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Bolstering Mechanical Skills for the Entry-level Firefighter

One of the most important skills a firefighter can have is being well versed and competent in the area of mechanical ability. Hiring new firefighters with the lack of mechanical-ability skills is one of the biggest complaints I hear from firefighters on the job. Twenty years ago, the majority of recruits in a fire academy came with a strong mechanical ability. It was not uncommon to hire people from the trades (construction, auto repair, home repair, etc.). These folks did not have much of a problem when it came to operating the various power and non-power tools utilized by a fire department.

However, take a recruit academy today and you would be hard pressed to find more than a couple (if any) recruits who have some mechanical-ability background to bring to the table. That is not a bad thing; that is just reality. Many of the recruits today are coming straight from college (which was uncommon in the past) and from never having lived away from mom and dad for an extended period of time. Many of the recruits today cannot perform basic skills (basic skills to firefighters who have been on the job for at least 10 years) such as change a tire on a car, change the oil in a car, start and operate a power tool (such as a chain saw or circular saw). Talk to firefighters across the nation and you will probably hear similar complaints about their newly hired firefighters.

Think of it this way, many veteran firefighters are expecting you to be clueless in regards to mechanical ability, based on their experiences with many of the newer recruits they have been hiring. Prove them wrong by having a great grasp on this subject area; it will do a lot for your credibility and reputation around the department while on probation.

A great resource I have come across is a website: – that is a valuable educational tool that can help anyone, not just a future firefighter or probationary firefighter. I have passed this website onto many future firefighters and probationary firefighters who have been having trouble with mechanically related issues and have heard nothing but positive feedback. Some of the topics on this website include:

  • Computer stuff
  • Personal stuff
  • Auto stuff
  • Electronics stuff
  • Science stuff
  • Home stuff
  • Entertainment stuff
  • Health stuff
  • Money stuff
  • Travel stuff

Some fire departments have recognized the lack of mechanical ability in its new recruits, and have added more hours and training in their recruit academies to address this problem. However, you cannot bank on that if you are a newly hired firefighter. It is very possible to be terminated (fired) during probation for not being able to start a chain saw in a certain time frame or show the ability to quickly grasp the use and understanding of mechanical-ability related items or skills. Do not let this happen to you! Be proactive and take the time to educate yourself on the various subjects relating to mechanical ability.

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STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Contributing Editor, is a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department and an instructor for the Chabot College, CA, Fire Technology Program. Steve is a 16-year veteran of the fire service. He holds a master's degree in emergency services administration, has authored numerous fire service articles featured in the leading fire service publications and is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events. He has also mentored and coached numerous entry-level and promotional level candidates. You can find valuable fire service entry level and promotional preparation information and his contact information on his website: View all of Steve's articles and podcasts here. Visit his website  for information on his upcoming classes.