Making the decision to become a firefighter is only the first step in starting a career as a first responder. While training regulations and guidelines may vary by state, all firefighters must complete the basic requirements, pass a physical and background check before being hired or granted permission to join a volunteer fire department. Many rural areas across the United States are served solely by volunteer firefighters who have undergone the same training as their paid counterparts.
The Guide to Becoming a Firefighter offers an overview of standard and uniform requirements. The guide may aid both novice firefighters and those who are seeking information on specialized certification or completing continuing education requirements. Before registering for a training course or purchasing expensive bunker gear, meet with the local fire chief to inquire about roster vacancies and department policies and training procedures. Some fire departments financially assist new firefighters with educational courses and gear expenses.
Standard Operating Procedures
Standard operating procedures for firefighters vary slightly by state and fire department policies. General guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Association apply to all fire and rescue emergency responders.
Firefighters learn the rules and regulations governing actions at emergency scenes during their initial 240 hour basic training course. Each state or local fire department has the authority to further enhance the policies and safety initiatives studied during the firefighter certification process. The training curriculum and regulations change when new equipment becomes available.
Firefighters must always go into a burning structure with at least one other fire department member. The “buddy system” is believed to save lives and allows the fire chief to account for his crew quickly. When firefighters inside a burning building hear the universal sign of distress, a high pitched wail of fire engine sirens, they know to immediately leave the building and gather next to the chief for a head count.
SCBA gear, a breathing apparatus packed on the backs of the firefighters, must be worn when entering any burning structure. When the tank gauge dings, the firefighter knows he is getting low on oxygen and must exit the fire.
Firefighter safety guidelines are mandated by both the federal and local state governments. Whether a firefighter is participating in a training course or emergency scenario, prescribed safety protocols protect the lives of first responders.
Firefighters must undergo a full physical before beginning the physically demanding training sessions. Although rules vary by state and educational facility, a drug test is also typically required. Firefighters must be able to stand for extended periods of time and pack heavy equipment and gear up multiple flights of stairs during training.
During training firefighter candidates participate in drills with pressurized water tanks, portable oxygen tanks and live burns. A live fire scenario can take place on a training center campus or at the vacant building in the community. For the safety of firefighters, emergency medical personnel (EMS) are on hand. An EMS vehicle is sent to all live burns. Although the fire is planned, the same level of caution used during an emergency fire call is employed.
Trainees are shadowed by an experienced firefighter or certified fire instructor. While the firefighter has to work through scenarios using the skills they have learned in training, a veteran emergency responder is within arm’s reach to aid to redirect a trainee if necessary.
Firefighter escape training is and essential aspect of instruction for not only new firefighters, but for veteran emergency responders as well. Fire department rescue or escape training on an annual basis, or when new equipment is acquired.
During the firefighter certification course, escape techniques and equipment are a part of the instruction. Both full-time and volunteer fire departments teach additional escape and safety training on an annual basis.
Emergency training is basically a three prong process. Firefighters learn how to detect when a fire is becoming unsafe and the need to immediately exit is warranted. Firefighters are trained to identify a secondary escape route upon entering a fire. When a firefighter enters a room or hallway, it is ingrained upon them to locate a window, door or exterior wall in case an escape is necessary.
Sirens blare when a structure has become unsafe, or the fire is growing out of control. When the oxygen gauge tank that firefighters wear on their backs, begins to ding they must immediately exit.. Firefighters use their axes to break through doors or walls to escape, climb out of a window onto a ladder or use a personal “bail-out system” consisting of ropes to rappel out of a building.
NIMS Communication Training
The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and offers courses to first responders throughout the United States. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) or a comprehensive system of protocols and codes used to facilitate multi-agency communication.
An introductory NIMS course was developed in 2006 in collaboration with the United States Fire Administration, Department of Agriculture and National Wildfire Coordinating Group. The course is geared to meet the communication needs of first responders who respond to emergency, aid in recovery efforts and develop safety plans for municipal areas.
Course goals surround the concept of instilling a working knowledge of incident command system protocols and be able to coordinate with other agencies and the private sector during emergencies. The curriculum includes positions and responsibilities at an incident command center, facilities and functions, positions and responsibilities and creating an emergency response plan.
NIMS courses can be taken in a traditional classroom setting or through an interactive online course. Students can download the training materials in advance to familiarize themselves with the curriculum. A final examination must be passed in order to gain certification and remain in compliance with federal training requirements. The course typically takes three hours to complete.
Hazardous Devices Training
Hazardous devices training for first responders prepares the emergency workers to safely maneuver around catastrophic scenes. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel gain insight into bomb, weapons of mass destruction and chemical agents dangers.
Courses in home made explosives (HME) train first responders to identify and disarm devices as well as evacuation protocols which protect the community. Training courses are geared to aid bomb technicians, explosive handlers, canines and members of the military.
Emergency response to terrorism training classes instruct teams of emergency workers through a combination of workbook, case studies and simulated scenario techniques. The classes encompass personal safety while on scene, incidents which involve biological or chemical agents, explosive devices and radioactive matter. Critical thinking and safe response procedures are employed throughout the course as instructors guide students through team exercises.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hazardous Devices School and Special Agent Bomb Technician Program offers training courses for first responders and bomb technicians. Courses are geared to develop an effective and safe response to terrorists bombings, hazardous devices and weapons of mass destruction. Students are trained to respond to incidents which involve improvised explosive devices (IED) and chemical weapons emergencies.
Hazardous Materials Decontamination Training
Hazardous materials decontamination (hazmat decon) training is part of the ongoing education emergency responders. Both law enforcement officers and fire rescue departments undergo training to protect themselves and victims when dangerous materials are involved in an accident scene.
Hazmat decon training courses are comprised of both classrroom learning sessions and mock disaster scenarios. Evaluators screate a scenario where multiple agencies arrive on scene and set up decontamination cleansing centers, clear the scene of hazards and transport “victims” to area hospitals.
The Emergency Managemnt Agency governs the policies and training requirements to stay in compliance with both federal and state laws. The agency works in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security for related weapons of mass destruction emergency response and disaster training.
International Association of Fire Fighters Hazmat and emergency response to terrorism course focuses on competence standards for first responders and identification of chemical agents. The emergency respnders learn protective techniques for both themselves and victims, are instructed on the purpose and use of protective equipment, and communications protocol. Typically both a pre and post test is a part of the training process.
Wildland Firefighter Training
Wildland firefighters seeking S700 level certification must first successfully complete both lower and moderate level training courses and be affiliated by a sponsoring agency. State and federal forestry divisions control the approval of wildland firefighter personnel.
The National Firefighter Protection Agency sets the curriculum standards and eligibility requirements for both standard and advanced wildland firefighter certifications. Wildland firefighters must be employed by a state or federally approved sponsoring agency.
Prerequisites abound for firefighters seeking the upper level designation of S700 wildland firefighter certification. Before you can register for a class, all lower level credentials and a valid “red card” designating wildland firefighter affiliation must be giving to the training center or college. As of 2010, specific course prerequisites included wildland fires S600 level, vehicle fires, coordinated interior attack tactics, Class A structural fires and interior structure fires.
All candidates must be a citizen of the United States and be at least 18 years old. Wildland firefighter candidates must pass the WCT physical fitness test. Firefighters have to carry a 45 pound pack during a three mile hike. All candidates must complete a federal application process through the U.S. Forest Service and undergo an background check. Felony charges and specified misdemeanor convictions may disqualify a candidate from holding a position with any federal agency. Wildland firefighters are under the supervision of the federal government and travel around the county to combat forest fires. Training to become a wildland firefighter is physically demanding and requires continued re-certification on an annual basis.
Wildland firefighter S700 students will have to complete a practical training scenario. Training consists twenty hours of instruction spread over two days. Municipal firefighters can take the practical component after completing a theory course through a distance learning initiative. Students work in teams to extinguish fires in a controlled environment. Candidates work from a simulated fire department and respond to a controlled burn inside a multi-level structure.
Outdoor skills such as using a chainsaw, pitching a tent and reading a topographic map are also required. Candidates do not necessarily have to hold a certificate in outdoor skills, but will be required to demonstrate ability in the field. Firefighter certification such as the basic course, S-130 and fire behavior S-190 are also required for hire.
Laws pertaining to firefighter fitness to serve vary both by state and local municipality. Regardless of geographic location, all potential firefighters are subject to a Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) background check. If a firefighter candidate has a felony conviction show up on a BCI background check, he or she is automatically disqualified from employment consideration. If the driving while intoxicated conviction was ruled a felony, a career as a firefighter will not be a possibility.
A single driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence conviction may not disqualify a potential firefighter from employment. Either state laws or local fire department guidelines will be the determining factor for further consideration. The length of time between the driving offense and the request for employment will likely be a major factor in consideration for possible employment.
Firefighters who have not yet had driving privileges restored or are on a court ordered probation will not be considered for employment. Even if the driving while intoxicated conviction was a misdemeanor, a fire department could disqualify a candidate if the traffic infraction caused injury to a person or property.