If you're seriously considering a fire fighting career and no one has told you yet, it's hard work– really hard work. It takes a lot of time, training and dedication to make a great firefighter. You won't hear “thank you” often enough. You will be working the most unusual hours you can imagine. You won't see your family and friends as often as you might like.
If you read that and thought: “that does sound hard... But if I don't do it, who will?” then you should definitely keep reading. Fire fighting isn't for everyone, but for some people it's the only career they can imagine. Many firefighters are so passionate about their job that they do it for free--more than half of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.
Before you reach the fire house: Becoming a firefighter
The exact hiring process varies from department to department. Hopeful firefighters in Seattle, Washington can expect to take a written exam and two oral exams. The top 25 percent of those applicants are then invited to enter the pre-employment process, which includes background checks, medical exams, interviews, physical abilities testing and a psychological evaluation. Only after completing those steps are job offers extended and training started.
Firefighter training is a long program made up of intense learning and physical exertion. Training can last one to four years, depending on your department. In addition to firefighting education, you will almost certainly be required to have medical training as an EMT or paramedic.
Becoming a firefighter requires serious commitment of your time and energy. If you have close family, a significant other, a job or volunteer work that you want to maintain, it would be a good idea to address how your time will be divided if you pursue this career.
It's not all Dalmatians and donuts: Being a firefighter
In most fire departments, the firefighters are practically a family. Firefighters share a fire house, meals and lots of time together. Personal issues between coworkers stop the moment the alarm bell rings; every person on the team has to know they can rely on one another in life-or-death situations. You will be working as a critical part of a team, and you need to be ready to respond to emergencies at any hour. If you always seem to be running late, this is not the job for you– getting to work on time takes on a whole new importance when the lives of fire victims and teammates are at stake.
The payoff: Why is anyone doing this job?
Firefighters are highly skilled, dedicated and often doing a very difficult job for free. Whether paid or volunteer, they regularly respond to highly stressful, dangerous situations and work 24-hour shifts. So why are people still doing it?
There is a small but critical group of people who are perfect for a firefighting career. They feel a need to serve their immediate community, they like to be active, they like to be close to their colleagues and involved with their job. Firefighters know they make a crucial contribution to their friends and neighbors.
When other people are sleeping, they're on call. When other people are running away, they're running in. And when someone asks “how can you do that?” they ask “how couldn't I?”