How to Become a Firefighter - Paramedic, Wildland, Forest [2020]

firefighter career

Becoming a firefighter is a noble profession. Wondering how to become a firefighter? Joining the fire department can require a few years of training, certifications, and previous training that can put you through some rigorous training.

The first thing to note about becoming a firefighter is the requirement of having your EMT certification. Having your paramedic certification is a requirement to operate under fire protection and to serve in the firefighter position. The reason is that many times when emergency dispatchers are called for health-related situations, the fire department is called in for the emergency response.

The department you reside on will most likely have all firefighter professionals EMT certified. Some volunteer firefighter professionals may not have their certification yet but could be in the process of becoming a paramedic.


The minimum requirements to start working as a firefighter can vary based on the state or the department. All applicants must be at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Each applicant must have a valid state driver’s license and no criminal history (a background investigation is normally performed for all candidates). Applicants should have their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification either at the time of their application or shortly after their application. A bachelor’s degree is not required to be in fire prevention.

The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) is a standardized test that departments use to determine the candidate’s ability to perform physical tasks. These tasks are required to perform the firefighter job. As a firefighter, you’ll be hearing a helmet, gloves, bodysuit, and more. This can weigh anywhere from from 30 to 50 lb’s. The CPAT test puts you into a physical scenario wearing a 50 lb. weighted vest where you have to complete multiple tasks in under 10 minutes and 20 seconds. As a prospective firefighter, it’s important that you have the physical fitness requirements in place before you start to seek employment as this physical ability test is required by all departments.

There will be a written exam that is required to complete in order to be hired as a firefighter. This exam tests your reading, comprehension, judgment, verbal expression, and more. You must be within the top 5% of the written examination scores in order to move onto the next round and start your psychological evaluations for the department.

Fire science is a course that can be taken in both high school and college (earning a fire science degree). Fire science and fire academy can be a helpful preparation for your future firefighting career at your local fire department. Taking this course does not ensure you a position. But it certainly can help you earn a position as a volunteer before you decide to move forward as a career firefighter.

Here’s what you’ll learn in academy training:

Wildland Firefighter

There are multiple types of firefighters. In states where there are vast amounts of forest land and open fields, a wildland firefighter may reside in the fire department. Or a large quantity of these firefighters may reside on staff in a special wildland department. The majority of the duties performed are outdoors. Experiencing elements of all seasons. They assist with the prescribed burning, wildfire suppression, and fire preparedness of the wildland. They may conduct regular tree trimming, rock removal, mowing, and brush removal in the process.


The role of firefighting in most cities mostly consists of public safety duties, emergency services, and fire prevention tasks. This consists of responding to emergency calls, being on-site for car accidents, and other paramedic needs. As well as conducting regular safety checks, brush removal, fire prevention maintenance tasks, handling hazardous materials, and more.

Your battalion chief and fire chief are your leads at the fire station. Each of these commanders are available to you during a shift to ensure that all safety protocols are followed and that requirements and needs of the department are met in order to operate the emergency service effectively.

In major cities, such as Chicago and New York, there is an increased number of emergency calls that result in building fires. This is a much different role than those who are attending.

Once going through the successful completion of your EMT training, CPAT, written examination, and psychological evaluation; if chosen you’ll be a probationary firefighter. This is a period of time, for 6 to 18 months where you’ll be in service to the fire department but under guidance and supervision. A probationary firefighter or PFF, is a rookie firefighter.

Fire Certification

Completing your fire science degree or completing a fire certification can certainly be helpful to complete before applying to a fire department in a major city. As a certified firefighter, you’ll put yourself in the top percentile of candidates. The cost of attending college education for your fire science degree is anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 in total.

Going through the fire academy which does not have any upfront fees, as well a shorter time frame to become certified. There may still be costs associated with the fire academy you choose to attend and should be considered before you make your choice. Most fire academies help you receive your Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certifications.

Start Applying

Once you receive your EMT certification, you can immediately start applying for positions in the fire department. Using the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) can be a great way to find job openings. The U.S. Department of Labor agency also provides free vocational training and education for those interested in forest firefighting. And lastly, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) provides a healthy amount of resources on starting your firefighting profession.

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


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