From Volunteer Firefighter to Career Firefighter
Becoming a career firefighter means making a substantial commitment to your department and your community.
Professional firefighters work long hours and spend a substantial amount of time away from home, often living at the firehouse during their shifts for speedy access to an emergency call. It takes a large amount of determination and conviction, and for many, it is by volunteering as a firefighter first that they discover whether a firefighting career is right for them.
If you’re following or considering following this path of volunteer to professional, here are some steps you might take to reach the fullest expression of your career.
1. Be an active and reliable volunteer. Just because volunteers aren’t paid for their time, that doesn’t make their contributions any less important or relied upon. Take your work as a volunteer seriously, and let your community and colleagues know they can rely on you. Your professional reputation begins as a volunteer, so be sure you’re creating an image you want to carry with you along your course as a firefighter from day one.
2. Seek opportunities to get involved. Fighting fires may be your life’s calling, but you most likely have other causes you care about as well. Find out how to get involved in community efforts for these causes, whether it be with the town library, a local animal rescue, or recycling efforts. Showing the multiple facets of your personality and scope of care for your community can help foster strong connections which will help you in professional networking and beyond.
3. Improve and prove your physical ability. Many, if not most, fire departments require a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), the passage of which grants you a card certifying your physical ability to perform the tasks associated with the job. Find out from your specific department how to obtain yours.
4. Take an entrance exam, even if you’re on the fence. A professional department will require candidates to pass an entrance exam, but that doesn’t mean you can take it only when you’re ready to move up to the professional level. As a volunteer, the exam provides valuable information and even making an early attempt can show a good-faith effort on your part.
5. Educate yourself. Learn more about HCI’s fire science degree and firefighter diploma programs