What Does it Take to Be a Firefighter?

A firefighter is a person trained in the control and extinguishing of fires that threaten life and property. They are also called on to rescue people from dangerous situations and to perform hazardous materials response and other emergency operations. Firefighters are a group of dedicated men and women who serve their communities through these important public safety duties. The job is very demanding both physically and mentally and requires courage, quick-thinking, and a strong sense of teamwork.

The career is highly competitive, and hundreds or even thousands of candidates apply for each available position. The number of people who actually become firefighters is much smaller than that figure might suggest, because many candidates are not ready to meet the high standards set by the job. The entrance process involves a written examination, physical abilities test, oral interview, medical examination, and background investigation. Those who fail to pass any of these steps are disqualified, and the final pool usually numbers only a few hundred people or less.

To work as a firefighter, you need to be physically fit, and most departments have strict requirements for this. Generally, you must have corrected 20/20 eyesight and a high school diploma or equivalent. Most firefighters complete post-secondary training at a college, technical school, or a fire academy. Many of these programs include an on-the-job training component, where you work as a firefighter for a local agency and receive classroom instruction.

Many firefighters are employed by fire departments but are also trained as emergency medical technicians or paramedics. This is because firefighters must be able to respond quickly to medical emergencies in addition to fires. You can also find positions with wilderness firefighting agencies, state fire organizations, construction trades, and fire-equipment manufacturers and suppliers.

Firefighters are a highly diverse group. The majority of their work is spent outside the fire station on call, answering emergency calls. This may include structure fires, vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, natural disasters, or hazardous materials incidents. Firefighters must be prepared to work in all types of weather and conditions, as well as at night.

Firefighting involves depriving a fire of its three elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Firefighters use a variety of techniques and tools to suppress and extinguish fires, including water, foam, dry agents, and other means. The goal is to put the fire out as quickly and safely as possible, thereby protecting nearby structures and occupants.

As you gain experience, you can move through the ranks of a fire department, from engineer to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, and so on. Some firefighters also become fire inspectors or investigators. Some of these careers require a bachelor’s degree, typically in fire science or public administration. These degrees are often required for promotion to these higher-level leadership positions. Those who work as firefighters must be willing to sacrifice their personal lives in order to serve others. They spend long hours at the firestation and are frequently away from home and their families.

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