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Virginia Department of Fire Programs
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Become a Firefighter

So You Want To Be a Firefighter...?

Is a Career in Firefighting right for you?

If you are looking for a vital and challenging career, you’re on the right track.  Firefighting is demanding work, with built-in-job security and terrific rewards. Firefighters are America’s greatest living heroes.  They protect the lives and properties of their neighbors.  They perform daring rescues and extinguish raging infernos, but firefighters also protect people in many other ways.  Firefighters play an important role in education and public awareness of fire safety.  All this in addition to putting out house fires!

On any given day a fire department may be called upon for:

  • Airplane crashes
  • Animal rescues
  • Bomb threats
  • Brush fires
  • Car fires
  • Childbirth
  • Elevator rescues
  • Floods
  • Gas leaks
  • Hazardous material spills
  • Water and ice rescues
  • Vehicle fires
  • Structure fires
  • Vehicle Accidents
  • And more!

To qualify for employment as a career firefighter, an individual must: 

  • Meet residence requirements, if they exist.
  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent, some departments have education requirement
  • Clear a background check on employment, education and criminal history
  • Apply for and take an entry-level Civil Service test periodically given by the municipality in question.
  • Successfully pass an agility test and physical
  • Be reachable on the finalized list once vacancies are being filled.
  • Be selected as a probationary firefighter
  • Successfully complete basic firefighter training and departmental requirements with required time frames.

Volunteer Firefighter Requirements

A volunteer department is an excellent training ground for aspiring firefighters.  It’s a prime opportunity to get acquainted with the fire service and gain some valuable training and experience.  In addition to volunteering to become a firefighter in your community, remember that opportunities also exist to volunteer at your place of work.  They can provide you with vital “hands on” experience that will be an excellent stepping stone into your fire service career.   Volunteer fire departments are generally found in rural communities, although you may occasionally find a growing community with a large, very committed group of volunteers.  These communities are very limited.  Most, if not all, of the money a volunteer department receives is used for the purchase and maintenance of equipment.  Often volunteer firefighters maintain their aging apparatus themselves.

To qualify for the position of volunteer firefighter, an individual must:

  • Meet residence requirements, if they exist.
  • Meet the active membership requirements or bylaws of the entity or organization.
  • Successfully complete required probation or training needs.

Volunteer Fire Departments Provide:

  • Injury compensation under The Volunteer Firefighters Benefit Law.
  • Company – and state-sponsored training.
  • Social/organizational benefits.
  • Retirement incentives in some departments.

On-the-Job Training

Ask any employed firefighter and he or she might tell you that the training never stops! On-the-job firefighter training varies by department and city and state. Most fire departments train their own recruits in 10-week to 5-month programs. Training may take place at the station, at a fire academy, or on-site-in classes or in simulation exercises. Subjects may include:

  • Level I and II Firefighter credentials
  • HazMat (hazardous materials)
  • Fire department history
  • Medical response, EMT, or paramedic qualification
  • Hydraulics
  • Leadership and stress-control classes
  • Training drills
  • General administration and computers
  • Physical fitness

The probationary period for a firefighter recruit is usually 6 months to one year. Of course, working firefighters continue to train-called in-service training-to learn about upgraded equipment and new techniques. In addition, regular testing and evaluations are common.

Continued Education

Many firefighters choose to continue their education-for the opportunity of promotion and for the challenge. Continued education may include certification or degrees (Associate, Bachelor's, or Master's) in such fields as

  • EMS-Emergency Medical Services
  • Fire Science
  • Fire Technology
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • Fire Administration
  • Fire Protection Technology

Fire Science Training Programs

FESHE High School to College Firefighting Program:

In the FESHE High School to College Firefighting Program, students are actively engaged in courses that can lead to high school units, college credits, and fire service industry-based certification. Dual enrollment availability, processes, and requirements may vary, so talk to your guidance counselor before you begin.

The FESHE Program mark represents the idea that within the ivory towers of higher education, firefighters and fire officers, armed with knowledge and a college degree, can reduce the human and economic impact of fires in their communities.

Since its inception, the goal of the FESHE Program has been to build a professional development model that accomplishes:

  • A set of nationally standardized courses leading to articulated collegiate degree programs
  • Creation of an easy-to-follow professional development matrix leading participants from basic practitioner to the highest levels of fire and emergency service management
  • Coordinated acceptance of training certificates and translation to collegiate transcript credit
  • Elimination of costly and timely redundancy between training and education
  • Elevation of the entire emergency response professions to the level of other respected careers.

Firefighting professional fall under the Career Cluster of Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security. Career Clusters strongly advocates for the preparation of students on their pathway to success, beginning in high school and ending in a career.

Many community colleges, junior colleges, and four-year colleges offer certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees in such subjects as:

  • Fire science
  • Fire technology
  • Fire protection and engineering
  • Fire administration
  • Fire protection technology

Fire Academies:
Most state-sponsored or private fire academies are for continued education for employed firefighters only. If a fire academy is affiliated with a community college, however, it may also allow prospective firefighters to enter the program. You can search the Internet for websites using the name of a program as your search criteria, for example, enter "Vermont Fire Academy."

Distance Training Programs:
A fast-growing trend is Distance Training, which is basically independent study, in the form of online Internet classes and correspondence school. Distance Learning is based on the idea that adults, through their jobs, personal activities, and general life experience, have many of the tools necessary to be successful independent learners. Check with the schools you are interested in to see if they offer distance learning.

Additional Information

Upcoming Courses

You Want To Grow-Up To Be A Firefighter?

Last Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014