Firefighters play an important part in protecting the public by putting out fires, preventing property damage and being the first to respond to emergencies. Fire departments require firefighters to meet several training, experience and certification requirements. As a result, preparing for a firefighter career may take up to four years of training.
Firefighter Academy Expectations
Firefighter training prepares recruits to handle different types of emergencies. Firefighters must learn different firefighting techniques and search-and-rescue skills in addition to being prepared to handle medical emergencies. While training and certification requirements are different in each state, most firefighters are required to obtain their Firefighter I certification along with their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)-Basic training.
Trainees may take one year or more to complete their firefighter school training. Three years of apprenticeship or on-the-job training may also be required.
Firefighter Training Requirements
The Firefighter I certification is available through state-approved fire academies and training programs at fire departments. Students must take up to 600 hours of training depending on the state’s requirements. Students learn basic firefighting skills through a combination of classes and drills that cover training on hazardous materials, firefighting equipment, fire prevention and control.
Firefighters are also required to complete up to 250 hours of EMT training to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) EMT-Basic certification exam. This exam covers topics such as handling cardiac and respiratory emergencies, dealing with trauma and responding to emergencies. The certification needs renewed annually, which requires some continuing education coursework.
Local Apprenticeship Programs
Fire departments may also require firefighters to complete 1 to 4 years of an apprenticeship program or probationary period before they are hired permanently. During this time, trainees work under the supervision of an experienced team of firefighters and a fire captain. Fire departments in Ohio, California and Florida offer recruits an opportunity to enroll in paid apprenticeships that combine fire service and on the job training. These apprenticeship programs take up to three years to complete and trainees are appointed upon successful completion.
Advanced Firefighter Training
Firefighters are required to take continuing education courses throughout their careers. Completing regular training courses helps them qualify for promotions and allows them to improve their skills. Some fire departments may also require firefighters to complete a degree to qualify for an administration position.
Advanced training courses are available through distance education and on-campus courses with the U.S. National Fire Academy (NFA). Short-term courses can take two or six days to complete. The NFA also offers firefighters an opportunity to complete an online degree in fire prevention technology and management which can take up to four years.
Improving Firefighter Career Prospects
Due to the limited amount of positions available in most fire departments, prospective firefighters often seek to increase their career opportunities by obtaining a EMT-Paramedic certification. Most EMT-Paramedic training programs can take up to two years to complete because students must first earn their EMT-Basic and Intermediate certifications. Completing a two- or four-year college degree in fire science or a related field can also make firefighters more competitive and prepare them for management positions.
Despite limited positions available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics still expects good opportunities for firefighters through 2026 since existing firefighters will retire and create a need for replacements.