Instead of focusing on just the bottom line requirements to be a firefighter, it’s also important to focus on the “recommended” requirements as well. Yes, you can become a firefighter without a college degree, and you can typically also do it if you’ve had some small run ins with the law in the past provided they weren’t felony issues. You can also squeeze by your physical examination even if you aren’t in top shape. The likelihood of you actually landing a spot on the department’s roster though is very minimal if your main goal is to just do “enough to get by.”
What most Fire Chiefs are looking for these days is an all out passion to be the absolute best. Fire Chiefs are looking to hire leaders, not followers when filling the very limited job space that they have to offer. If you want to raise the bar, there are certain things you can do that will ensure that your name is at the top of the list when the second stage of your oral interview comes around. Below is a breakdown of what’s recommended you do if possible before you apply to become a firefighter in any municipality. Obviously some of these recommended requirements may not apply to you, but in general, the more you have done, the better off you will be.
- 4 Year College Degree in Fire Science or Fire Science Technology: If you can’t afford to go to a 4 year school, or you can’t get scholarships, then this might not be an option. While it’s not required to have a 4 year college degree to become a firefighter, it will greatly improve your chances of getting hired in today’s competitive marketplace. You will need to make sure you have everything lined up if you haven’t done any networking or volunteer work and a 4 year degree can definitely set you in the right direction.
- 2 Year Associate’s Degree in Fire Science or EMS Related Field: Already have a 4 year degree? Make an even bigger impression by getting a 2 year associate’s degree in Fire Science or any EMS related field. This will help show that you are not only educated, but that you have the dedication to finish a task when you commit yourself to it. Even if you don’t have a 4 year degree, getting a 2 year degree will only help your chances of getting hired as a firefighter. Some states will let you use some of your 2 year degree fire courses to satisfy some of the Firefighter I certification requirements as long as the school is recognized by the state.
- EMT Certification: Go get your EMT certificate! This is a less overwhelming process than a 2 or a 4 year degree, and it will save you time because depending on your state, you will probably need to get it before you are done with the firefighting academy training courses anyways.
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- Background: We’ve touched on this in previous articles, but it’s worth mentioning again. Keep your background clean and resolve any potential issues before you ever apply. There’s no point drawing attention to yourself if you had a very minor indiscretion in your youth, so be honest and don’t hide anything.
- Credit and Finances: Manage your credit and your finances wisely. Missing payments on bills or having derogatory credit can definitely impact your ability to get hired since it represents your character.
- Honesty: This one is easy… don’t lie… no matter what you need to always be honest. Firefighters are built on integrity and uncovering a lie during the interview process can ensure you are passed over for more honest applicants.
- Respect: Respect your elders, especially senior firefighters. These folks have been around a long time and not respecting your sisters and brethren will almost guarantee you are skipped over for a position.
- Leadership: This is one of the biggest issues going on right now in many fire departments around the country. While there are many good firefighters coming out of the academy every year, there are not as many leaders as fire departments need. It’s important to have people that can lead in any life threatening situation.
- Get your weight in check: Don’t show up for the physical exam or the CPAT overweight! It’s only going to make it harder for yourself. If firefighting is your goal, commit to a solid training regimen so you are in shape when disaster strikes.
- Build Endurance: There are many aerobic exercises that can help you build endurance. You can bike, swim and run – all of them should help you build up your endurance so you can handle the rigors of the physical exam as well as the physical requirements of what the firefighter job requirements actually demand of you.
- Gain Strength: No exercise program is complete without some component of strength training. If you need help prepping yourself for this physically, see my sample firefighter workout which will help you build strength to handle the many parts of the firefighter job that require you to lift and push things of a heavier nature.
Now that we’ve outlined what you need to do in order to get yourself prepped well past the minimum requirements to be a firefighter, it’s your turn to go out and act on it! Get out there and put yourself in the best possible position to land your dream job by following these steps.