter 2).
Firefighter 1: Someone with the “Firefighter 1” certification to work as a Firefighter 1 in California can be considered employed as a temporary employee. Think of this as the “substitute teacher” of firefighting, except a little more permanent. The Firefighter 1 position usually lasts about 6 months in duration and is the route that many entry level firefighters go as it’s a “testing the waters” type position that usually turns into a more long term job. This is the most common route that most firefighters in California pursue.
Once you’ve served your term as a “Firefighter 1” (keep in mind you can skip this step with the appropriate training) you can move up to become a permanent firefighter, or a “Firefighter 2.” Again, there are a couple of different ways you can get to “Firefighter 2” status, going through the “Firefighter 1” process is generally a good idea for networking opportunities. That being said, as long as you have three months of external firefighting experience, firefighter 1 certification from the Marshal’s approved training academy or a year as a volunteer firefighter, you should be eligible to apply. Keep in mind if you have served in a fire prevention specialist role, your experience can also serve as your 3 months firefighting experience quota and qualify you as long as you’ve taken the appropriate training academy courses.
Firefighter 2: A “Firefighter 2” is the permanent employee role of a firefighter in the state of California. Although there are a couple of routes to get there, this is the most highly sought after role for firefighting in the entire state. It will take hard work and dedication to get this role, or prior firefighting experience is always a plus. If you follow some of the steps above, you will have a much better shot at landing a job as a “Firefighter 2.”As always, there’s not exactly just one way to become a firefighter. There are several different paths to land your dream job. It’s all about persistence and making sure you know the insides and out of the Fire Department you are looking to apply to.
Another great way to get your foot in the door is to volunteer. Volunteering in California will have the same basic requirements as the Firefighter 1 role, but without pay. To have consideration as a volunteer firefighter you will need to register 60 hours of course training at an approved academy, usually over the nights and weekends making it a more flexible option. This is a great option for new high school grads and/or college students as it will help you learn the firefighting ropes as well as get some much needed exposure to some of the higher ranking officials that are in control of the hiring and selection process.
Starting a career in firefighting is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, persistence and a high degree of both mental and physical health. It’s extremely important that in order to properly prepare for all of your required examinations that you stay in top physical and mental shape prior to applying to become a firefighter. The process itself is extremely stressful and strenuous and any leg up you can get on your competition is strongly encouraged. Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a great way to get your foot in the door to help you network. It’s imperative that you focus on honing your skills and making sure you are always one step ahead of the candidate next to you.