How to Become a Firefighter

Firefighter climbing stairs in burning building

Charging into a burning building under a volley of falling debris may not seem like a sound career choice, but that frightening image doesn’t stop thousands of men and women across the globe from trying to become firefighters.

Similar to becoming a doctor, soldier or even a priest, choosing to be a firefighter is a calling, and only the brave and chosen few will get to live out their dreams. But if you think you have what it takes to make the cut and become one of today’s real-life superheroes, then check out our comprehensive guide to know more about this highly respected profession.

1. Research the Profession

Firefighters have always been inaccurately depicted as swashbuckling men who valiantly jump into flames to save damsels in distress. But firefighters do a lot more than just participating in heroic stunts – and not all of them are male, either.

To find out more about this profession, read on to know what you should expect from the job and how you can best prepare for it.

Job Description

Firefighters are typically divided into two: professional firefighters or those who work full-time and retained firefighters or those who don’t have a strict schedule but agree to be available during emergency situations. Despite the difference in work hours, both firefighters share the same responsibilities and are required to pass the same exams.

While modelling for calendars and saving kittens stuck in trees are undoubtedly part of a firefighter’s responsibilities, their duties go way beyond that. If you’re planning on building a career as one, then here are some of the other functions you should be aware of:

  • responding and acting fast in emergency situations or incidents – these incidents may involve tackling fires, assisting the police and dealing with road traffic collisions (RTCs)
  • rescuing animals and people in emergency situations
  • inspecting and enforcing safety standards in buildings, whether residential or commercial
  • teaching proper use of firefighting equipment to communities
  • working with police and other government agencies, including ambulance personnel, during emergency situations
  • educating communities to help prevent fire-related accidents from happening
  • providing first aid if necessary or while waiting for the ambulance
  • maintaining the quality of firefighting equipment, including, but not limited to, uniform, fire trucks, water supplies and hydrants
  • consistently participating in practice drills to maintain physical fitness and skills.

Essential Skill and Qualities

Since their job exposes them to high-pressure situations, all firefighters must be able to think and act quickly on their feet. But apart from that, a would-be firefighter should possess:

  • integrity – similar to policemen, firefighters are thought of as local heroes; they must, therefore, be able to build trust in the community by having a solid reputation that’s founded on integrity and good values
  • presence of mind – firefighters must be fully aware of their situation at all times in order to come up with practical and easy solutions, especially since their decisions can mean the life or death of an individual
  • fearlessness – this seems like an exaggeration, but firefighters will have to go through scenarios that most people are afraid of; whether it’s climbing tall buildings or getting caught in small spaces, these common phobias or fears are some of the things that firefighters have to conquer and face
  • teamwork skills – for firefighters, the ability to rely on and work well with each other is crucial to saving a life and getting the job done
  • physical fitness – rescuing others and yourself will be impossible if you don’t have a healthy body; this is why firefighters have some of the strictest requirements when it comes to physical endurance (and why they make for better calendar models, too)
  • flexibility – as a firefighter, you must be able to adapt to any situation, especially since the circumstances of your work are often highly unpredictable
  • strong problem-solving and analytical skills – firefighters should be able to quickly assess a situation and make decisions in a split second
  • communication skills – when tackling fire or assisting in a road accident, firefighters should be able to communicate with ease to avoid further aggravating circumstances.

Working Hours and Conditions

It’s easy to assume that a firefighter’s job involves nonstop action and excitement but, in reality, most department calls are for household emergencies that don’t necessarily involve putting out fires.

That doesn’t make their jobs any less challenging, though.

Most firefighters are required to take on 24-hour shifts while undergoing strenuous training to keep their skills in tip-top shape. They're also exposed to dangerous situations, even when private insurance companies are hesitant to take them on due to the risks involved in their jobs.

Salary Prospects

In the UK, the starting salary for fighters ranges between £22,000 and £29,500. While this may seem small compared to the value of saving people’s lives, most firefighters will you that the different their work makes is a reward in itself, which is why the vocation for them is priceless.

That said, with experience, their salary can increase to £31,100 (crew managers) and between £38,000 and £42,000 (station managers). Meanwhile, part-time on-call firefighters are typically paid between £2,000 and £3,000.

In the US, meanwhile, salaries average $49,080, though depending on experience and your location, you could earn in excess of $83,500.

2. Get the Qualifications

Firefighters don’t have strict academic qualifications and you don’t need a college degree to apply; however, having some knowledge of health sciences and emergency services can help you get ahead. You’ll also most likely be asked to pass background security checks before you can begin work.

Meanwhile, the most basic qualifications to become a firefighter include having good unaided eyesight and hearing, as well as being 18 and above. Also, contrary to popular belief, there is no upper age limit or height restrictions for applicants (well, at least in the UK); however, applicants do have to pass medical and physical exams prior to being considered.

Also, due to its intense physical requirements, most firefighters are men, though there’s no rule that prohibits women from joining (that’s why they’re not called firemen anymore).

3. Land Your First Job

To increase your odds of getting hired, it’s important to plant your seeds early.

Start by volunteering in your local fire service community and see if you can get to ride along with firefighters to get a taste of what it’s like to be in their shoes. Fire departments are always looking for candidates who have a genuine heart for public service work, so whether it’s cleaning the fire truck or washing uniforms, remember not to be too picky with your chores.

Also, always work on and improve your physical fitness, even if you’re far from turning 18. Trust us: it’s easier to maintain healthy habits over time than try to switch lifestyles overnight.

If becoming a firefighter is more of a later career choice, though, take on the exams as early as you can. There’s always the possibility you will fail, but at least you’ll know what to expect next time and be better prepared for it.

While you’re at it, try to get as much medical training as you can, as this is something you’ll most likely be required to learn after you become a firefighter, anyway. Lastly, volunteering your time to help out in the department is a great way to get noticed while learning from the job at the same time.

4. Develop Your Career

There are many available opportunities for firefighters; some work their way up to become crew or station managers, while others become chief fire officers. What’s great about being a firefighter in the UK is that you’ll be under the Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS), which allows you to track your own career development.

It’s no question that a firefighter’s job is physically demanding and is one of the hardest jobs on the planet; it’s a role that requires a lot of discipline and hard work, but if you have a genuine desire to live a life that’s made to serve others, then you’re already one step there.

Have you always wanted to become a firefighter? Let us know what made you want to become one in the comments section below.