By Lt. David Polikoff
This is the number one E-mail I get from people who are not in the fire service. I off-handedly mentioned the E-mails I get on the subject to my wife and she said "well why don't you put an article on your web site about how to be a firefighter". So here it is:
First you must talk to your family. The life of a firefighter is much different than any other profession. There are long hours (volunteer or career), lots of training, and time away from home. You will be required to wear firefighting gear that can weigh up to 50 -60 extra lbs. If you are claustrophobic you will have a problem. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It is a dirty job and sometimes a sad job. You could work in an environment that is superheated with no visibility. There is more stress with this job than most. You will have to deal with other people's pain and loss. This loss includes property as well as death. You will develop a sick sense of humor ( this is sometimes a good thing - it helps deal with the stress). You will start to see the world in a much different way. What I have described is just the tip of the iceberg; there is so much more. Later in this article I will outline what are the requirements to be a firefighter in my county.
Now if you are still with me, let's go on. First of all, what do you want to do? Do you want to do this for a living (paid) or do you want to help out the community you live in and be a volunteer? I will break down what you need to do for both.
You need to go to your local fire dept. and ask for a membership application. You should ask the following questions:
1. Do you require uniforms? Will I have to pay for uniforms or are they free when I am a member?
2. How many hours of training do I need to be a Firefighter? What is the time frame to complete the training?
3. Do you have stand-by's? Are they over night stand-by's (sleep in)?
4. Do I have to pay any type of dues as a member?
These are just a few questions you should ask so you can make a decision to be a volunteer or not.
First you need to go to your local government office, library, or fire station and get an application. Take it home and fill it out the best you can. Before you return your application, stop by a fire house in the jurisdiction where you have applied. Ask to speak to the officer in charge, ask him/her the following questions:
1. How long is the training, and will I be paid during my training? (most of the time you're paid during training)
2. What is the starting salary?
3. How long are the shifts?
4 Will I be a member of the union during my probationary period?
5. What is the retirement ( 25 years, 20 years) and what % salary will I get?
6. Is this a career dept. or are combination system (career and volunteer)?
Again these are just a few questions you should ask so you can make a decision to be a career firefighter.
If you like what you hear submit your application. In most departments you will be required to take a civil service exam. Once you pass the exam you will be placed on a list. From there it is a waiting game. There is usually an oral interview and some type of physical and medical exam. That's about it.
Let me now tell you how my county works.
Once you are selected to be a firefighter you will go through recruit school. This lasts 2 months, 5 days a week from 7am to 5 pm. If you complete the firefighting portion you will move on to your EMT-B (emergency medical technician) class. This lasts 3 months, 5 days a week from 7 am to 5 pm. You will also have 2 hours of physical training a day; this is usually running and weight training. If you complete your EMT-B you will move onto EVOC (emergency vehicle operation class). This lasts about 1 month, 5 days a week from 7 am to 5 pm. Once your training is complete, you will be placed in a station where you will be required to complete a 1 year probation period under the supervision of a preceptor as well as the company officer. You will be part of the crew - you will be a firefighter but you will be on probation. You will be tested once every quarter. In that year you will be required to learn the maps of and have a working knowledge of the first due response area. You will be required to make sure there is plenty of coffee made, and you will be required to have extensive knowledge on how to clean the bathrooms as well as know how to use a mop. TV will not exist for you during the first year. You will be able to laugh at yourself because you will be the butt of most jokes. Ok, so the last few things are all in jest, but understand you are the rookie so you will need to know how to take a joke and a good ribbing every now and then. Believe me this job is not for the sensitive or the weak. You must be able to work well with a group as well as work independently. All in all I feel that this is the best job in the world and I would not trade it for all the coffee in the firehouse!!
I hope this sheds some light on the becoming of a Firefighter.