Each state and municipality sets specific requirements for firefighters, but the general qualifications are similar. Firefighters must have the requisite education, which is a combination of classroom studies and on-the-job training. Some firefighters opt to begin their careers as volunteers. While this career path requires less training to get started, long-time volunteers often take the same training courses as their full-time counterparts.
Firefighters must be at least 18 years old and meet residency requirements. Typically, they must have at least a high school diploma or GED to begin their firefighting career. A firefighter needs a driver’s license with a clean driving record. He must also pass a criminal background check. Certification in first aid and CPR are often prerequisites to applying for firefighter training.
The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education, or FESHE, program allows firefighters to begin their training in high school vocational courses and continue their training in community college. In these core introductory classes, students learn about the basics of building construction to help extinguish fires. They also learn about fire behavior, combustion, fire prevention and emergency services. Instruction in the basics of fire administration, investigation, water supply management, hazardous materials, occupational safety and firefighting strategies rounds out the training.
FESHE offers instruction for firefighters who want to obtain a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the core classes offered at community colleges, the baccalaureate degree candidate takes courses in fire research, risk reduction, fire and emergency services administration, and personnel management. A bachelor's degree program will also cover fire dynamics, disaster planning and hazardous waste management.
Firefighter job applicants can apply for openings without training, or they can apply as they near the end of their classroom studies. Most municipalities have a competitive exam that would-be firefighters must pass. The three-part exam include a written component, a physical ability test and an oral interview. High scores serve as a hiring advantage.
When a potential firefighter is hired, he is required to attend a firefighter academy for a recommended number of weeks. These classes combine classroom study with hands-on activities to prepare the firefighter for the job. Through a variety of simulations, the firefighter works with the equipment used on the job. He also learns how to drive fire emergency vehicles safely. During this time, the firefighter prepares for his Level I and II state firefighter credentials. He also takes introductory classes in emergency medical response and participates in physical fitness training for the job. Some firefighter academies continue basic training with several additional weeks of emergency medical services training. Others require new firefighters to finish emergency medical services training within a designated time.
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