During my career I have met a lot of people that want to become a firefighter. Some ask for advice, and some just think they will get the job whenever they want. I’m not sure why they think they can just announce they are ready to get hired, but that theory doesn’t really work.
Let me start by saying that getting hired as a firefighter is a very competitive process. It is common to have hundreds of applicants for one or two positions. Getting through the process is very difficult and ending up on the top of the eligibility list doesn’t come by accident.
Fire departments used to hire a lot of people from the trades. If you were a painter or roofer you had some ladder experience so you had a good chance of getting hired. Plumbers and carpenters were commonly hired, you could walk into a fire station and find enough people to build, wire, and plumb your entire house.
Today there are a lot of requirements before you even get the opportunity to join the testing process. Many departments require paramedic certification. If you are planning on testing for one of those departments, you better plan ahead because it will take you at least 2 years of school, training, and internship before you will be certified.
Testing processes use many components to trim down the pool of applicants. Actually a lot of the process is designed to eliminate candidates that aren’t considered “ideal”. If you want to get hired, you need to make sure you don’t give them a reason to cut you from the list. Your background investigation will dig up everything you have done from childhood to present. Expect neighbors, past and present, to be interviewed and asked about your character. If you were that punky kid throwing snowballs at cars or drinking in the alley, it will be in your file. All those cool pictures of you standing on your head next to the beer keg will be found. And if you have any kind of arrest or discipline, it’s all on the list.
Politics and firefighting don’t mix. A lot of people think getting involved in politics will help you get hired. In a few cases, backing the right candidate may help but a good rule of thumb for firefighter candidates is keep your opinions to yourself. Social media posts, bumper stickers, and election signs in your yard are not a good idea. Keep your opinions to yourself. They are not looking for anyone with extreme opinions.
If you’re lucky enough to not get bumped for anything they find, it is time to talk about getting ahead of the rest of the candidates. One great way to beat the rest is to have some education. College doesn’t have much to do with firefighting, but someone with a degree beats someone without one every time. If you don’t have a degree, at least take a few fire classes so you can beat everyone that didn’t show enough interest to learn about fire science.
To those guys that wanted to be firefighters but didn’t take it serious, all I can say is I hope you enjoy your career. Those unmotivated guys are now working as garbage men, in a lumber yard, and one is earning a living spraying bug killer. Make a plan, you won’t become a firefighter by accident.
By John Morse
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