September 30, 2021  |  Mike Brackin, EdD, EFO, CPM
Additional academy training and education not provided by Purdue Global may be required for firefighting or emergency management jobs.

Firefighters help mankind in the worst of conditions. What child didn't grow up wanting to be a firefighter at some point in time? How many adults wish they had actually pursued that option as a career? In relation to the total population, there are relatively few who actually get to experience being a firefighter—approximately 317,000 total, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I remember graduating high school, getting married, and starting a family only to realize that with my additional responsibilities, I would not be able to provide very well for my family in my current occupation. My brother-in-law was in the local fire department and let me know that they would be hiring new firefighters to support a new station. Long story short, I got my dream job and went on to make a career out of the occupation, before retiring as a Fire Chief and then moving into higher education. Along the way, I have picked up many tips to help others who are interested in joining the profession. Here are my top four tips for those who wish to work in fire protection services*:

1. Volunteer and Gain Experience

Whether you want to be a firefighter, a fire inspector, or fire investigator, most departments fill these positions from within. This means you get hired at the entry-level and gain experience before you can move into other roles within a department. While there may be exceptions to this rule, they are far and few between.

As a former state fire training director and fire chief, I know what it takes to get hired. One of the first things I looked for in a candidate, if they were not currently being paid as a firefighter in another department, is whether they had any volunteer firefighting experience. The fire service is one of the few occupations that still has a sizable number of volunteer opportunities across the nation. Having served as a volunteer for several years indicates that the individual most likely knows what they are getting into and still loves the job enough to make it their career. There is a sense of comfort and stability in hiring someone already familiar with the profession.

2. Know Your State and Local Jurisdiction’s Requirements

Becoming a firefighter in most jurisdictions is not an easy task. Most require some form of entry-level knowledge exam and some form of physical examination. One of the most popular physical examinations for entry-level firefighters is the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). Other departments may add other types of examinations, such as a psychological evaluation. It's important to research the state and local requirements and make sure you can meet the requirements by the time the testing begins. You cannot wait until a week or so before the testing and expect to do well. Fire service positions are some of the most sought-after positions in public service, so the competition could be intense. In fact, the BLS projects that employment of firefighters will grow 8% from 2020 to 2030. I recommend that you start preparing early and have a strong showing during the testing phase.

A question I often asked applicants in the interview phase was, "What are your long-term goals for working at the fire department if hired?" Often, the response was, "to be a fire chief." This is an admirable goal, though not every employee may be able to reach the top of any organization. If that truly is your goal in life, know not only what it takes to get hired, but also what it takes to be promoted throughout your career. That way, when you are asked a similar question in your interviews, you can respond in the same manner—but further explain that you know it cannot be achieved overnight and it takes a lot of hard work and effort to get there.

3. Assess Your Education

Another thing I considered in potential candidates was their education. For instance, had they earned college credits and/or a degree? General education credits along with credits in a field related or applicable to the fire service could also be beneficial in preparing an individual for the job. Just remember, a college degree will not typically be the sole requirement to get you hired at a department, but it can be beneficial to have these additional credentials.

4. Take Training Courses and Work Toward Certifications

If you research your area of interest, you may find that there are numerous opportunities to receive training and certifications related to the fire service, some at no cost to the individual. Certifying in CPR or as an Emergency First Responder or Emergency Medical Technician are all applicable to the types of services firefighters perform. Having that experience and those credentials upfront could be a benefit when pursuing a career as a firefighter. There are also a number of emergency preparedness and response online training courses individuals can take for free from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Again, do your research to find out which certification is most relevant to your area.

Now you know what it takes to pursue your dream job of working in fire protection services. Best of luck moving forward, and now it's time to get started!

Learn How an Online Degree From Purdue Global Can Help Your Fire Service Career

Part of the respected Purdue University system, Purdue Global is a leading provider of online higher education. We offer a number of online fire science degree programs, including:

  • Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Fire and Emergency Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Fire Science

Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you meet your goal of working in fire service.

About the Author

Mike Brackin, EdD, EFO, CPM

Mike Brackin, EdD, EFO, CPM, is associate dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global.

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*Employment and Career Advancement: Purdue Global does not guarantee employment placement or career advancement. Actual outcomes vary by geographic area, previous work experience and opportunities for employment. Additional certification or licensing may be required to work in certain fields. Additional academy training and education may be required for firefighting or emergency management jobs.