Most state requirements are pretty specific when it comes down to brass tax on figuring out what it takes to get employed as a firefighter. You have the application process, the background checks, the written and physical exam. You also have the board interview. But what we haven’t covered is what you can do externally to help prepare yourself for your firefighting career. I want to cover some of the “other stuff” that you can do to show that you mean business and that there is nobody else out there that’s better than you are to land the role. Here are some of the things that you should do if you aren’t doing them already:
Volunteer – We’ve talked about this before here. I’m not going to go into specific details since we’ve already covered it, but the bottom line is that volunteer firefighting is an excellent way to not only get the experience you want, but to network with people in your field. It also shows you have dedication.
Fire Cadet Program – Depending on your state, you might be eligible to become a fire cadet at age 16. There are a lot of states that rely heavily on their fire cadet programs to educate young and aspiring firefighters to jump in at an early age so that firefighting culture is basically second nature to them when it comes time for them to apply to the academy. If you have the opportunity to join a fire cadet program in your state and they allow you to do so between the ages of 16-18, I would STRONGLY recommend you jump on this opportunity. There are a lot of firefighters that would have been extremely happy to have had this program at an early age. Even if you are just “considering” firefighting as a career, I’d encourage you to look into this option if it’s available to you.
Do a Ride Along – While some fire departments and firefighters only want their firefighting brethren to jump on the truck, some cities do allow ride alongs. A lot of firefighters feel they have enough to do without having to worry about babysitting someone that is going to ask a lot of questions, so be prepared for a little bit of resistance depending on the city you live in. Others will welcome it with open arms so the average citizen feels like they have the opportunity to contribute in some small way. If you go this route, again, remember that firefighters have a job to do. Try to limit your questions. It might even be a great idea to write down your questions and visit with a firefighter once you get back to the station so you are not in the way.
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Take the CPAT – We’ve talked about this in our main article. It’s always great to have this done and out of the way early on so you can focus on other things.
Take Firefighter Practice Exams – There’s a ton of information online these days. You can find loads of information on firefighting practice exams and you should be diligent in your research because not all are created equal. One of the best web resources for fire exams is the Don McNea Fire School Website. I would encourage you to check it out and take a look.
Get a 2 year Fire Science or Fire Technology Degree – Even if you have a 4 year degree in another discipline, getting 2 two year degree in either of these disciplines can prove extremely valuable and worthwhile. It will once again show that you are more committed to your craft than the person that shows up standing next to you with no accreditation at all.
Get your EMT Certification – Again, I know we’ve mentioned this briefly in another section of our site, but it’s really a big deal. If you have your EMT certification you are already one leg up on half the people that show up and apply to become a firefighter.
Community Service – Who doesn’t love an Eagle Scout? Good Deeds don’t go unnoticed and show great character. People that participate actively in community service (other areas besides volunteer firefighting) are not only viewed upon more positively, but are typically rewarded with the fact it gives them another strong point on their resume.
Clean up your Resume – Make sure your Resume is clean. Have someone at your local community college or state university review your resume for you. Typically if you are attending any type of class at one of these institutions, they offer a free resume review service.
These steps should give you an excellent idea of what you can do to get a jump on your competition. Remember, becoming a firefighter is a long hard road, so don’t get discouraged and make sure you are persistent in the fact that you are the best person for the job. While actions speak louder than words, making sure you are on top of your game by getting a good jump on these tasks will ensure that you are more prepared than other candidates.