August 19, 2015 | Derrick Clouston
"How do I get hired?" is one of the most frequently asked questions by volunteers who want to pursue a career in fire and emergency management. There are a number of intricacies involved when it comes to being hired in emergency services.
So what can a person do to stand out in a competitive field? Education is important, but so is experience, networking, and a track record of consistency.
The Value of Volunteering
One way to help prepare for a career in emergency management is by volunteering in the local community. More than 85% of the country is protected by volunteer fire departments. Volunteering is a great way to obtain critical job training and give back to the community. The volunteer fire service is no different than any other volunteer agency and the numbers of volunteers needed are at critical levels. Many departments find difficulty obtaining volunteers and retaining them for more than 3 years.
Depending on the local and state training system, many volunteer fire departments have the ability to offer their members great opportunities for basic and certification training. This training, depending once again on the local and state training system, can be free or reduced in cost. Oftentimes, this training is based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Professional Qualification Standards that many jurisdictions use to develop their certification programs.
Although many paid departments may require a new employee to attend a recruit school, the skills that are learned can help to create familiarity with the concepts that are being taught. It is important to remember that a fire department will want their members to learn the specific ways they operate, but the basic principles will be the same. The skills that are taught can help a person as they look to move into emergency management. Many emergency management agencies in communities today are integrated within the fire department, which can prove additional valuable to those seeking to enter the field.
Build Your Network
Developing a network is vital, and as a member of a local volunteer agency you may find increased opportunities to develop these critical networks. The various emergency and disaster response community is a tight-knit one within local and regional governments, and many municipal departments use these relationships to recruit emergency services personnel. In this competitive field, an effective network is an absolute necessity.
Volunteering can also help to prepare someone for greater responsibility later on in his or her career. As mentioned earlier, recruiting and retaining volunteers is very difficult. The ability to gain valuable insight and experience conducting emergency operations as a volunteer is valuable. As you progress, you can build skills that are relevant to the field and valuable to potential employers.* Although education, training, and certification arm people with the credentials to compete, being able to apply knowledge correctly based on the situation at hand is learned through experience.
Explore the Full Spectrum
Although there are many advantages of volunteering in the fire service, also consider other areas of volunteering such as service in Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Red Cross, and other nonprofit response agencies. Successful emergency managers have developed relationships with resources that play a crucial role in bringing a positive outcome to incidents in the community. Volunteering in various emergency programs can provide the same network and training opportunities afforded to those volunteering for a fire department.
Advance Your Education
Education is becoming an increasingly important part of pursuing a career in the emergency services field. When choosing a degree program, a person should look for programs that cover the specific field they are interested in pursuing. For example, some universities offer degrees in fire science, fire and emergency management, and public administration. These degree programs are designed to provide information that will be used in real-world settings. The next area to consider is the level of the degree. The decision to obtain an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree is based on career aspirations. For example, administrative roles in management and leadership most likely require a bachelor's degree whereas having a master's degree is advantageous when applying to a department head or senior leadership position. For those interested in conducting research or teaching in a learning institution, a doctoral degree is the path to consider.
Volunteering can open several doors for those seeking a career in fire and emergency services. In terms of the fire service, most will typically have to start as a recruit and work their way up the ranks. If pursuing a career in emergency management, career opportunities could include work as an emergency planner, mitigation specialist, or an emergency manager.* As with any career, there are several factors that will impact a person's career advancement but proper hands on-training, education, and experience can certainly provide a significant benefit.
And if you are considering pursuing higher education we invite you to find out more about Purdue Global’s programs
and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
It is important to note that certain career paths are growing and our degrees are designed to strengthen your knowledge and prepare our students to advance their careers. But Purdue Global cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Several factors specific to a student’s or alumni’s backgrounds and actions, as well as economic and job conditions, affect employment. Also, keep in mind that national long-term projections covered in articles may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Derrick Clouston is a faculty member at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global.