Finding a job that you like day-in and day-out can be hard for many people. Finding a career that you will be willing to dedicate yourself to for the rest of your working life is even more difficult for most. Though, for a few of us, there is a call to action to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. A call to serve the people around us from every background and social status. Without a question of whether or not there is anything for us at the end of the day, aside from the satisfaction of knowing the difference we can make for others. If you fall into that category, you are destined for a career of highs and lows. All in all, very rewarding, it can still be one of the hardest careers to get into. There are many who try, and try, and then stop trying.
Persistence is necessary for the aspiring firefighter; a quality that may be fast becoming a rarity. In the age of instant gratification, it is going to be increasingly more important for the young people growing up to learn to be persistent, because it will likely not come naturally to them. This brings up another point, the earlier you can know that this is the career you want to pursue, the better. This career often takes years to acquire certifications and experience that may be needed to get full-time positions. Some departments even have an age cap as low as 30 for an application. All of this may seem daunting, but it is/will be worth it.
One thing that makes this a little different from many of the other articles you have seen like this, is that I’m not there yet. I am still actively looking for full-time employment with a fire department. What is shown below is a short list of necessities that I have learned in my five years while trying to get a full-time fire job. I have been through quite a few, and often have multiple hiring processes going at once. This list is my stream of consciousness for this afternoon. Here are a few things I have learned to be essential for testing, from personal experience and viewing others.
1. Educate yourself. It takes nothing to say you want something. If you have invested your time, effort, and money, it shows that you are dedicated to making it. Most departments have minimum qualifications to apply. Know them. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure if you don’t meet them. If you don’t have all of the certifications, go get them. However, don’t remain satisfied with meeting the minimum, continue learning and gaining knowledge/certifications.
2. Train body and mind. Work on your fitness. Figure out a workout routine that works for you and stick with it. Keep your mind sharp by reading articles and watching videos. Mobile app stores and the internet are full of good (and bad) sources of media. Learn the difference between the two and stick to the better ones. Heck, you could even break out an old textbook once and a while. This can all refer back to education. Get sharp, stay sharp.
3. Apply for jobs! I mean this one is a given but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If this is your calling, give it all you’ve got. Eventually, some department will pick you up and put you to work. (Don’t fear failure either, you don’t have to fail to be strong, but you can fail and come back stronger!)
4. Show up. For goodness sake, if you show up at all, you will have already topped some of your competition. It never fails. Every testing process I go to, I see that there are people that didn’t even show up. However, if you can’t show, or have changed your mind, give the testing department the courtesy of a phone call to remove yourself from the list. It shows you value their time and don’t want to waste it.
5. Test well. This goes back to education and training as well. If you know you don’t test well, take practice tests. During the physical ability tests, it is best to make sure you are in good enough shape to make it through. Go to the practice tests if they’re offered. Every place does something a little different. If you find you aren’t in as good a shape as you thought, don’t stop when you are tired, or when it hurts. Stop when you’re done! From the other candidates’ perspective, and the members of the hiring department’s view, quitters don’t look good. Unless the ask you to stop, finish the course. Even if you go over time, at least you can say you completed it. That being said, some places will just tell you to stop as soon as you hit the time mark, but at least you didn’t quit.
6. Dress up for your interviews. If you don’t have a nice suit, it is well worth your investment. After all, if this is what you want in life, wearing a button-down shirt and khakis does NOT get your message across as clearly as a matched suit and a tie. (Hint: in the last two interviews I have been to, nobody else wore a full suit. You will stand out, even if many others do the same.)
7. Study the department. Know how many firefighters they have, what their district is like, how many calls they run a year, whether they do medical transport or not, what apparatus they have, etc. This falls into the “how bad do you want it” category. If you go in and you can show you have done research on the department, it will never hurt you. Showing the prospective employer that you have made another effort to support your seriousness about doing this job is half the battle.
8. Be passionate. If this is your calling, this won’t be hard. You probably wake up thinking about the day you finally get to do the job and don’t stop thinking about it until you go back to sleep. Focus that passion into progress, don’t remain stagnant. If you get the opportunity to interview for the second year (or more) in a row, show them the progress you made in the last year. You don’t want to be the same as you were before, and that isn’t what they’re looking for either. Your competition is getting better and tougher all the time; you should too.
9. About “your competition”, assume they are just as driven and passionate about this as you are. Talk to other candidates. Support them. Tell them good luck before they test, you don’t have to make best friends here, but don’t be a jerk. Assume everyone that is there is qualified to do the job and treat them that way. The process will weed out the ones who aren’t ready. To put it simply, be nice and have respect for one another. After all, one day they may be on the pipe behind you in a structure.
10. Don’t give up. Be prepared for a long road ahead. I believe it is in your best interest to start thinking in terms of years. There are some who get in on their first couple tries and good for them! I am not one of those people and most people I know haven’t been either. If you are willing to apply for places outside a particular area, that will benefit and likely decrease your time spent searching.
Persistence with purpose will be your best friend through this process, be your own motivation but don’t be a clam. Have a support system, and don’t be afraid to use it. There will likely be some disappointing times and tough decisions while trying to land this dream career. You have to find a way to channel that disappointment into motivation to do better the next time. There is a beauty in the efforts you make. You can almost make motivational posters out of it. You have to be a person of serious character to stick with it and finally make it in, so be that, keep at it, and make it. Last bit of advice I have is this. If there is an opportunity for you to volunteer in the fire service in your community, find a way to get involved. That will be the single best thing I believe you can do for yourself. For me, volunteering was the catalyst for all that I have said today.
I will never forget where I got my start, and how they supported me and pushed me to be better. Get out there, keep trying, and good luck, I look forward to knowing you as brothers and sisters someday soon.
- Alex Needham – Central Iowa