Do You Need To Attend College To Be a Firefighter?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 5, 2021

The role of a firefighter is challenging and rewarding, and firefighters provide vital services to communities during emergency situations. Although this position requires training and developing necessary skills, you may wonder whether attending college is necessary to become a firefighter. Learning the requirements to become a firefighter can help you start taking the required steps to pursue available positions. In this article, we discuss steps to take and certifications needed to become a firefighter so you can begin pursuing this career path.

What is a firefighter?

A firefighter is someone who extinguishes fires and helps with emergencies threatening life, property or the environment. In addition to extinguishing fires, firefighters provide medical aid to those at emergency scenes and rescue humans or animals from burning buildings. They also may speak to the public about their services and describe preventive measures one can take to avoid accidentally setting fires.

Different types of firefighters include:

  • Wildland firefighters: Focus their efforts on stopping wildfires in large areas of outdoor land

  • Volunteer firefighters: Provide services to local communities without receiving payment

  • Private firefighters: Work with insurance companies to protect a client's private property

  • Municipal firefighters: Assist citizens of a city, county or state with emergencies

  • Federal firefighters: Help extinguish structural fires and wildfires for the government

Do you need a college degree to become a firefighter?

While entry-level firefighter positions don't typically require a college degree, some full-time positions prefer candidates to have some postsecondary education. Some colleges now offer associate and bachelor's programs in fire science, firefighting and fire technology. Courses may cover topics such as:

  • Firefighting equipment maintenance

  • Evacuation of structures during a fire and treating victims

  • Driving and operating emergency vehicles and pump engines

  • Fire prevention practices

  • Extinguishing fires with hoses and pumps

Individuals can also choose courses that allow them to specialize in a particular fire department role in which they are interested. For example, those interested in becoming a pump operator can learn about hydraulics and water supply, while those interested in becoming an inspector can learn about reviewing construction documents and fire protection codes. Having a degree can help enhance your job prospects and allow you to advance to higher positions, such as a fire chief. Those earning master's or doctoral degrees in fire engineering technology or environmental science can earn higher salaries and increase their chances of working for a private company or the federal government.

How to become a firefighter

Here are some steps you can take to begin a career as a firefighter:

1. Meet basic requirements

Before pursuing a career as a firefighter, an individual should research the requirements for their local fire department. Some common requirements to become a firefighter include:

  • Having a high school diploma or equivalent education

  • Obtaining a valid driver's license

  • Being at least 18 years old

  • Passing eyesight tests

  • Passing a criminal background check

  • Having a good credit score

  • Passing a drug screening

  • Being physically fit

Related: How To Become a Wildland Firefighter

2. Start volunteering

Consider volunteering with a local fire department to gain experience on the job. It's also helpful to become involved with your community through other organizations, which can help foster connections with those in your community since firefighters often interact with the public during educational speaking engagements.

3. Get licensed

Since firefighters help provide medical care to victims, employers often require prospective firefighters to attain medical-related licenses. One license to consider pursuing is the CPR certification. After attending classes, you can receive a certification that is valid for as long as two years from the time of completion.

Most firefighter positions also require an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license, which is helpful to pursue as soon as possible since the process can take as long as a year. To become EMT certified, pursue related training and pass the National Registry EMT exam.

Related: What Is an Emergency Medical Technician?

4. Pass the exams

Firefighter applicants often take two exams before entering a training program. The first is a written exam, consisting of around 100 multiple-choice questions on topics such as spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning, reading comprehension, logic, memory and observational skills. Applicants also typically take the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), which tests their physical fitness and strength. The CPAT involves a distance run to be completed in a set time, along with quickly climbing stairs and carrying upwards of 200 pounds.

Related: Employment Tests: What They Are and How To Prepare

5. Attend a fire academy

Once you pass the necessary exams, you can learn basic firefighting skills at a fire academy, where you learn in a classroom setting with hands-on work. Courses often cover topics such as anti-arson techniques and handling hazardous materials.

6. Prepare for an interview

Once you have completed your necessary training, you can start looking for jobs. One way you can prepare for interviews is to practice answering common firefighter interview questions. Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to be a firefighter and what you believe the most important quality is for a firefighter to have.

Related: 45 Firefighter Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

7. Continue learning

Even after starting a career as a firefighter, you constantly learn skills and techniques on the job. Some fire departments require new employees to attend their department's academy upon arrival, while others require a four-year apprenticeship program. Even after you have attained employment with a fire department, the department may offer weekly required training for the team to attend. In addition to department training, an EMT license requires regular training to maintain, too. Those interested in advanced positions in a fire department may consider earning additional certifications and returning to college to earn an advanced degree.

Related: How Much Do Firefighters Make?

Salary and job outlook for firefighters

Salaries vary for firefighters based on factors such as an individual's amount of experience, education, certification and location. The national average salary for a firefighter is $44,423 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the employment of firefighters will grow 6% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than most occupations. Those who are physically fit and have paramedic training will have the best job prospects, according to the BLS.

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