What Are the Requirements to Be a Firefighter?

A firefighter stands in front of a fire truck holding his helmet at his side.
Category: Industry Insights

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

If you are thinking of becoming a firefighter, then you probably enjoy serving other people. Firefighting is a challenging career with tough physical and mental requirements, but it can also be very rewarding.

What are the requirements to be a firefighter? Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to become a firefighter in your city.

Basic Firefighter Requirements

Firefighter requirements may vary depending on where you live, but many of the same principles will apply in most locations. We will start with four basic requirements that apply to most regions.

1. Age

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to become a firefighter, many departments require you to be at least 18 years old. That number can vary, however, and some departments have a maximum age as well.

For example, the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) requires new firefighters to be at least 21 by the time of their time of appointment, and applicants cannot have reached their 29th birthday by the time they begin the application process.

2. Education

At a minimum, firefighters need a high school diploma or equivalent. Many firefighters also pursue additional training and education before becoming a firefighter.

Related: Beyond the Firehouse: Career Options With a Fire Science Degree

3. Background

Firefighters should expect to undergo a background check and have a clean history, meaning no felonies or significant criminal records. Dishonorable discharge from the military could also deter aspiring firefighters from getting hired. A good driving record might also be required.

4. Character

Firefighters are expected to exhibit strong character, and some employers may check social media accounts for applicants. Be careful about posting material that may be embarrassing to a potential employer.

Fire Academies

Entry-level firefighters typically are required to attend several months of training at a fire academy run by their department or their state. Some firefighters also attend trainings conducted by the National Fire Academy. Trainings at a fire academy may include classroom learning and live fire training.

EMS Certifications

A career as a firefighter isn’t just about putting out fires. Sometimes firefighters are the first to arrive at a scene with medical emergencies, which is why obtaining your EMS certification is helpful. Some fire departments require applicants to have EMT or paramedic certification from the NREMT before hiring them as firefighters.

Even in areas where EMS training is not required, having your EMT license can give you a competitive advantage over other applicants.

Related: EMS Certifications: An Overview

Physical Ability Tests

Serving as a firefighter requires top physical conditioning as it is a physically demanding job. Fire departments often administer physical ability tests to make sure that applicants can adequately perform their job duties.

For example, the Houston Fire Department conducts PATs with the following components:

  • Ladder raises
  • Stair climbs
  • Hose hoists
  • Equipment carries
  • Simulated victim rescues
  • 1.5 mile runs

Written Tests

To become a firefighter, you must also pass a written exam to prove that you have strong knowledge of firefighting. Tests can vary based on where you are taking them, so it may help to call your local department to learn what kind of test you will be taking so that you can adequately prepare. Ask if a study guide is available, as that can help you see what types of questions may appear on the test.

In addition to firefighting knowledge, written tests may include questions about reasoning and other fundamental skills. You may see questions about math, logic, reading comprehension, maps and directions, and more.

For a more detailed look at firefighter written tests, view the video below from FirefighterNOW:

Learn More About Becoming a Firefighter Today

Advanced coursework can help you secure a job as a firefighter and get promoted during your career. To learn more about the FESHE-recognized online education options at Columbia Southern University, view the video below featuring CSU fire and emergency services curriculum lead faculty Chief Jake Rhoades and Peter Matthews from Firehouse.

To get started today, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Fire.

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