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Firefighting is a prestigious and noble career to aspire to and is exceptionally rewarding.  It is, though, an extremely challenging job and only the best of the best are chosen during a very competitive recruitment process.

If you think you have what it takes to be a firefighter, read on for tips on how to be better prepared.

Education and Licenses

Minimally, firefighting candidates must have a Secondary School Diploma which includes Grade 12 English and Math credits. Candidates must have a valid, unrestricted driver’s license and usually are required to have an endorsement to operate a vehicle equipped with air brakes.

Pre-Service Firefighting Programs

Some departments require certification from an accredited firefighting program at a post-secondary or training institute prior to applying. Even if not a requirement, higher education is a preferred  asset and will give you an advantage among the competition, as the majority of candidates have completed a pre-service program.  Any additional health and safety or fire-related courses  (think WHMIS, Fall Protection, Confined Space Entry training, etc.) will also help improve your chances of an interview and will look great on your resume.

Accredited Schools

The NFPA is an international agency that establishes the codes and training standards that govern the fire service, and by which firefighters are certified.

The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) and ProBoard Fire Service Professional Qualifications System both grant accreditation to government programs and educational or training institutes that certify firefighters using the NFPA standards.

Often job postings will ask for certification from one or the other, and sometimes firefighters are certified by both. Visit the  IFSAC or ProBoard websites for information on how to get certified. Some well-known academies that offer accredited pre-service firefighting programs in North America include Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in College Station, Texas; Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Mississauga, Ontario and the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) in New Westminster, BC. Various colleges in North America offer firefighting programs as well and have this information available online.  

Aptitude Tests and Certifications

Required Skills

Because firefighters are required to train regularly and maintain a high standard of physical fitness, entry level fitness tests are always a key part of the recruitment process. The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) is most commonly used to assess a candidate’s ability to perform the essential physical tasks of a firefighter. It is important that you are physically fit in order to meet the physical standards required, and you should have a regular fitness and training regimen in place prior to applying. You can research fitness routines or check out this guide developed by the City of Ottawa that can help you prepare for the CPAT.

Other initial  testing assesses candidates for critical thinking, interpersonal, and reasoning skills.  As well, key attributes such as teamwork, , commitment, honesty, integrity and emotional stability are vital. Mechanical aptitude, and ability to stay calm under pressure, and a desire to continuously learn and improve are equally important.

Some departments require applicants to already have certification from an agency that administers candidate testing. For example, Ontario uses a standardized candidate testing service administered by Ontario Fire Administration Inc (OFAI) to test candidates’ aptitude, physical and practical firefighting skills. Make sure you closely read all requirements of a job posting to see if this is a stated pre-requisite.

Standard First Aid and Basic Rescuer CPR (Level C) certification will be required at minimum – depending on the position and department, you may be required to have an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or First Responder certification.

Community Service

Firefighting is a public service, and departments want to know that you care about the community you live and serve in. Having volunteer experience on your resume is a great way to show this. You can even volunteer for events put on by your local fire department - it's a great way to gain insight into the world of firefighting as well as make some great contacts. 

Once you are sure you have all the basics to become a firefighter, it’s time to apply. Your resume should highlight all related training and education, plus relevant work experience and community service. Your application should clearly indicate how you meet the requirements of the job as outlined in the job posting. Remember, your resume and cover letter are the first step in the recruitment process and your first opportunity to get your foot in the door. Armed with an impressive application you’ll be ready to foray into the fire services. 

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