The number of paid firefighters was 361,000 in the United States in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number is projected to grow to 404,000 by 2016, as competition is expected to grow as more people look to get into the profession because it only requires a high school education yet pays well with generally excellent benefits.
Almost all firefighting organizations require candidates to be at least 18 years of age along with a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Although it is not mandatory, there are many two-year and four-year colleges that offer degree programs in fire engineering or fire science. This can provide potential firefighters with an edge over unqualified candidates.
Many firefighters have worked as volunteers in a firefighting capacity. This can include working for a rural, volunteer fire department. You won't get paid, but you'll learn valuable lessons and prove that you can work in a firefighting environment. You can join multiple organizations to meet actual firefighters and better understand the industry. These include state firefighting organizations and the National Fire Protection Association.
Applying for Jobs
You can search a variety of sources for firefighting jobs: most jobs are advertised in local newspapers and online job sites and are also posted on websites specializing in the firefighting industry. You can also proactively place applications with firefighting agencies you would like to work for even if they don't have current openings. They will keep your application on record in case an opening does come up.
Applicants who make it past the initial stage will be asked to take a written exam. Although the exam varies from department to department, it typically lasts at least two hours and requires answering a minimum of 100 multiple-choice questions. These questions are designed to test a variety of skills needed to be a firefighter, including spatial relations, basic comprehension, basic math and science skills, interpersonal skills, and judgment and reasoning. Check with the fire department for more information on the particular test they use, and find out if they have any sample tests or questions available.
Applicants who pass the written test then move on to the interview process, usually conducted by the fire captain or other team leader. Here you will be asked questions relating to your background, experience and why you want to be a firefighter. Try to anticipate questions ahead of the interview and have answers ready. Have your friends and family conduct practice interviews with you to get you prepared for the process.
Physical Exam And Final Steps
The final step in the process is a physical examination, which will test your ability to physically perform the duties necessary to be a firefighter, such as lifting a heavy hose, climbing ladders and moving quickly while wearing heavy gear. Applicants who successfully pass this step typically are given a drug test before being hired. In many cases, novice firefighters are also required to attend a training center or academy for several weeks before joining their brigade.