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As of June 28, 2016

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- Glossary -- Its Not a Fire Truck!-- What Firefighters Really Do -- History -
- EMS and The Fire Service -- Ranks and Organization -
- Hiring Process & Training -- Working With the Media -- Tips For Reporters -
- FAQ's & Trivia -- Articles and Stories -- U.S. Flag Code & Customs -- Contact -
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Contents Copyright© 2011 by the various contributors.
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Don't forget our Q and A page.
Is there any truth to the belief that the full moon makes busier nights for
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Fire Service FAQs and Much More

This site is not associated with, nor does it represent the views of any particular fire department.

Fire Service Hiring & Training Practices

In some departments and states, having the right book to help you prepare for the entrance test can help a great deal.




So you want to be a firefighter?

Photos by Ben Saladino
All photos are at an actual fire school.


Many people might not believe the amount of school a firefighter is required to have. This can take the form of a city fire academy that can last for 15 months* or a college program. In the city, or regional, fire academy, the fire cadet attends classes for over eight hours a day, five or more days a week. Many departments now require new hires to have already completed all their training and be certified by the state, before applying for employment. They will get this training by attending a community college that offers fire service classes. This program varies depending upon the school. Many community colleges have fire service programs where they offer basic firefighter or inspector certification and then go on to provide advanced degrees in fire protection. One can expect a basic firefighter certification to require about thirty college credit hours. One can expect a minimum of two semesters (or one year) to qualify for state certification. In many states the amount of time in college, for firefighter and EMT, is longer and amounts to an associates degree. There are classes on hydrodynamics, chemistry, building construction and hours of math. The drop out rate is high but once completed your chances of being hired are good, but not guaranteed. Sample Community College Fire Service Program.

Keep in mind that some state require training to the Firefighter I level while other require that all basic firefighters be trained to Firefighter II level. Before setting out to get your own training, be sure to know what level is needed for your state.

*As an example of training with a large city's fire academy one can consider the Dallas Fire Academy. The actual rookie school is 6 months long but before being assigned to a station the recruit must also complete EMT and Paramedic school. This can lengthen the training to 15 months.

But the training does not stop there. A basic firefighter must attend twenty hours of continuing education each year to keep his or her job. This is state designed and certified training. Then for every special skill a firefighter has, he or she must complete around twenty hours of state or federal refresher training each year. Examples of these skills include: Haz Mat, Paramedic, Swift water, etc. On top of that, is the training the city may require such as safety, sexual harassment prevention, management and more. If the firefighter wishes to promote he or she must study for tests and probably take college or National Fire Academy courses.

A good example of how extensive advanced training can be, is found in the Tampa Fire Department, Tactical Rescue Team. Each member must be a paramedic with at least three years experience before enduring the 600 hours of initial training. This training includes:

  • Tampa Police Auxiliary Academy
  • Tampa Police SWAT School
  • Tampa Fire Rescue Sea, Air, and Land Rescue Course
  • US Navy Water Survival
  • American Red Cross Life Guard
  • NAEMT EMT Tactical
  • Open Water Scuba Diver
  • Search and Recovery Diver
  • Rescue Diver
  • Advance Trauma Life Support
    Continuing Education is 16 hours a month. (+ Firefighter and Paramedic C.E.)
    Tampa Fire Department

Getting Hired

To give you an idea of the selection process, consider this. In the past ten years it was not uncommon for 500 people to show up to take the entrance exam for the Irving Fire Department. In the late 80’s they had well over 1500 sign up for one test. Irving probably hires about four people a year. On a big year they might hire twelve. Some years they may hire none. Other years, one or two new recruits are hired. Can you imagine 500 people showing up for a chance for four jobs? Civil service laws require that they hire based upon the scores on the test. The test has reading, math and general knowledge questions. It is common that only half, of the participants, will pass this test.

In an L. A. Times article in 2005, it was reported that, "In January 2005, the Los Angeles County Fire Department held a firefighter trainee examination and more than 22,000 people applied." Article here.

In the example above, it was given that, in the 80's and 90's, Irving would have 500-1000 people show up to take an entrance test. But that was when they did not require previous training. Like many cities, Irving, in recent years, has adopted a position where they only test those people who have completed their firefighter training. Now it is common to have only 35 people show up for the test. Update: As of 2007 this fire department has decided to return to the practice of NOT testing people only with their fire training completed. Now all you need is a minimum amount of college and be 21 to take the test for employment. The college can be in any subject. Having fire service training helps your chances of being hired mainly because you may do better on the written test. It might help your interview a little. NOTE: As of 2011, this city has gone back to not requiring college in order to take the entrance exam. This is mentioned to illustrate that one never knows what the requirements might be in any city, at any given time.

A few, very large, cities still recruit like the military. They may require some college but they do not require any previous job training. These cities then put their recruits through their school. Most smaller cities now require that an applicant already have all the training required by the state before they are allowed to take the competitive entrance exam. Several junior colleges have firefighter training programs. Most firefighter curriculum or states also require that all firefighters be medically trained to the Basic EMT level.

Click here to see the L.A. County application process.

The fire service is not just for men. In some departments the number of females may be 10% or more. Women have been members of the fire service for well over 25 years. There are over one million firefighters in the U. S. Some reports say that there are as many as 30,000+ female volunteer firefighters and over 6000 career female firefighters. There are female officers of every rank, including battalion chiefs and some assistant chiefs. There are at least twenty fire departments whose chief is a female. These numbers are changing every day as female firefighters retire or even more are hired. For more information on the subject, check out this excellent web site: http://www.wfsi.org/


The pay a new firefighter can expect to receive varies greatly in North America. Much of this has to do with the cost of living in a particular area. The starting pay can range from about $25,000 a year to about $50,000 or more. Many seem to fall in the BELOW $35,000 range. But remember, that is starting pay. You will not be making that forever. Many things can increase your salary quickly. In many communities you can receive $100-$500 more a month for special certifications. A good example might be paramedic training. It is also common to receive a substancial raise at one year.

There are a few areas where the starting salary for firefighters may exceed the amounts posted here. But these areas are where the cost of living is extremely high also.

Do you have what it takes?

This might sound corny, but being a firefighter is a calling and a way of life. It is not just a job. You will be tested on whether you really want the job from the very first day. One can observe applicants, in obviously good condition, quit the physical agility test with two minutes left, and only 15 feet to walk. The secret to becoming a firefighter, DON'T QUIT! You have to want it.

There are questions you must ask yourself. Are you mentally and physically fit? Can you deal with death and dying? Do you have the character qualities that are needed? How well do you react during stressful times? Do you have integrity? Do you really know the meaning of the word honor?

You will be tested in ways you can't imagine. School will be a challenge in many ways. It will test you physically and emotionally. It will take time away from your family and friends.

Your family should always come first, but they will have to learn to share you. Unless you happen to come from a fire service family, relatives will not understand your decision to join our ranks. But the tests do not end once you finish school and get your first station assignment. You will then face the challenges of your "probie" year. During your first year at the station you will be subjected to many tests. These will not only be exams to test your knowledge, but tests of your commitment to the team. In some departments this will mean that you can be tried or tested by any senior member. You can be prohibited from various activities until after your probationary period. Do you become defensive when you are the subject of some joke? For your sake, lets hope not.

There will be "rights of passage" you will have to endure. Remember, this is an honor. It has taken you a long time to earn being soaked down after your first good fire. You will never forget that fire or the way your colleagues treated you afterwards.

Divorce is high among firefighters and police officers. Many have speculated as to the cause. Perhaps it is because it takes a special spouse to understand the love of the job. But it also takes a very strong firefighter to realize that the job must be part of a bigger responsibility to the family.

We often group ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the police department, but we are not the same. Police officers, while a calling also, takes a different type of person. The fire service and police are different cultures. Police officers often work in groups of one or two. They develop strong bonds with a partner. Firefighters will spend a third, or more, of their lives with a second family.

Firefighters are some of the most amazing people you will every find. Can you live up to those expectations?


More and more police and fire departments are implementing regulations that prohibit ANY visible tattoos. Every month we hear of another city or agency who is making this policy. (See video below.) Some will allow you to wear long sleeves year round, but others don't. If you have a neck tattoo your chances of ever being hired go way down.

If you are considering employment as a firefighter, or police officer, please carefully consider the possible consequences of full arm tattoos. It is difficult enough to get hired in these professions. Don't add to the obstacles your will have.

The same is true for piercings.

This is a big subject right now. The following article (pdf) probably says it all. It points out that even the Army is cracking down on tattoos below the elbow.
"Body art can have a negative impact on any career."

As you can see by the article (forum) link below, the wearing of tattoos is a subject being discussed. There are several different views here. Some departments accept tattoos without issue while others ban then completely. There is also every policy in between. Many use the "case-by-case" plan on tattoos. Who knows what that might mean for you. Does that mean that if they like you, your tat may be OK?
Fire Engineering Magazine Tattoo Article

Helpful Websites

There are many sites that will help you locate job openings.
A site with a good overview of the fire service as an occupation is from U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos158.htm#outlook

In Texas - http://www.tcfp.state.tx.us/employment.asp

LA County- "Be a firefighter"

There are also commercial web sites to help you with tests. One is here:

A website that appears to be a source for helping one become a firefighter, or some other related job: FireStationNation.com.
They can help you with several aspects of becoming a firefighter. They post positions and can help you in several ways.
They sell books on exam preparation and much more. (This NOT a paid advertisement or an endorsement.)

Please contact for permission to reproduce anything on these pages.

Most Action or Apparatus Photos Copyright© Ben Saladino.
Most photos since November 2002 taken with Nikon Coolpix 5700.
See hundreds more at: http://www.bensware.com/firetrucks/photos.htm