A long time ago I was given the advice of “Inc.” yourself. Sounds kind of strange, but let me explain.
You see, in order for a company to grow and survive in the economy they must continue to create and give value to customers and investors alike. Without offering them any value, they aren’t worth much to anyone.
Nowhere is this analogy more important than for the aspiring firefighter. There are thousands of potential candidates going for only a few spots at career fire departments. Among other things, you will have to articulate why a department should spend the time, money and effort on hiring you onto their department?
If you don’t have a good answer to that, then you’re really going to struggle in the interview, but more on that later.
A better, or perhaps easier, way to think of this is to think of what valuable skills or knowledge would you bring to a department. If you don’t have any skills or value, what can you begin doing to create value for yourself and a future department?
If you can’t think of any, here’s some to get you started…
- Become an EMT-B
- Become a Paramedic
- Get your Firefighter 1 & 2 and beyond
- Become extremely fit
- Make friends in the fire service
- Get a job working in an ER (where you’ll be exposed to a lot of firefighters)
- Pick up useful hobbies (being mechanical, building construction, diving, ropes, radios, etc.)
The best way to boost your perceived value is experience, and at this point, you should be doing everything you can to get on a volunteer/part-time department or at the very least somehow become involved with one.
The next best way to boost your value to a department is to get some kind of EMS certification. As with most things, the more you do, the more valuable you become.
In short, fire science degrees look great, but I’ve never seen a department that required one to get hired.
Unfortunately, if you go to any school counselor, they will put you on an educational track that takes a lot of time, and doesn’t necessarily get you the results you want.
If you are looking to stand out in a sea of average applicants the best way to do that is to be a Paramedic. A lot of departments don’t require you to have your Paramedic certification ahead of time, but like it or not, today’s fire service is moving more and more towards integrating Fire and EMS protection into one service.
Staying ahead of this curve not only makes you smart but allows you to stand out.
If you’re wondering where you can go in your area to get started on an EMS certification a quick google search of “EMT classes in ______” should point you in the right direction.
While a lot of the larger departments out there will send you to their own fire academy whether or not you have experience; I don’t recommend putting all your eggs in the one basket of getting hired at a large department and going through their fire academy.
A lot of smaller departments will require you to have some form of fire education.
This is where I highly recommend going to a Fire Academy. Fire Academies are usually a few months in length and will give you the necessary education and training (for your particular state) to be certified as a firefighter.
The main difference between this and a Fire Science program is that a Fire Academy is more direct. They give you all of the classroom and hands-on experience to be a firefighter in the shortest amount of time possible. Degrees in Fire Science usually take more time (at least 2 years) and may or may not give you the necessary certification to get hired (depends on the school and the program).
Other ways to separate yourself from the crowd is to acquire special knowledge or skills. This isn’t as important as your EMS certifications, but having excellent mechanical skills, knowledge of construction, plumbing (or any of the trades), ropes or really any sort of skills that would be used daily at a fire department can go a long way.
Regardless of your skills, knowledge, and experience, you must be able to articulate these in a way that is unique and memorable to a panel of interviewers. Mastering the Firefighter Interview will show you exactly what is necessary to stand out from the sea of other candidates and get hired.