Residency Requirements for New Fire Department Hires

Dec. 16, 2010
If you're serious about taking the firefighter job, it’s best to move before the deadline.

Residency requirements are not as common as they used to be, mostly because of challenges within the court systems. Now, before you disagree with residency requirements, realize why fire departments have them in place. When there is a major emergency within a community, and the majority of fire service resources are committed to that emergency, there is a significant void left in the city regarding station and apparatus coverage. A city is not expected to rely on mutual aid (help from neighboring fire departments) to always staff their fire stations. Mutual aid is typically meant to respond directly to the scene and assist in mitigating the emergency.

If I’m not mistaken, residency requirements started (and still exist) in major cities. Most (if not all) major U.S. cities are staffed by full-time firefighting forces, and usually place four firefighters minimum on a fire engine or fire truck. However, it is not uncommon to find the neighboring departments staffed by volunteer departments or staffed with significantly less personnel and resources (anywhere from one to three personnel per fire engine or fire truck). Do the math; having to rely on neighboring jurisdictions during major emergencies is not a good practice because you are not providing the citizens you are supposed to protect with an adequate or equivalent level of service.

Some fire departments still do have residency requirements, if nothing else, just for the newly hired firefighters (because it is unrealistic to force firefighters currently on the job to have to move). That means you must live within their city, protection district, or a certain mile or time frame from a certain point (such as 15 minutes from First Avenue and Main Street). Some fire departments also give bonus points to candidates who live within a certain area. These bonus points can be anywhere from five to 10 percent of your total score and can make the difference between getting hired and not getting hired. Departments do this not just to have firefighters live close to work, but also to help employ their own residences; this can help increase the level of diversity within the department and decrease the level of employment within the community.

If you find yourself either faced with having to live within a certain geographical area just to take the firefighter test or to get bonus points to help achieve a higher score, make sure you do the following:

  1. Actually move to the area and physically live there.
  2. Make sure you change your bills (garbage, water, sewer, utilities, credit cards, etc.) to your new address. These items will be asked for during the background investigation to verify that you live where you say you do.
  3. Make friends with the neighbors and be a good neighbor. The background investigator will probably take the time to knock on the doors of your neighbors.

They will ask such questions as:

  • How well do you know the candidate?Is the candidate a good neighbor?
  • Do you think the candidate will make a good firefighter?
  • Does the candidate have loud parties?
  • Does the candidate actually live there and spend time there?
  • Make sure your family and friends know that you live there because they might be asked to verify this information. The last thing you want during a background investigation is to have someone contradict something you put down on a background investigation.
  • Change your driver’s license to reflect your new address.

All of the above items are done to help verify that you actually live there and spend time there. While it may be tempting to pay a friend or ask a friend or relative to use their address, realize if a fire department thinks it is important enough to use as a hiring requirement, they will more than likely do some in-depth investigation work. Not living where you say you are living is the same as lying and is considered grounds for disqualification from the process (or employment if it is found you lied on your job application).

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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: Visit his website for information on his upcoming classes.

About the Author

Steve Prziborowski

Steve Prziborowski, who is a Firehouse contributing editor, has more than 31 years of fire service experience. He recently retired as a deputy chief of training for the Santa Clara County Fire Department in Los Gatos, CA. Prziborowski is an instructor for the Chabot College Fire Technology Program and for the National Fire Academy. He received the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award from the Center for Public Safety Excellence in 2020 and was named California Fire Instructor of the Year in 2008. Prziborowski is a regular presenter at fire service events, having presented in 40 states and Canada. He has authored and contributed to numerous articles, podcasts, videos, blogs and books and published four career development books: "Reach for the Firefighter Badge," "The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide," "How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional Exams" and "101 Tips to Ace Your Promotional Exam." Prziborowski's fifth book on "Courage Under Fire Leadership" will be released in the near future.

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