Many children grow up wanting to be a firefighter, and I happen to think that is a sign of a healthy youth. But as we get older and the reality of life settles in, as our parents warned us it would one day, we realize that being a firefighter isn’t as easy as strolling down to the local fire station and completing an application.
Being a firefighter is a lengthy and sometimes overwhelming process. Some try for years and never realize their dream, so successful applicants will try to stack as many positives into their resume to help them standout against the others, which at times can be over 10,000 applicants competing for just a few hundred positions. Young men and women consider many approaches to give them an edge to earning a badge; from taking college classes, to volunteering, to… military service. But before you sign on the dotted line of a military contract and raise your right hand to take the oath, there are some things to consider.
Being a veteran myself I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in uniform and feel it was by far the best choice I could have made in my life, but the military is not for everyone, and if you sign up for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong expectations, you may not gain the advantage you thought or maximize the opportunity you will have. So here I will try to offer some guidance and help for those out there dreaming of being a firefighter and looking to the military to get a foot up.
Many communities offer additional points and other preferences in the hiring process, such as getting extra exam points or being placed on the top of the hiring list, if you are a veteran. Veteran’s preference can range from advantages in the hiring process to future promotions.
But this needs to be researched with the communities you wish to apply for. In some fire departments simply serving in the Armed Forces is enough for veteran’s status, but for others you need to have been awarded a campaign ribbon while serving, which is earned by serving overseas as part of a military operation such as Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, etc. Some will require a certain amount of service time to earn the preference, and almost all will require an honorable discharge.
Many people join the military looking for firefighting experience. While this is a good approach it should not be the only focus. The military fire academy, which all military branches send their firefighters to, is located at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. Upon graduation you will be in possession of many nationally recognized fire certifications, and following graduation you will get hands on experience providing real world fire protection at a DOD fire department, as well as access to additional schools, training, and certifications.
However there are only so many available openings available for military firefighters, so if you are not able to get a firefighter slot do not allow that to stop you. What makes a person attractive to a fire department is the military service itself. Many fire chiefs have stated that they can train a person to be a good firefighter, but there are other attributes they are looking for that they cannot train someone to have. Serving in the military shows any employer that an individual:
- Can see an obligation through under extreme circumstances
- Is physically fit and a team player
- Understands rank structure and has the ability to follow orders
- Has discipline, personal pride, and willingness to sacrifice
- Has a proven ability to be responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment and the lives of others
- Has exposure and experience in working with, and leading, many cultures, personalities, ethnicities, genders, and religions
- Has traveled and is versed in world issues and challenges
- Has proven leadership training, ability, and experience
- Has more tools in their tool box to handle the unique and stressful situations firefighters get into
- And of course…can clean and make their bed
These are the intangibles that any military service occupation will provide, no matter if you are serving as a firefighter or in the infantry. These intangibles will also not only benefit you as an applicant, but also as a person.
Beyond The Fire Service
There are so many other benefits to serving in the military that will assist you in your life regardless of your purpose for joining , and should also be placed on the weight scale when considering military service:
- Tuition assistance: All services offer attractive educational benefits while on active duty to include paying upwards of 50% to 75% of college tuition and free CLEP exams.
- College credits: Many military schools have been approved by ACE to award college credits that will apply for a degree in that field
- Grants and scholarships: Many additional funding opportunities, from college to business loans, are now open to not only yourself, but also your spouse and children, because of your service.
- G.I. Bill: Today’s GI Bill is just short of a free education for all veterans! With a small pay in, veterans not only receive money for college tuition and books, but also certain living expenses while attending college. In short – you are getting paid to go to school. (Note: I have my associates and bachelor’s degree in Fire Science, and will soon earn my masters in Public Administration with Disaster Management, all paid for by the G.I. Bill. I have not paid a dime for my education, and my excess G.I. Bill money helped fund my daughter’s private high school education as well.)
- Home loans: Buying your first home can be difficult and daunting. Veterans qualify for home loans that make first time home buying and home ownership not only possible but also easier.
- Paycheck: You now have a job with guaranteed benefits and living expenses, and no bills other than what you acquire. While you will never get rich on a military paycheck, saving and smart investing can definitely get you a head start in life and build a strong credit history and a well padded savings account, not to mention your dream car or motorcycle can now be a reality. (I purchased a brand new Kawasaki Ninja 600 within the first week of arriving at my first duty station at 19 years old.)
It has been my experience that not only do military veterans do well during the application and hiring process, but also excel as firefighters, and if you ask any firefighter today, those who have served often continue to distinguish themselves from their peers throughout their careers.
The biggest benefit of all in serving in the military is the service itself. You will now belong to a small elite club (less than 1% of the American population has served) that will always be there to support you. Your shared experiences and travels are unmatched among your peers who haven’t served, and the stories you can now tell will keep children and grandchildren alike in awe of all you have done and seen.
You will no longer have been a witness to history – but you will have been a part of it.
Editor's note: The author joined the U.S. Marine Corps out of high school and served on active duty for 12 years in the meteorological, aviation search and rescue, military police, and recruiting career fields. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Marines he joined the Georgia Air National Guard as a medic, and then transferred to the fire protection career field where he now serves as the Assistant Fire Chief of Training. With 27 years of service the author has been to 10 different countries and served in three military campaigns. He plans to keep going as long as they let him wear a uniform.
DANIEL BYRNE is an Engineer/Paramedic and Community Support Officer for the Burton Fire District, Beaufort County, SC, and an Assistant Chief of Training for the Georgia Air National Guard 165th Fire Department. Byrne is a third generation firefighter and holds both an associates and bachelors degree in Fire Science, and a Fire Officer and Fire Instructor III certified. Byrne has received state and local awards for public relations and educational programs as well as community partnerships; and has been both a conference presenter and keynote speaker. You can connect with Byrne on Twitter at: @FireService360 or on Facebook at: FireService360.