Thursday, February 16, 2017

So You Want to Be a Firefighter

In September 2016, a columnist who claimed firefighters have “cushy” jobs closed her uninformed tirade by saying, “I want to be a firefighter.” My immediate reaction, shared by many of the commenters: What’s stopping you?

That, of course, is a knee-jerk, “put up or shut up” type of response. But that’s exactly how I feel. You think it’s so easy to become a firefighter? You think you can do just as well or better at the job? Then by all means, go right ahead. I won’t stand in your way.

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com)
The reality is that not everyone can be a firefighter. I don’t say that to be arrogant or malicious; it’s simply a fact. Each of us has different abilities, talents, and skills that make us good at some things and not so good at others. Not every person is cut out for firefighting. Likewise, not everyone can be a teacher, astronaut, mechanic, nurse, carpenter, pro athlete, artist, soldier, or computer programmer.

I’ve met many people over the course of my career who claimed they wanted to be firefighters. Some were simply expressing a wistful dream. Others were “all talk, no action” types who had no intent of following through on their braggadocio. And then there were those who were actually making an effort, doing everything they could to land their dream jobs. I later ended up working with some of those folks, but others came up short in the testing process, sometimes repeatedly.

Firefighting is a very competitive career field. For paid jobs, it takes more than simply declaring “I want to be a firefighter” to actually become one. You need determination, perseverance, motivation, physical and mental endurance – and that’s in addition to meeting a host of other minimum standards. Entrance requirements vary by agency, but all are intended to draw the best and most qualified candidates.

To give you an idea of what it takes to become a paid firefighter (volunteer organizations have different membership processes), here is a sampling of prerequisites listed in recent online firefighter job postings:

1. Must be 18 years of age (21 for some fire departments), possess a high school diploma or GED equivalent, hold a current driver’s license, have a good driving record, and pass a background check. These requirements are pretty standard. 

2. Some agencies have no requirements for certifications while others want one or more of the following:
    • Emergency Medical Technician – Basic (EMT-B) certification. 
    • Emergency Medical Technician – Paramedic (EMT-P) preferred or required. 
    • Firefighter I and/or II. 
    • Driver Operator. 
3. Current Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) or similar physical fitness qualification/certification.

4. College degree may not be required, or it may be “desirable,” “highly desirable;” or required. 

5. No previous firefighting experience required, or some previous experience necessary.

6. No residency requirements (meaning new employees can live anywhere) or the agency may require applicants to live in the designated city or county within a certain timeframe after being hired. 

If an applicant meets the minimum requirements, he or she can then expect some sort of testing process before being hired. Like everything else in the fire service, each department’s hiring process varies, but many rely on similar practices.
  • Written test. Contrary to what some believe, firefighting requires a certain level of intelligence and common sense. Written exams are used to assess an applicant’s basic reading comprehension, writing, math, and problem-solving skills.
  • Physical abilities or physical fitness test. Some agencies incorporate physical testing into the hiring process while others require a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) or similar certification at the time of application. To see types of fitness tests that incorporate job-related tasks, go to YouTube.com and enter the search term “CPAT” or “Biddle test.”
  • Oral board interview. Candidates are interviewed by a panel, usually three to five personnel from the agency or its municipality. Questions are often designed to assess a person’s integrity, work ethic, moral standards, and temperament for the job in addition to addressing qualifications. 
Successful candidates are then usually placed on a ranked list from which hiring selections are made. Once hired, candidates must then complete a rigorous training academy that can range anywhere between 8-12 weeks (again, each department does things differently) followed by 6-12 months on probation.

So you want to be a firefighter? Then step right up. Fire departments across the country always need new employees. But be forewarned: This is a job you have to earn.

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