Most fire departments have firefighter recruitment programs. The programs vary widely from state to state across the US. You should check the local fire departments for basic requirements. Some of the basic firefighter recruitment requirements include:
Basic entrance requirements
18 or 21 years old. Some areas will accept 17 yrs. and some areas will have an age limit. In New York City the maximum age is 29.5 years unless you have military exemption.
Have high school diploma or GED. Of course getting more advanced education is better. This cannot be stressed enough. Most people want to get by with the minimum. An advanced education will help you stand out from other prospects. You need to remember that many fire departments require some sort of continuing education. Some states require monthly continuing education to maintain your EMT/Paramedic certification or license. Getting in the habit of keeping up-to-date is important and having a strong educational foundation will help you stand out from the rest.
Hold a valid vehicle drivers license with clean driving record. This is another no-brainer. At times you will be expected to drive a truck or engine. How could you expect to get hired if the fire chief can’t trust you to drive a $300,000 apparatus?
Be a US Citizen or legal resident. Do I really need to explain this one?
Be a non-smoker in good physical condition and pass physical fitness tests. You will be wearing full bunker gear and expected to climb ladders, carry hose under high pressure, operate heavy equipment, and crawl in small spaces. Full bunker gear includes a helmet, boots, trousers, turnout coat, air tank and other tools. Bunker gear can weigh up to 50 lbs. You also need to put the bunker gear on quickly with most departments requiring 2 minutes or less to suit up. Physical tests can include stair climbing, ladder raise and extensions, forcible entry, search and rescue, and equipment carry.
Pass written examination. Most departments have a pass/fail with minimum passing significantly higher than 70% passing grade. You should take as many practice and real tests as possible. Remember that some cities can have applicant testing pools as high as 2000-3000 candidates. Scoring well above 70% will help you stand out and get to the interview.
Have current EMT/Paramedic certification or Paramedic License. A majority of the response calls are EMS related. You also should have updated CPR certification. Many fire departments want candidates that are cross trained with EMT/Paramedic certification or Paramedic License. In some fire departments this is mandatory and a candidate won’t be given a chance to interview.
Firefighter 1 Certification. This will give you an idea of what is expected of a firefighter while on the job. NFPA 1001 is a fire code based on knowledge and skills requirements for the firefighter 1 and 2 designation. See the post titled “Firefighter 1 Certification and Academy” for more information.
Pass Background Check. The fire department wants to hire someone with a clean record. Fire departments work hard to earn the trust of the community. Any type of scandal or controversy can ruin a fire departments reputation and take years to re-build the trust of the community. It is much easier to maintain a clean image. Fire departments don’t like to take that kind of risk and don’t need to because of the large candidate pool.
Bonus – A few more items in firefighter recruitment.
Volunteer. Participation in a volunteer program other than a volunteer fire department. There are many candidates that have experience with a volunteer fire department. Showing participation and leadership in other programs helps you to stand out from the rest. Some good organizations include American Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, Feed the Children, and many others.
Specialized Training. Obtaining EMS Certificates (Basic Trauma Life Support, Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support) or training certificates from the State Fire Marshall (Auto Extrication, Swift Water Rescue, Confined Space Operations)
Bilingual Ability. If you know any type of secondary language make sure to include on your resume. Many fire departments take this into account during the hiring process. Spanish fluency in southern California,New Mexico, Arziona, or Texas would be extremely helpful. Not only Spanish is useful, make sure to let the fire department know of any language fluency you have.