If you are in high school and considering a career in the fire service, check with your school district. Some fire departments, such as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, have cadet programs in local high schools to support their recruitment efforts. Cadets with that department receive training and provide assistance in actual emergencies. Even if there is not such a program at your high school, there are courses that will help you become a firefighter.
Health and Medical
You will need to be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT, prior to applying at over 90 percent of U.S. fire departments. In addition, many fire departments want paramedics, according to Steve Prziborowski, a Battalion Chief for Santa Clara County (Calif.) Fire Department and a fire technology instructor at Chabot College. A basic high school health and safety course and training in CPR would set a foundation for this. Firefighting is a physical job, and the application process at most fire departments requires a test to measure your strength, agility and endurance. Find ways to stay in shape through a fitness course, sports or individual exercise.
Math and Science
Math is a component of firefighting, from medication administration to calculating pump pressures, so a basic math course is essential. An applied physics course would be helpful because firefighters assess hydraulics, leverage weight and break into cars and buildings. Firefighters are responsible for the proper handling of hazardous materials and determining the correct fire suppressant to use. Coursework in chemistry, particularly focused around combustion, would support this aspect of the job. In order to control fires and take care of their own safety, firefighters need to understand how buildings are constructed and with what materials. Taking a course in building construction or architecture could be invaluable.
Dealing with people who are frightened, panic-stricken, or in pain or in shock is a regular part of fire service duties. Taking a course in psychology or human behavior could provide necessary skills and understanding. In addition to communicating with patients and victims, firefighters need to lead colleagues, direct bystanders, coordinate with law enforcement personnel, update hospital staff and write reports. A communications course could help develop these skills. Firefighters need to strategize and prioritize, so studying management or leadership in a business course is also a good idea.
Many school districts allow high school students to take college courses for high school credit. This is referred to as a postsecondary enrollment option. If you have the opportunity to participate in such a program, you may be able to take fire science courses at a local college. The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Project of the U.S. Fire Administration program has identified the following core courses as essential, so try to take these or similar ones: building construction for fire protection, fire behavior and combustion, fire prevention, fire protection systems, principles of emergency services, principles of fire and emergency services safety and survival.
Christine Jax has been a writer since 1991 in the areas of education, parenting and family relationships. Professor Jax has a Ph.D. in education policy and administration, a Master of Arts in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in child psychology. She has worked in PK-12 and higher education for more than 20 years.