1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2007

    Exclamation A Future in Firefighting?

    Hi, I was thinking about becoming a firefighter and have a few questions that maybe some of you all could generally help me out with.

    I am a 28 year old male from VA with some college and a HS diploma. The college courses are not related to EMS. I am however thinking about doing a 2 year paramedic AAS and along the way trying to get my foot in the door as a BLS firefighter (ALS after I finish my AAS).

    - What are the hours generally like other then the very sparse description websites like the Dept. of Labour give. I do know they're irregular, and I do know that they're long (a lot longer than a lot of other 9-5 40 hour a week jobs). I understand this varies from dept. to dept. (state to state), but I was wondering if I could get a couple general "ideas" of what an average work week consists of.

    - These are mostly salary positions correct? I know that the county I am from starts @ 36 K a year (BLS Firefighter), though I am not sure if that is a general number derived from an average hourly rate times work hours, or a complete salary number (meaning you get 36K regardless if you work 40 hours 50 hours 60 hours etc. ec.)

    - Kind of going back to my first question about hours, after finishing recruit school and starting as a probie and then afterwords when being a full time career fire fighter let me ask about school. Is it possible? Is it limited? Obviously I am not talking about full time school here (as with most full time jobs it's very hard to do FULL TIME school). More like part time school at a community college or adult education center at a local university. Is perhaps the only kind of schooling that would be possible would be online courses? I guess the bottom line is I know being true to your duty as a firefighter eats up a lot of time per week. So I was just wondering if it was flexible enough or vise versa (you can become flexible enough) to do some courses along with it for whatever else you wanted to do.

    - Last question, salary (again). The county I live in said they start (as stated before) at 36K with 4 oppertunities per year for a 4% increase. Is this the type of career that could support a future family (I am single at the moment)? Something you can kind of "live" into?

    OK, well that's about it. I have browsed around these forums and a lot of you guys (and gals) give very good feedback and very informative answers to questions from people like me who are just trying to get a feel for the career. Any other suggestions on what I can do get a better understanding would be great. I welcome all positive feedback.

    Thanks for reading =)

    - J

  2. #2
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    Doc1411's Avatar
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    May 2004
    Glenside, PA


    I find my schedule to be very flexible. I work 24 on 72 off. Swaping shifts is easy to do if I need to do something on a scheduled work day. If you are taking a course that relates to your career, ie: paramedic, you can get training leave. The pay is less that I used to make, I started at 35k, but I do support my family(stay at home wife and two kids) on it. I have to have a second job because I want my wife to raise the kids, not daycare.

    The bottom line is I love my job. I got hired in 2006 at 35 years old. I've had to pinch pennies, but I am much happier now.

    Hope that helps some.

  3. #3
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    Nov 2005


    Welcome to the Firehouse website. You will find this site to be very informative. Here is an article that will answer some of your questions. Stay tuned as there will certainly be more who will post their thoughts.
    What It Takes To Land A Job

    This link will answer your specific question about our schedule:

    Landing a job in the fire service is truly a unique challenge. On average, there are over 100 candidates who apply for each opening. Since the competition is so intense, what does it take to be the top candidate?
    Many candidates believe it is important to be the “most qualified” individual in the testing process. The truth is that we are looking for someone who will fit into our family. In short, we have an opening that we need to fill. Since we can choose whomever we want, we want to choose someone we like. Those candidates who become known to us either before or during the testing process have a better chance of scoring well on the exam.
    The best way to become someone who stands out in the hiring process is to understand the role of a firefighter. This can best be accomplished by taking fire science courses at the local junior college or online. Another way to gain knowledge and experience in the fire service is to become a volunteer or reserve firefighter. These candidates will have made a name for themselves long before the testing process.
    Candidates often volunteer for departmental activities. These activities include departmental BBQ’s, CPR training events for the community and any other opportunities that may arise to give a candidate a chance to be visible to the members of the department. As you are flipping burgers, it is entirely possible that a captain, battalion chief or even the fire chief will stop you and introduce him or herself. This is your opportunity meet influential people on the department. Once the introductions are made, the conversation often steers toward what you are doing. This is your opportunity to explain that it is your goal to become a member of the department.
    Most departments have a minimum passing score for the written exam and physical agility tests. This leaves the bulk of the score (oftentimes 100%) for the oral interview. Since we are looking to hire people we like and want to have as part of our family, it is imperative that the oral board knows who you are before you walk in the door. This may be extremely difficult on a large department since there are just too many people to meet. On a smaller department it is possible to “make the rounds” to all or most of the fire stations before your oral interview. Imagine what an incredible opportunity it would be to take a practice interview with experienced firefighters.
    It is important to note that you are establishing your reputation the minute you walk into the fire station. If you make a favorable impression, the firefighters will help you and maybe even pass positive information to the oral board. The same thing can be said if you make a poor showing.
    It is impossible for the board to get to know you within a 20 –30 minute interview. A candidate who maximizes his or her time before the interview by spending time in the stations and getting to know the firefighters can vastly improve his or her score. If the firefighters like you, they can put in a word to the oral board. If the oral board doesn’t have a good feel for you there is no way you will score in the top.
    The way we score candidates is different than most people would expect. If the board consists of two or three firefighters, the minute you walk out the door we look at each other and try to decide if we want you on our crew. If the interviewers really like you they will score you in the high 90’s. If they thought you were the average “vanilla” candidate with the usual complement of fire science classes, maybe even the academy and a reserve firefighter position, you will be in the low to mid 80’s. If the board really doesn’t like your demeanor or feels like you were completely unprepared for the interview, you will be below the minimum score of 70%.
    If you have already taken fire department examinations, reflect back to your oral interview scores and try to interpret what the board is trying to tell you. If you are in the high 90’s I would suggest that you make sure you are in top physical condition. You are on the brink of being hired. Don’t change what you are doing, as you are already on the right track.
    If you have taken a plethora of fire science courses and are doing all the right things to get a job, but still find yourself in the low to mid 80’s, you need to re-evaluate how you are performing on your interviews. It is important to remember that it is not about having more qualifications than the next candidate; it’s about coming across as someone we want to have on our crew. If you already have all of the wallpaper (certificates and classes) and you are not scoring well, you have a serious problem. It’s time to seek some outside advice. Your best bet is to find as many people as you can to give you mock interviews. Hopefully someone can identify what you are doing wrong and stop you from spinning your wheels.
    If you scored below a 70% and this was your first or second exam, don’t worry, as it’s a long process. Continue taking fire science courses and learn as much as you can about the fire service. The more you understand about our culture and idiosyncrasies, the more you will be able to prove you are ready for the position.
    The fire service is a unique occupation. There is no matrix to follow to ensure you will be offered a position. It’s actually the opposite. A candidate can have all of the horsepower known to mankind and still not be offered a position, while a candidate who has never taken a single class is offered a job on his or her first examination. To an outsider it may be quite perplexing. To an insider we all understand it is about being the person we all want to have on our crew. It really is not that complicated.

    Paul Lepore
    Battalion Chief
    Last edited by BCLepore; 11-28-2007 at 09:33 AM.

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  5. #5
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    Oct 2002
    Enfield, CT

    Default You got questions....

    Quote Originally Posted by JJMcVillian View Post
    I am a 28 year old male from VA with some college and a HS diploma. The college courses are not related to EMS. I am however thinking about doing a 2 year paramedic AAS and along the way trying to get my foot in the door as a BLS firefighter (ALS after I finish my AAS).
    Why not try to hook on with a volunteer department in your area while you're in school. They'll train you, you'll get some experience, and you'll get a better idea of whether you REALLY want to be a firefighter, or if you just think you want to be one. (There's a huge difference. Not every good medic is good firefighter, just as not every good firefighter is a medic.)

    Quote Originally Posted by JJMcVillian View Post
    - What are the hours generally like other then the very sparse description websites like the Dept. of Labour give.
    Workweeks, as you noted, vary from department to department. In my area, there are some departments where the career guys are on 8-5, M-F and the rest of the week is covered by volunteers. Other departments work a 42 hour shift with 2 10-hour days on, 2 14-hour nights on, then 4 days off. There's also 42-hour schedules with 24 on, 24, off, 24 on, 5 days off. There are also 48-hour schedules, 52-hour schedules, and 56-hour schedules.

    Mind you, you don't work that many hours every single week, those are an average. For example, in the 42-hour shift with 10s and 14s that's figured out over an 8 week cycle. Some weeks you work 48-hours, some you work 36.

    To try to describe all the possible shift combinations would take a book, because there are so many variations.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJMcVillian View Post
    - These are mostly salary positions correct?
    Incorrect. Firefighting jobs are hourly positions. But wait, your thinking, how can you be scheduled for 56 hours in an hourly job? Isn't that a ton of OT? Nope. We're exempted by the labor department. However you do get paid OT for any hours you work above your regular schedule. So if you work a 56-hour week and pick up an extra 24-hour shift on one of your days off, you get OT for the 24 hours.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJMcVillian View Post
    - let me ask about school. Is it possible? Is it limited?
    If the courses are directly related to your job, (ie a fire science degree) most departments will give you time to attend the classes AND will pay for the class and books. On the other hand, if you're taking art classes or accounting, don't expect to get your tuition covered.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJMcVillian View Post
    - Is this the type of career that could support a future family (I am single at the moment)? Something you can kind of "live" into?
    People have been making a living off firefighting jobs for a long time. You won't be the richest guy in town, but you'll make enough to buy a decent house, drive fairly new cars, and put your kids through college. And, if you're the type that needs to have a new Porsche in the driveway every year, you'll have enough time off to take a second job to pay for it.

    Good luck.

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