The decision to explore a career in the fire service is an important one. It opens the door to conversations about rescuing families from burning buildings and resuscitating patients who are in cardiac arrest. When you visit fire stations or talk to recruiters, you will hear tales of the many lives changes by the selfless sacrifice of firefighters “just doing their job.” It is wise to listen closely to the experiences of these firefighters. Although there may be a bit of embellishment here and there—we share the affliction of fishermen worldwide when given the opportunity to tell stories of our career highlights—the tales will show the variety of tasks and talents required of members of the fire service. In theory, it seems exciting. In reality, the requirements of the job can be overwhelming to those just starting out. This is especially true if a position you have your eye on requires experience and certifications you have never heard of before. This article will describe some of the common certifications required by fire departments and what to do if you need to become certified in one or all of them.
What Certifications Do I Need?
The fire service, as noted in last month’s article, is a unique industry. There are volunteer departments, career departments, and combination departments. These types of departments exist and are supported by different levels of government. There are intersections between local, state, and federal support and oversight in every department. The specific organization and oversight of the department will determine what certifications a department requires. The ability of an agency to pay for the certifications will determine whether or not an applicant needs to acquire the certifications before they are hired. Some of the certifications are free and easy to get. Some are expensive, time consuming, and difficult to obtain. Some are nearly impossible to obtain unless you have previously worked for another fire department or EMS agency. Running into one of these can be very discouraging if it is a hard requirement in a hiring process. Here are some of the most common certifications departments will ask for and how to get them. Please be aware that certifications can be very regionally specific and this list should be used as a jumping off point for your own research.
Firefighter I and Firefighter II: These two courses, which are often held concurrently or consecutively, contain the basic tasks, skills, and content of the firefighting career. They are based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. The localities or companies that offer these courses must meet certain standards to offer the certifications and there are testing requirements. In some jurisdictions, the state department of fire programs oversees the certification and program delivery of these classes. It is important to note that not all departments require these certifications; however, what you will learn in the classroom portion and hands-on portion of these classes includes lifesaving skills and task competency requirements including building construction, self-rescue, and victim rescue. If a fire department you are looking to apply to requires these certifications, you may be able to obtain these certifications through commitment with a volunteer department, a community college fire science program, or even an online certification program.
Online Incident Command System Classes: There are a variety of online courses considered as prerequisites for many classes in the fire service career field. These classes are “awareness” level courses that introduce the concepts of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). Knowledge of NIMS and ICS are fundamental to operating on incident scenes and knowing how to communicate. They give agencies a common language to communicate with each other and a system to handle any incident—no matter how complex it is. Common required courses are IS 100.a. Introduction to the Incident Command System, IS 700.a National Incident Management System (NIMS), and Introduction, and AWR 160 WMD/Terrorism Awareness for Emergency Responders Online. These courses can easily be found by searching for the titles in any web browser. You will need to register for a FEMA SID number to take these classes. This number will give you access to a variety of courses to expand your knowledge base. And don’t lose it! You will need to use this number repeatedly for your entire fire service career.
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Paramedic: One part of the fire service career field that is not well known is the volume of work involving medical care. Many agencies across the country, both volunteer and career, are requiring applicants to come to the table with EMT or paramedic certification and experience before they will be considered for hire. This is because paying for these certifications can be both expensive and time consuming. Is it worth paying for your own training in this area? Yes. Frankly, if you have a heart for customer service and you are dedicated to pursuing a fire service career, paying for your own paramedic certification and getting at least a year of experience in a volunteer agency, hospital, or transport company will make your application stand out. How do you find certification programs for EMT and Paramedic? Contact your state Office of EMS for information about programs and scholarships available to you.
Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC): Driving emergency vehicles is a very different experience from driving a regular vehicle. EVOC courses are training courses that teach students how to drive emergency vehicles. They have classroom portions (lecture) and on the road portions (driving). Many fire departments will offer this class to employees after they are hired because they want to train them on their own vehicles and on their own policies. However, there are departments and jobs that will require you to already have an EVOC certification to apply. This can be a difficult certification to obtain. First look to see if the community college system in your area offers EVOC courses. If not, it is possible that you may have to agree to volunteer for an EMS agency or fire service to become EVOC certified. There are online programs for purchase that will offer an EVOC certification; however, ensure the certification is accepted by the agency you are applying to before committing time and money to taking the course. Some agencies require the training to have a classroom and driving portion to be valid. Do your homework.
What If ‘No Experience is Necessary’?
If the job posting says “No Experience Necessary,” you may think: Jackpot! I don’t have to do any of those things before I apply. No, you don’t. However, you will surely be competing against a pool of applicants who do. To remain competitive, it is beneficial to show you are at least exploring these certifications through the community college system or another organization available to you.
Next we will move beyond certifications and explore how your previous career and life experiences can prepare you for the fire service and help you stand out in the application process.
Mandy George is a lieutenant in the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department. She is a training officer who works with a strong team to facilitate the training needs of a 500-member department of sworn and civilian personnel. She has a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management, a master’s degree in professional writing, and an associate’s degree in emergency medical services. She is also a Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP).