What You Need to Know About Firefighter Exams in Other States

Jan. 5, 2015
A look at the key items you need to consider when taking firefighter entrance exams out of state, where your certifications may not carry over.

See Steve Live at Firehouse World: Steve Prziborowski will be co-presenting "The Future Firefighter Experience" for students during Firehouse World in San Diego, Jan. 25-29. He will also be presenting "Ten Commandments of a Great Company Officer" and "Here’s The Badge – Don’t Screw It Up!" Find out more at FirehouseWorld.com.

Many people think of taking firefighter exams in other states, thinking it may be easier to get hired in another state. Chances are it is as tough (if not tougher) than where you currently live. But, it doesn’t hurt to do your research and take your chances, assuming you have properly researched where you are wanting to test and what the current job market has to offer.

While taking tests in other states may be a good thing to do for practice, and an especially good thing to do if you want to eventually move to that area, there are some things you should be thinking about when taking out-of-state firefighter exams:

EMT and paramedic certification - Is your EMT certificate (or paramedic license) transferable? Many states (meaning state EMS agencies) do not accept EMT certificates or paramedic licenses from other states.

Key point to assist you - If you truly are interested in testing out-of-state, pay the extra money to get your National Registry EMT certificate or National Registry Paramedic certificate. If you look around your local area, it is usually not too difficult to find a school that offers an EMT and/or paramedic program that also offers National Registry testing. If you are already an EMT or paramedic, typically the only other requirement to be Nationally Registered is to take an additional written examination and an additional skills examination.

Having your National Registry EMT or paramedic certificate will put you one step ahead of your competition. Thus, if you don’t plan to test out-of state, a National Registry EMT or paramedic certificate will not be that beneficial unless required by your current county or state. Even if you do not get your National Registry certification, check with the state EMS agency or the agency you are applying for to see if your EMT or paramedic certificate will be easily transferred.

Firefighter I certification - Just because you are certified as a state Firefighter I in a specific state does not mean that certificate is valid in other states. Some states have reciprocity and some do not. California for example does not currently accept Firefighter I certificates from other states (although that is scheduled to change in the next few years). If you have a Colorado Firefighter I certificate and want to test with California departments, it will not be considered equivalent by the California State Fire Marshal’s Office. Thus, you will have to go through another academy in California that contains the state's Firefighter I requirements (such as a community college or a recruit academy after you are hired) as well as complete the required time: 12 months as a part-time paid or volunteer firefighter or six months as a full-time firefighter. What if you have already gone through a Firefighter I academy in your current state and plan to move out-of-state and the state you want to work in won’t accept your current training? Was it a waste of time going through the certification process if another state won’t accept it? Of course not. You still have gained valuable education and experience that will help you get through the other state’s process even easier. Plus, it makes you more enticing to fire departments since they know you can complete an academy.

Key point to assist you - Try to decide which state you want to work in, and then get your certificates in that state, or make sure your certificates are transferable to that state. To find out if they are, you can either contact fire departments you are planning on applying, to or call the state fire marshal’s office in the state you desire to work in.

Other fire related certifications - Just like with the Firefighter I state certificate, many state-specific certificates are only good in the state you received them.

Key point to assist you - Try to decide which state you want to work in, and then get your certificates in that state or make sure your certificates are transferable to that state. To find out if they are, you can either contact fire departments you are planning on applying to or call the state fire marshal’s office in the state you desire to work in.

Formal Education -  The nice part about formal education (that you receive through a community or state college, state university, and most online programs, is that formal education should be the same nationwide. That doesn't mean that if you have not completed your degree at one college that you can transfer to another college to complete the degree (that may or may not be an easy option depending on their requirements); what it means is that if you have completed your two or four-year degree, there is no worry about it transferring from state-to-state since a degree from a college is just that.

Testing related costs - Realize that taking firefighter examinations may be quite costly. Some fire departments make it very user friendly for the firefighter candidate in that they schedule phases of the testing process over the course of a couple days specifically for out-of-town candidates; that way, you can go in one trip (as opposed to once for the written test, once for the physical ability test, once for the oral interview, etc.). There are numerous related costs you need to factor in, such as;

  • fuel
  • lodging
  • food
  • multiple trips
  • wear and tear on your vehicle if you drive
  • time away from your job (lost wages)

Key point to assist you - Try to get a few good friends (when I say good, I mean trustworthy and dependable) that will also test with you so you can split costs.


If you want to be a firefighter bad enough, you need to go out and seek the job/career of your dreams. The badge won’t fall out of the sky; if you want to get hired, you may have to branch out of your local area and even go out of state just to find that fire department that wants to take a chance on hiring you. I truly believe there is a fire department out there for everyone; the key is not giving up before they find you and offer you the job!

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, has over 20 years of fire service experience, currently serving as a deputy chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. He is also an instructor for the Fire Technology Program at Chabot College in Hayward, CA, and is a former president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. Steve was named the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the Year. He has earned a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and an associate's degree in Fire Technology. Steve has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, and received Chief Fire Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events and conferences across the country and recently published three books: How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional ExamsReach for the Firefighter Badge, and  The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide, all of which are available on his websites: www.chabotfire.com and www.code3firetraining.com.

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