How to Become a Firefighter

How to Become a FirefighterWhen it comes to local emergency response, the big red fire engine has this special about it that the ambulance, police cruiser, and SWAT vans simply can’t match. Let’s face it: firefighters are cool, tough people. They have to be. While the police can talk down many a tense situation, talking to a fire is simply giving it time to mindlessly consume everything in its path.

Fire Fighter Responsibilities
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Interspersed among the utility outages, burning dumpsters, filling of swimming pools, and other mundane activities are the truly heroic battles of a symbol of the safety granted by organized civilization against one of the primal forces of nature itself. Even James Bond has a hard time being that heroic.

As a firefighter, you are expected to be ready to go into the belly of the beast in the line of duty, risking heat, smoke inhalation, and outright combustion for the sake of the community. Given this, the physical requirements of a firefighter are very high, utterly dwarfing that of police officers.

Further, given the firefighter is a position that is open for each village large enough to be a dot on a AAA map, the overall requirements are all over the place depending on what the local area can demand of its population. The following is an attempt to synthesize these requirements down to an average that you can use as a guide in your attempt to be a firefighter.

Physical Requirements

Young, spry, and strong is the name of the game here. While you must be at least 18 years old at the time of hiring pretty much everywhere, some municipalities use rated physical tests rather than hard upper limits on age to weed out those who aren’t exactly up to snuff anymore. For example, New York City imposes a hard maximum of 29 years of age for firefighter applicants, while Minneapolis does not.

Strong focus is placed on several points beyond simple muscular strength. A firefighter’s eyesight must be relatively good, 20/100 or better in some municipalities, without the use of corrective lenses. When inside a burning building, having pieces of plastic fuse to your corneas just isn’t a good idea and relying on a pair of glasses is a liability when fast, jerking movement may be required. Some municipalities instead require 20/40 or even 20/30 vision with an allowance for corrective lenses.

Simply put, check to see if your municipality wants its firefighters to go naked from the nose up before applying. Additionally, good hearing is required. The hearing test varies from municipality to municipality, but generally requires a hearing loss of 40 or even 30 decibels or less in each ear at multiple frequencies without the use of hearing aids and the like.


Given the extreme physical requirements, prospective firefighters such as yourself tend to have a rather relaxed time when it comes to educational requirements. A high school diploma or GED tends to qualify pretty much anywhere, while reading requirements are well below that point and can drop as low as 10th grade.

Given this is a credentialist society, a college degree is a huge help, but as little as twenty semester hours of college coursework can actually work in your favor. In terms of education, partial college credit may be sufficient in many municipalities. Again, this isn’t universal, so check to be sure before you apply for your role.

Criminal and Driving Record

As it turns out, the chief is very protective of that big red fire engine you want to drive. It’s expensive. Having a spotless driving record helps land a job as a firefighter, but the dutiful adventure seekers that firefighting tends to attract also tend to accumulate points on driving licenses. To compensate for this, a few points are not a deal breaker (in states that issue points), but six or more tends to break the deal rather readily.

As a public servant, a fighterfighter’s criminal record usually needs to be perfectly spotless. Some municipalities may say that some misdemeanors don’t exclude a candidate, but that merely means that you have to be perfect everywhere else to have a chance. Last the world checked, nobody was. As a rule of thumb, keeping clean records with the authorities is really helpful when it comes to trying to become one of them.

Overall, becoming a Fire Fighter is a rewarding and honorable career.  General requirements vary between communities, so specific requirements should be assessed by the candidate.  Ensure that you have the correct education and understand of the role before making your decision.

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