How to Become a Firefighter
What do firefighters do?
Firefighters today do much more than fight fires, they are our community first responders. Firefighters respond to structure fires, accidents, and medical emergencies. They also provide rescue services, handle hazardous chemical emergencies and conduct fire prevention, investigation and inspection activities. Firefighters work in urban and rural areas, at airports, in forestry and also industrial sites. Firefighters also do most of the cleaning and maintenance work required to keep their tools, equipment, buildings and apparatus ready for immediate response.
If you become a firefighter, you will be assigned to a team, called a "company," that provides some or all of these services.
A majority of calls are medical in nature, sometimes as much as 70% or more of call volume which is why almost 90% of area departments require you to be a licensed paramedic to either apply for a position or get hired. This is why you will see a fire apparatus respond along with an ambulance to medical calls. The fire apparatus also carries some of the necessary medical equipment paramedics need to begin treatment until the ambulance arrives. Most area fire personnel are Firefighter/Paramedics.
In Illinois, firefighters usually work between 53 to 56 hours per week, arranged with one 24-hour work period followed by 48 hours off duty. Additional days off are provided periodically to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Firefighters eat, sleep and work in a fire station with a team or "company" of firefighters.
Does Illinois law establish requirements for firefighters?
Illinois law requires that most cities and fire protection districts with full-time, paid firefighters have either a fire and police or civil service commission. These commissions handle the hiring, disciplining and promoting of firefighters. Illinois law sets some guidelines as to how this is done, but local communities, especially home rule units, have considerable latitude in accomplishing these regulations.
What are the minimum requirements?
In most communities, you must be at least 21 years of age. A few departments will hire 18-year-olds if they meet certain minimum requirements. To be considered for full-time employment, you must be between the ages of 21 and 35 and meet specific minimum requirements of the fire department which may include being a certified firefighter, and an Illinois Licensed EMT or Paramedic.. You will need a high school diploma or equivalent, and some departments may have higher education requirements. Some communities require you to be a resident, or become one, after joining the department.
How do I begin the process?
First, go to a fire department or city personnel office to see if they are currently hiring or plan to hire in the near future. Learn about the firefighter employment requirements in that area. Individuals from fire or city personnel departments can tell you which testing procedures will be administered during the employment process, and when this testing will take place. Announcements regarding the College of DuPage Fire Science Consortium Testing are posted on the Firefighter Testing link at the top of this webpage.
Illinois law requires that candidate selection be based on merit, so most communities have specific written tests, physical agility tests and oral interviews to determine qualified applicants for the job. From these tests, an eligibility list of successful candidates is established. If you are considered for a position, these may be required: a psychological profile, a polygraph, a medical evaluation including drug testing, and a background check.
If I am hired, what's next?
If you are hired, you will begin a probationary period of at least one year. Each fire department will have their own requirements for completing the probation period. If you pass this probationary period, you will then become a permanent member of the fire department.
What can I do to improve my chances of becoming a firefighter?
Go to a college or university that offers programs in Fire Science, Emergency Medical Technician, and Paramedic. Many departments prefer candidates who have already met state certification requirements for Basic Operations Firefighter, and licensing requirements for EMT and/or Paramedic. If you are a recent high school graduate, and are not yet 21, you should enroll at a college that offers a Fire Science program that also offers Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic Training. This is a good way to work toward educational requirements while waiting to meet the age requirements. Obtain really good grades and being strong in reading, writing, math, and science will help too.
The State of Illinois will not certify anyone as a firefighter who is not currently a member of an agency providing fire or emergency services, so check with your local fire departments about serving as a part-time, paid-on-call, or voluntary firefighter. Many of these departments will accept members at age 18, if they are currently certified as an EMT, and many of them are looking for candidates. You may be able to complete some certifications while employed as a part-time, paid-on-call, or volunteer firefighter.
Stay out of trouble and maintain a clean record. A felony-free background, good driving record, and a clean personal background are required. Fire Departments only hire applicant they believe will be trustworthy public servants. Exercise caution on social media as part of the background check during the hiring process will most certainly look into your social media use.
Having and maintaining good physical condition is a must. Most, if not all departments, will require you to have a valid Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) certificate. CPAT is the widely accepted verification that you have the minimum physical attributes to be considered for the job. More information regarding CPAT can be found on the Firefighter Testing link at the top of this webpage.
Visit a fire station, Gain insight from the men and women who are firefighters and paramedics in your community as to what life is like as a 24 hour hero. Ask questions about their daily lives at the station, the daily training, meals, how many times they are woken up at night, do they miss home a lot, and how it feels to have a second family away from home. Take a tour and see the apparatus, tools and equipment used daily,
Where can I find more information?
Web sites such as www.firecareers.com and www.firehire.com, or www.publicsafetyrecruitment.com, or www.firescience.org/public-service-careers, or any fire department web site, are very helpful. Or, simply type "fire fighting" in Google or another search engine to determine what jobs are available and where and when the hiring process will take place.
Please read the rest of the information on this site and learn about the programs and how to get started. After you have done this, go to the online Class Schedule and follow the prompts to search for classes. Registration begins approximately eight weeks before classes begin and continues until the first class meeting. Some classes have prerequisites and must be completed before you can register. Classes fill up quickly, so register early.
Fire fighting and emergency service is a rewarding career that requires a certain amount of sacrifice and a willingness to endure some unusual and difficult circumstances. You'll need to be a team player. However, a career as a firefighter also offers ample pay and benefits, as well as a sense of having made a difference in your community. It is a career well worth your effort.
Dan Krakora, EMS/Fire Science Manager
Robert J. Miller Homeland Security Education Center (HEC), Room 1018
Jill Davis, Program Counselor and Advisor
Health and Sciences Division
Health and Science Center (HSC), Room 1220, (630) 942-8331
Feedback/compliments/concerns regarding this Health Science Program. For general inquiries, please use contact information listed above.
College of DuPage
425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL, 60137
(630) 942-2800 (Main)
(630) 942-3000 (Student Services)
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