The process to become a firefighter is not easy, but can lead to a satisfying and rewarding career.
While the application and hiring process varies from state to state and within each municipality, there are common aspects. Understanding the basic steps will help you prepare for any firefighter job you wish to apply for.
Many firefighters report that the process took several weeks. Keep in mind that patience is an asset when applying for a firefighter position.
USA Firefighter Requirements
There are several requirements for eligibility to become a firefighter. Some of these requirements include:
- Age: applicants must be at least 18 to take the assessments and may need to be 21 to be hired. There may also be an upper age limit of around 30 years old
- Background check: the applicant must pass a background check. This includes checking the applicant’s driving history and criminal record
- Medical and psychological examination: applicants must demonstrate that they are physically and mentally capable of performing the duties of the job
- High-school diploma or GED
- Drug test
What Is the Hiring Process for USA Firefighters?
The process of employment as a firefighter begins with finding a job posting that sounds like a good fit for you. There are many online job boards that list firefighter postings. Note that some fire departments prefer to hire people who live within their district.
If the fire department approves your application, the next step is usually to complete written assessments. The assessments include an aptitude test and a personality test. During this stage, there may also be a psychological evaluation. There is more information about these assessments in the following sections.
Next, potential firefighters are required to pass a physical fitness test. Sometimes called PAT, for Physical Ability Test, the fitness test ensures you are in good enough physical condition to enter a fire training academy. During this test, candidates demonstrate that they can run a certain distance, quickly climb stairs carrying heavy equipment, and lift 200 pounds. Some fire departments test candidates independently, while others ask that candidates obtain their CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) Card from a third party.
An interview is the next step after the assessments and the fitness test. If the candidate’s interview is successful, they can begin training for the job.
Common Interview Questions
The interview will include standard questions, such as why you’re seeking a new role and what you’ve learned from past challenges.
Questions specific to firefighting may include the following:
- Have you experienced an emergency situation? How did you handle it?
- Do you have a routine to maintain physical fitness?
- Describe a situation in which you saw a distressed person and helped him or her.
Interviews sometimes include questions about public speaking. You may not think of public speaking as a common task for a firefighter, but many current firefighters say that they often speak about fire safety at local schools and other organizations.
Your interviewer may ask about your volunteer experience. Volunteering is not usually required but can help you stand out among other candidates. It’s especially helpful if your volunteer work includes responsibility, public service, leadership, or other tasks relevant to fire service.
What Is the USA Firefighter Test?
There is not a standard test that candidates take when applying for a firefighter position, as the needs of each municipality are different. However, many fire departments use similar assessments. These include a personality assessment and an aptitude test. In some cases, the personality and aptitude tests are taken at the same time and are part of the same written test. Other departments have applicants take them separately.
The personality test focuses on your ability to work well within a team, and your ability to handle stressful and dangerous situations. Both of these abilities are crucial to success within a fire department.
The assessment may be based around a personality profile, a more in-depth psychological evaluation, or both.
Firefighter Aptitude Entrance Exam
The firefighter aptitude test is a written test that covers a variety of subjects. It generally includes up to 150 questions and takes up to 2.5 hours to complete. Questions are in multiple-choice and true/false formats. Test sections include the following.
The math section of the test includes basic math functions and graph and chart analysis. Calculations on this section must be done by hand, as calculators are not allowed.
Questions in the mechanical section are about tools and equipment firefighters use. For example, a diagram of a certain tool may be shown, and candidates must understand how the tool performs in certain circumstances. Candidates must understand concepts including motion, resistance, energy, and pressure.
The verbal aptitude section involves reading a text and then answering questions. The purpose of the questions is to measure a candidate’s ability to understand complicated written information, such as an incident report.
This section measures the candidate’s ability to understand and follow a map of a physical area. The area may be a street map or the layout of the inside of a building. There may also be questions that involve looking at different 3D shapes and matching the same shape viewed from a different angle.
Questions in the SJT section describe a difficult situation or dilemma. The candidate must make a decision that would resolve the situation, which may range from a fire emergency to a workplace conflict.
Observation & Memory
This test section requires candidates to study images and then answer questions about the image from memory. The images are often of driving routes or building layouts.
Fire Safety Knowledge
This section asks specific questions about firefighting, such as the most frequent causes of fires and the steps in distinguishing a fire.
How to Prepare for your Firefighter Test?
For the personality test, it helps to understand the qualities of a successful firefighter, such as:
- Remaining calm in an emergency
- Having a positive attitude
- Quick decision-making
- Ability to learn from feedback
If possible, try speaking with a local firefighter before your assessment to get some tips. Ask questions about what qualities have helped him or her succeed at the job.
Personality tests can be tricky to study for as there are not technically “right” or “wrong” answers. However, in addition to understanding the qualities of a successful firefighter, there are practice personality tests that you can take online. These practice tests will help you understand the questions you might encounter during the exam and the answers a fire department will be looking for.
Some fire departments require a psychological evaluation as part of the personality assessment process. During the evaluation, a trained psychologist, psychiatrist or other professional asks questions that help determine your ability to deal with the stress of firefighting. Consider each question carefully and answer honestly.
To prepare for the aptitude test, online practice assessments will help you understand any weak areas you can work on, and feel comfortable when you take your test. Practice tests based on the test sections listed above will be the most helpful.
Aptitude assessments usually require knowledge of fire safety and emergency procedures in addition to other topics. Be sure to study information specifically related to firefighting along with more general practice such as reading comprehension and math.
Some sample questions are included below to help you get started.
Firefighting is a dynamic career that involves teamwork, helping your community, and saving lives. Not everyone makes it through the hiring process and assessments, but with proper preparation, you are much more likely to succeed. Good luck!