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Firefighting is not just about fighting fires. Most calls firefighters respond to are actually medical emergencies. This is why most jurisdictions require firefighters to obtain certification as an EMT or paramedic. After completing basic medical training, firefighters must also complete fire academy courses and apply for state firefighter certification. Becoming a firefighter can take four years or more of training and apprenticeships.
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Firefighters need certification as emergency medical technicians. Basic EMT training requires approximately 100 hours of instruction, including practicum in a hospital or ambulance. EMT-Basic students must pass an exam that tests the ability to assess a patient’s condition, manage trauma or cardiac emergencies, and clear blocked airways. They also learn how to immobilize injured patients and administer oxygen. EMT-Intermediate, or Advanced EMT, involves an additional 1,000 hours of training in the care of critically ill or injured patients, including the use of complex airway devices and the administration of medications. To obtain paramedic certification, firefighters must achieve both basic and advanced EMT levels.
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Fire departments are increasingly looking for candidates with paramedic certification. Certification programs typically require at least 1,300 hours of training in advanced medical skills, such as suturing wounds or giving intravenous medicine. It can take up to two years to receive login credentials. Firefighters learning paramedic practice typically complete hospital rotations that emphasize emergency room skills and train them to provide advanced life support to patients. Aspiring firefighters learn to defibrillate patients, insert breathing tubes and catheterize major veins and arteries to monitor blood pressure and take blood samples.
To prepare for state fire certification, entry-level firefighters must complete training in a fire science program. The instruction lasts several weeks and teaches building codes, emergency medical procedures and preventive techniques. Students in the fire safety class learn to fight fires with standard equipment, such as fire extinguishers, ladders, axes and chainsaws. After the academy training, the firefighters need to complete an apprenticeship of up to four years. Some fire departments send students for additional training with the National Fire Academy in Maryland, where they learn emergency preparedness, general education and how to handle hazardous materials.
After completing medical training and fire academy training, most firefighters must obtain state firefighter certification. In Florida, for example, paid firefighters must complete the state’s 398-hour minimum standard firefighter course and pass written and practical tests. Washington firefighters must earn at least 70 percent on the state’s written exam and pass a practical skills test. Most states adopt certification criteria established by the National Fire Protection Association.
To qualify for firefighter training, candidates must meet several physical and academic requirements. They usually need a high school diploma or GED, and they must pass a physical exam that screens them for general health and drug use. In addition, academies test applicants’ math and reading skills. Each candidate must also pass a timed assessment of physical ability, including a sledgehammer swing, a stair climb, an equipment carrier, a ladder rise and extension, and a fire hose.
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Do firefighters also have to be EMTs? How much does a firefighter make in an hour? The Salary of a Firefighter/Paramedic What type of license do you need to be a firefighter? High School Prep to Become a Paramedic Training Schools for Firefighters Do You Need College to Become a Firefighter? Highest Paying Firefighter Cities Average Salary for a First Responder? Facts about firefighter jobs What do you study to become a firefighter? Requirements to be a firefighter Firefighters are first responders to emergencies in their communities. They fight fires, but they also respond to medical, rescue, public safety and environmental emergencies. Most fire departments across the United States are staffed by volunteers, but many large cities have a professional fire department.
Firefighters typically work 24-hour shifts. While on duty, firefighters stay at their fire station and take care of station duties during the day and sleep at night. When an emergency call comes in, the firefighters act immediately and take action. Most of the emergencies that firefighters respond to are actually medical emergencies, and most firefighters are also emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Newly hired firefighters go through training, usually called fire school or probationary school, before they start working as firefighters. This full-time training lasts approximately 18 weeks and includes instruction in fire science, emergency medical procedures, fire investigation, hazardous materials, vehicle operations, rescue, domestic violence and counter-terrorism. Students at the fire academy also participate in simulations to learn how to fight fires in different types of buildings.
Firefighting is a very physically demanding career, so physical fitness is emphasized in new recruit training. Recruits can run and perform exercises daily and also complete challenge courses.
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Firefighters in many states can or must obtain certification through their state. Each state has its own requirements, but most set standards in these categories:
Training and Assessment: Candidates for certification must complete state-approved firefighting training and pass written and practical certification tests.
States that certify firefighters create multiple levels of certification, and new firefighters are typically granted a basic or Level I certification. As they gain more experience and training, firefighters can pursue advanced certifications such as Level II Firefighter, Fire Investigator, Fire Inspector, and Fire Chief.
If you are hired by a fire department without first completing any firefighter training or education, it may take 18 weeks to complete the new recruit training. If your country requires certification, it may take additional time to meet these requirements.
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After completing the training, you can either enter a probationary employment or start an apprenticeship program which can last from two to four years.
Salaries in the fire service are often defined by rank, and a firefighter of a certain rank can expect to be paid within a certain range.
Salaried firefighters in the United States earned a median salary of $45,250 in 2010. The top 10 percent of wage earners earned more than $75,390 that year, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,050.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 26,600 new firefighters will be needed in the United States between 2010 and 2020, which is only a 9 percent increase in employment during that time.
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Competition for paid positions will be high and you can increase your chances of being hired by attending fire training and improving your physical fitness before applying. Many fire departments require applicants to take a written exam and a physical fitness test and hire the applicants with the highest scores on these tests.
With experience and additional training, firefighters can rise through the ranks in their department and be promoted to the level of lieutenant, captain, or chief. Marketing may require you to obtain a college degree or additional certifications from your state.
Specializing in a specific branch of firefighting can give you opportunities for promotion and increased pay. You can take courses through your own fire department, through your state fire marshal’s office, or through the National Fire Academy, and study advanced topics in fire prevention, fire investigation, executive development, terrorism preparedness and incident management, for example. You can also seek paramedic certification and licensure.
Research the required qualifications, such as age and education, for the fire department you want to work for. Depending on the department, you will apply for a job directly with the fire department or through a general application with the city or county where the department is located.
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As part of the application process, you will take a written aptitude test. If you pass this exam, you will take a physical fitness test, usually the Candidate Physical Aptitude Test (CPAT). The CPAT was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs as a method to reliably determine which candidates have the physical skills necessary to be successful firefighters. Preparing for both the written test and the CPAT in advance gives you the best chance of getting hired.
You may also be required to undergo drug testing and a background and medical check as part of your application process.
Part of the mission of fire departments across the United States is to educate the community. If you are interested in learning more about firefighters and what they do, visit your local fire station and ask to arrange a tour or talk to a few firefighters.
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