Becoming a Firefighter

So you say you’re interested in becoming a firefighter.

What can you tell me that I need to know as I consider this career path?
There are quite a few variables when advising someone who wants to make firefighting their career choice. I will start by asking and answering a few related questions that cover some of the basics.

How old are you?

One can become a Junior Member of a volunteer fire department as young as 14 years old but is restricted to certain non-life-threatening activities until they graduate from high school and/or reach age 18. Some cities like Raleigh require firefighter applicants to be 21 years old by the start/hire date.  Most other departments require that applicants already be certified as a firefighter, hazmat Level I and basic EMT. In North Carolina, individuals cannot be certified until they are 18 and have either graduated from high school or hold a GED.


Are you near a fire department that still uses volunteers?

Volunteer fire departments are good places to start to get experience, relatively free low-cost training and to determine if this is the right career for you. Certification and in-service training classes are provided by your local community college at no cost to members of volunteer and paid fire departments. Many volunteer fire departments require that members live within their respective fire districts, respond to emergency calls and/or stay at the fire department and fill duty shifts each month. There are a few in Wake County that still take on volunteers who may live outside the district but will man (stand a tour of duty) on a regular rotation.


What interests you about becoming a firefighter?

If this is just a passing fancy or because some of your friends think it would be cool, then this may not be the job for you. It's extremely time-consuming, requires considerable stamina, the work hours are long and sometimes very boring, it is paramilitary in structure and the pay usually varies by jurisdiction. More than anything, getting a full-time job is extremely competitive. Two examples: Raleigh usually has over 1,000 applicants for 25 to 30 positions, and Charlotte may have as many as 2,000 applicants for 40 to 50 jobs.

Interested individuals may consider the Air Force or Marine Corps, as both have Aircraft Crash Fire & Rescue and structural firefighter positions that may lead to employment in the Defense Department civilian workforce after a military commitment is completed. This is an option for young men and women who demonstrate an aptitude for military success. These jobs are also highly competitive and require scoring high on ASVAB entrance exams as well. One must also remember that military firefighters are soldiers first and are subject to duty in combat zones.


Personal challenges to overcome

Do you have any physical or mental challenges that would prevent you from climbing a 100-foot ladder or wearing firefighter turnout gear (PPE) and carry heavy power tools or equipment? There are also certain physical conditions that prohibit inclusion, so consult your primary care physician prior to embarking on a career in the fire service or military.

Applicants, as well as newly hired firefighters, will be required to climb as high as a 100-foot ladder on an aerial either in the physical agility portion of the application process or climb one in the initial phases of job training. For some departments, these are timed events where the stronger, faster and more agile applicants excel. In any event, the firefighter will be required to climb ladders from 12 to 100 feet long and work from elevated positions in extremely dangerous conditions.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582

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How do you react to zero visibility environments with your face covered?

Are you claustrophobic?

You would not want to waste a lot of time and effort training to find out that you cannot wear a self-contained breathing apparatus. This device is the part of the personal protective equipment required to perform firefighting and rescue operations in extremely hazardous to life environments. At most structure fires, there is zero visibility, and if one is claustrophobic, then the applicant/entry-level firefighter will fail.


Having a healthy respect for fire and extreme circumstances

Having a fear of fire (respect for what can happen), of extreme heights and of closed-confined space environments is a healthy emotion. Anyone who says otherwise is dangerous to themselves and to others. We are wired for self-preservation; however, to perform as a firefighter, we must be capable of overcoming these natural instincts and make sound life or death decisions without hesitation.

If an applicant is unsure of themselves or too cautious when performing tasks in simulated conditions, it will demonstrate an inability or hesitancy to overcome their natural instincts. Candidates who fail to perform at minimum levels under staged stressful conditions are usually not suitable for further consideration. Some may get by in the beginning but usually wash out when the intensity of training is increased to more realistic extremes. Firefighting is a very dangerous and hazardous profession. Ask your mentor about the "pucker factor."


Contact us for more advice on becoming a firefighter

We would be more than happy to meet with you one on one to discuss your thoughts on becoming a firefighter. Please contact us to schedule an appointment if you’re interested.

It is a challenge to explain everything one needs to know to become a firefighter in a few short sentences. Like most professions, there is not one simple one-size-fits-all answer. It is best to sit face to face with a seasoned officer or a firefighter with more than three to five years’ experience to explain what they went through and to go over the day-to-day routine. All new firefighters should find an older mentor in the fire service to sit and talk with on occasion to assist them in both personal and professional growth events. The fire service is a very rewarding career that has a multitude of peaks and valleys. How you traverse a career and transition in different adult stages is not only important to yourself but is equally important to the loved ones whom you ask to come along for the ride. When you’re a firefighter, it affects everyone in your life, so be smart, take a balanced approach and make sure that it is right for you and your future family.