How To Become a Firefighter in Illinois

Illinois is home to Chicago which is the third largest city in the nation and home to many landmarks including Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.  Three U.S. presidents were Illinois residents.  Illinois has an unfortunate history of fires, including the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  These events contributed to a strong history of firefighting in Illinois that is honored to this day.  Being a firefighter in Illinois continues to be an excellent upwardly mobile career path with many opportunities for training, support and certification.  Budgets for firefighting, especially in Chicago, fluctuate but hiring remains steady in smaller communities.  Opportunities still arise in the Chicago occasionally, especially to firefighters who earn advanced certification, fire science degrees or develop investigation skills.

Today we will cover the steps of how become a firefighter in Illinois.  Many departments have additional requirements or may require additional testing via the state certification program.  Contact individual departments regarding additional requirements if you are considering employment with them.  This is the case for both career and volunteer fire departments.

Before embarking on this career journey, a potential firefighter must be between the ages of 21 and 35 and complete the following training programs:

•    Emergency Medical Services (EMT-B);
•    Basic Operations Firefighter (BOF);
•    Paramedic License (EMT-P); and
•    Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) or department equivalent.  

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    Additional requirements depending on department may include college degrees (make sure to look at scholarship programs), completion of certification classes, or attendance at fire academies run by that department.  Some departments may be willing to hire once you complete your EMT-B training and will allow you to finish the remaining training as an employee.  However, a few departments require the completion of all four training programs before even reviewing your application.  Some of the duties you can expect to do as a firefighter are covered in our firefighter job description page as well.

    Certification courses are offered by the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal.  They help departments assess the qualifications of their applicants and encourage continuing education for current staff.  These courses are available once you are hired with a fire department or fire district.  Topics addressed in these programs include:

    •    Fire behavior;
    •    Building construction;
    •    Safety;
    •    Communication;
    •    Forcible entry
    •    Ventilation;
    •    Extinguishers; and
    •    Equipment care, maintenance and best use.

    Certifications programs take six to eight weeks and are offered in classroom format or online.

    While in training, especially if you have not secured work, consider working as a volunteer firefighter.  As a volunteer you can use your skills as you look for work and gain valuable experience in this field.  Volunteer departments often work alongside the career departments so there is a chance of being offered a permanent position if you prove your skills.

    Requirements for volunteer firefighters generally include the following:

    •    Live in the district of the volunteer department
    •    Attendance at training sessions
    •    Meet physical fitness requirements (using the CPAT or equivalent)
    •    Be at least 18-21 years old (minimum age varies by department)

    Just like career positions, volunteer departments may also have extra requirements.  Contact your local fire department to check for volunteer opportunities and ask about specific requirements.

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