How To Become a Firefighter in Washington (Plus FAQs)
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If you're looking for a job in Washington state where you can help others and work as part of a team, you might consider becoming a firefighter. Firefighters can make a positive difference for both the environment and in the lives of others while earning a good salary. Knowing more about the various responsibilities of a Washington state firefighter can help you decide if this career aligns with your preferences, skills and experiences.
In this article, we discuss what a firefighter is, explain how to become one in Washington and provide the answers to some frequently asked questions about this profession.
What is a firefighter?
A firefighter specializes in suppressing and preventing fires. They help minimize the potential damage caused by fires to property, the environment or people. Many firefighters are also first responders who provide emergency medical care to people experiencing side effects from fires, such as trouble breathing or burns.
What does a firefighter do?
Some of a firefighter's duties can vary based on factors like their location and specialization. For example, while some firefighters may primarily respond to fires at residential or commercial properties, others might specialize in controlling and suppressing wildfires. A firefighter's job responsibilities also depend on if they're certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT), paramedic or another first responder to provide acute medical services. Here are some of the duties that many firefighters share:
Responding to emergencies that involve active fires
Driving fire trucks or other emergency vehicles
Rescuing people from burning buildings or other dangerous situations involving fire
Putting out active fires with tools such as fire hydrants, hoses, fire extinguishers and water pumps
Providing emergency medical care to people affected by fires
Teaching classes on fire safety and prevention protocols
Writing reports about recent fires they've put out or medical services they have provided
Helping fire investigators analyze the potential causes of a fire
Taking part or running drills related to fire safety or control protocols
Cleaning or performing basic repairs on their equipment
How to become a firefighter in Washintong
Following are six steps on how to become a firefighter in Washington:
1. Meet the minimum requirements
Make sure that you meet the minimum requirements for being a firefighter in your region. While some of these requirements can vary based on the town or fire district, most employers of firefighters in Washington state require candidates to be at least 18 years old and have a valid WA state driver's license. Other requirements may include:
No or minimal criminal record
Vision that's naturally 20/20 or that can be corrected to 20/20
No use of tobacco products within the last two years
United States citizen or lawful permanent resident status
Fluency in reading and writing English
2. Get a high school diploma
Earn a high school diploma or an equivalent like a GED. Having a high school diploma is a standard requirement for all firefighters in Washington. A high school education can teach you foundational skills related to being a firefighter, such as reading comprehension and safety regulations.
3. Earn an EMT certificate
Receive certification for being an EMT. While not all fire departments in Washington require this certification, most of them do. In some areas, you might need a more advanced certification related to acute medical care, such as a paramedic certificate.
4. Consider fire training
Think about going to a firefighter training academy. Depending on where you want to be a firefighter, this may be a requirement. These academies can teach you valuable skills, such as how to safely put out fires, use your equipment and handle emergencies. Most of these programs also can help you get your EMT certification.
In some areas, you might be able to attend a firefighter training academy after getting a job as a firefighter. It's important to research the requirements for the fire department in your region before applying to firefighter academies.
5. Think about getting a degree
Consider getting an associate or bachelor's degree related to fire protection to help distinguish yourself as a firefighter job candidate. The most common is an associate degree in fire science. You can find associate degree programs for fire science at places like vocational schools, community colleges and online academic institutions. Other firefighters might pursue either an associate or bachelor's degree in subjects like:
Public safety administration
Emergency medical services
Emergency medical technology
6. Undergo testing
Apply for firefighter jobs and begin the testing process. While the exact testing requirements can vary by location, Washington employers typically ask job candidates to undergo multiple rigorous tests. These tests may include:
The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) that requires candidates to perform physical tasks like climbing stairs, rescuing victims from a fire and carrying equipment
A written test that evaluates knowledge of fire safety, prevention and control protocols
A psychological exam
A drug screening
A background check
An interview or oral assessment with either a board or fire chief
Average salary of firefighters in Washington
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average national salary for Washington firefighters is $76,280 per year. It's important to remember that this salary can vary based on your specialization, location, experience, certifications and education.
Job outlook for firefighters
While there's not enough data to evaluate the career outlook for firefighters in Washington, the BLS does offer data on the job outlook for firefighters nationwide. It predicts that job opportunities for firefighters will grow 8% nationally by 2030. This equals an increase of approximately 27,000 new jobs each year.
Skills of firefighters
If you want to become a firefighter in Washington, consider developing the following skills:
Firefighters use verbal communication skills to engage with both team members and people in need of rescue or medical services. They can interpret different elements of someone else's communication, such as their tone of voice and body posture, to help make these interactions more successful. A firefighter also uses reading comprehension and writing skills to review or prepare reports about their recent assignments.
One of a firefighter's critical responsibilities is responding to emergencies involving active or recent fires. Firefighters understand how to quickly adapt to these sudden or changing circumstances. A firefighter with flexibility skills can quickly analyze a situation and develop a proactive plan to help put out the fire or rescue people.
Ability to stay calm under pressure
Firefighters frequently respond to emergencies that may involve active fires and people who need rescuing or medical attention. A firefighter who can stay calm even during stressful situations may have an easier time responding to these emergency calls. They often have strategies for managing their stress at other times, such as by spending time with loved ones or pursuing hobbies when off-duty.
Firefighters often work as part of a team. In addition to other firefighters, this team may consist of hazardous materials removal workers, paramedics, police officers and conservation workers. Teamwork skills, such as persuasion and negotiation, can help firefighters have more positive and collaborative interactions with other professionals.
FAQs about firefighters in Washington
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about being or becoming a firefighter in Washington state:
What's the testing process like to become a firefighter in Washington?
In general, most fire departments in Washington begin by giving their firefighter candidates a preliminary assessment. This exam asks for basic information, such as your demographics, work experience, skills, education and certificates. After this test, you might receive a suitability exam that asks more in-depth questions about your personality and behaviors to evaluate if you might be a good fit for a firefighter role. If you pass these exams, you might then undergo a series of tests, including a physical assessment and a background check.
Related: Pros and Cons of Being a Firefighter
How long does it take to become a firefighter in Washington?
The time it takes to become a firefighter in Washington can vary based on several factors, including if you receive certification as an EMT or other type of first responder. Since earning an EMT certificate typically takes one to two years, it may take professionals with this credential about that amount of time to become firefighters.
The time it takes can also depend on whether you attend a fire training academy. While most of these academies last only three to four months, some may occur over long periods.
What kinds of physical abilities do I need to become a firefighter?
Firefighters typically possess a range of skills related to physical fitness, including:
Stamina: Stamina refers to how long you can endure various physical exercises. Firefighters use stamina abilities to help them persevere when battling large or more complex fires.
Strength: Firefighters use physical strength to perform tasks like sliding down a fire pole, carrying injured people or forcibly entering doorways blocked by debris.
Balance: Balance can help firefighters successfully navigate narrow or darkened passageways.
Coordination: A firefighter uses coordination abilities to conduct multiple physical tasks simultaneously. For example, they may need to carry heavy equipment while keeping their distance from any potential hazards.
Is being a firefighter hard?
Being a firefighter can be emotionally challenging as one of your primary responsibilities is helping during emergencies. A career as a firefighter, however, can also be highly rewarding. Many firefighters appreciate making a positive difference for the environment and the lives of others. You may also be part of a supportive team of professionals, like a fire chief, EMTs, fire investigators and other firefighters.
What do you learn at a Washington training academy for firefighters?
There are multiple training academies for firefighters in the state, each with its own curricula. These programs typically offer both traditional academic courses with practical experiences related to combating fires. The following are some of the subjects you might learn about at a Washington firefighter training school:
Fire control and suppression
Emergency medical treatments
Safe handling of potentially hazardous materials, like chemicals
Strategies for search and rescue missions
Proper use of equipment such as chainsaws, ladders and water hoses
Local building codes
Fire breathing equipment
How do I fight wildfires in Washington?
Both local fire departments and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employ firefighters who combat wildfires. Regardless of their employer, firefighters in the state first undergo specialized training related to suppressing wildfires before being allowed to take part in these situations. These specialized training opportunities may be through a fire training academy or an employer.
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