How to Become a Fireman in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a firefighter. Learn about qualification requirements, job duties, training and options for advancement to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Fire Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Firefighter Do?

As a firefighter, you'll be part of a team that responds to medical emergencies, rescues people involved in traffic accidents and puts out fires that threaten lives, property or the environment. In addition to this, firefighters prepare incident reports and provide safety education to the public. To maintain their stamina, they must complete drills and physical fitness training. They must also complete hazardous materials training. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a firefighter.

Degree Required High school diploma; some departments may require some college
Training Required Training is provided by department's fire academy; some departments may participate in accredited apprenticeship programs; training at National Fire Academy may be available
Key Responsibilities Respond to emergency calls and put out fires in structures, vehicles or other locations; operate fire trucks and specialized equipment such as pumps, ladders and hoses; rescue victims from fires, accidents or other dangerous situations; submit written reports
Licensure and/or Certification Certification as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) may be required; certification as Executive Fire Officer is available from National Fire Academy
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%*
Median Salary (2015) $46,870*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Firefighter?

As a firefighter, you face situations where you must utilize your knowledge of construction materials and building layout to break down doors, windows, rooftops and other obstructions to gain access to burning buildings to rescue people who can't get out themselves. You'll provide medical assistance to those suffering from smoke inhalation, burns or other medical emergencies.

Firefighters are employed in many industries but most work for public agencies such as cities and counties. As a firefighter, you'll respond to emergencies at all hours of the day in all types of weather conditions, wearing fire-resistant clothing, helmets and breathing equipment. To keep your skills sharp and your body fit, you'll participate in drills and exercise programs. You'll also be responsible for equipment like fire extinguishers, high-pressure water hoses, ladders, core cutters, axes and electric saws, which require routine cleaning and maintenance.

Step 1: Become a Certified Emergency Medical Technician

Most fire departments require firefighters to become certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics because they often respond to medical emergencies. Whether your state uses the National Registry for Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam or a state-mandated exam, you will need to complete an EMT training program that includes both classroom and hands-on components. EMT-Basic and paramedic courses are available at community colleges or at certain fire departments.

Step 2: Obtain a Degree

A college degree is not required to work as a firefighter. But to increase your chances in this competitive field, you can obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree in majors such as fire science, through programs at community colleges and universities. A 2-year fire science program may include subjects such as fire prevention, fire protection systems, strategy and tactics, hazardous materials chemistry and wild land firefighter.

If you're pursuing a bachelor's degree, some universities will allow you to transfer the credits earned from your associate's degree. A bachelor's degree in fire and safety engineering may offer courses such as building construction, fire scene reconstruction, fire investigation and analysis, fire protection hydraulics and water supply and industrial fire safety.

Step 3: Meet the Necessary Qualifications

To become a firefighter, you must pass a physical examination that measures your strength and physical stamina. Written examinations are also required. You'll need to submit to a pre-employment drug screening as well as periodic drug testing after being hired.

Step 4: Undergo Training at a Fire Department Academy

After you have been hired by a fire department, you must participate in basic firefighter training for several weeks at a fire academy or training facility. Through classroom and hands-on training, you'll learn about building codes, firefighting techniques and emergency medical tactics. You'll learn how to properly use firefighting and rescue equipment. If available, you may want to consider an apprenticeship fire training program.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Firefighters who have gained job knowledge and experience and who are ready for leadership roles may seek advancement to positions such as fire engineer, lieutenant, fire captain and fire chief. You'll find most positions of authority require at least a bachelor's degree. Promotions will depend on upon seniority, written examination scores, job performance and recommendations from supervisors.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers protect establishments from criminal activity. Correctional officers supervise inmates awaiting jail or prison; they enforce safety and security regulations. In both of these alternative careers, a high school diploma or the equivalent is also the only educational requirement.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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