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Fire Service Management—Career Opportunities

So You Want to be a Firefighter?
EMT/Emergency Medical Technician?
and/or EMTP/Paramedic?

What do firefighters, EMTs and paramedics do?
Firefighters today do so much more than fight fires. They provide rescue services, emergency medical services, handle hazardous materials emergencies, and conduct fire prevention, investigation, and inspection activities. Firefighters also do most of the cleaning and maintenance work required to keep their tools, equipment, buildings, and apparatus ready for immediate response. Many Illinois communities depend on their fire departments to provide emergency medical services, sometimes including transports to the hospital in an ambulance. If you become a firefighter, you will be assigned to a team, called a company, that provides some or all of these services.

In Illinois you will probably work a 53-56 hour work week arranged, with one 24-hour work period followed by 48 hours off duty. Additional days off will be provided to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. You will eat, sleep, and work in a fire station with this team of firefighters.

Does Illinois law establish requirements for firefighters?
Illinois law requires most cities and fire protection districts, with full-time paid firefighters, to have either a fire and police, or civil service commission. These commissions handle the hiring, disciplining, and promoting of firefighters. Illinois law sets some guidelines as to how this is done, but local communities, especially home rule units, have considerable latitude in setting these regulations.

What are the minimum requirements?
In most communities, you must be 21 years of age. A few will hire 18-year-olds. You will need to be a high school graduate or equivalent and not have been convicted of most felony crimes. A few municipalities have higher education requirements, such as 60 hours of college credit. Some communities require you to be a resident or become one after joining the department; some require you to be a Firefighter II or Firefighter-Basic (under the State Fire Marshal); or some require you to be an EMT or paramedic before testing or before hiring.

How do I begin the process?
Choose the communities where you would like to live and work. Go to the fire department or city personnel office to see if they have openings and pick up an application. Determine what the municipality's requirements for fire department employment are. The fire or personnel departments can tell you what testing procedures will be administered during the employment process. Also, check out the Chicago Tribune, SouthtownStar, or other local newspapers for job testing ports.

What happens next?
After your application is reviewed to determine if you meet the minimum requirements, you will be notified that certain tests will be required. Illinois law requires that selection be made on merit, so most communities have selected physical agility, a written test, and oral interviews to determine the applicant's aptitude for the job. From these tests, an eligibility list of successful candidates will be established. If you are considered for a position, psychological exams, polygraphs, and medical evaluations, including drug testing, will be required. A background check of your character and criminal records will be conducted.

So you've been hired, what's next?
You will begin a probationary period of one year. Most full-time paid firefighters are required to be certified in the State of Illinois (FFII or FF-B) during probation. This requires participation in specified training at the local level or at a state approved academy. At the end of the training, you must pass the state certification exam. Those communities which provide emergency medical services, will also require you to become a state certified emergency medical technician of the appropriate level. This training could extend your probationary period. If you pass this training and show aptitude as a firefighter during the probationary period, you will become a permanent member of the fire department.

What can I do to improve my chances of becoming a firefighter?
Look for colleges and universities that have programs in fire service management and/or emergency medical technology. Many departments prefer candidates who have already met state certification requirements for firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, etc. If you are a recent high school graduate and not yet 21, this is a good way to spend the time while waiting to meet the age requirements.

Since the State of Illinois will not certify anyone who is not currently a member of an agency providing fire or emergency service, check out some of the local volunteer fire departments. Many of these will accept members at age 18 and many need members badly. Not only can you meet certification requirements, you can bring the advantage of previous experience to the job.

Good luck! 
Firefighting and emergency service is a rewarding career. However, it requires a certain amount of sacrifice and willingness to endure some unusual and difficult circumstances. You'll need to be a real team player. It offers good pay, ample job benefits, an attractive work schedule, and a sense of having made a difference in your community. It is a career well worth your effort.

Andy Hufnagl, M.S., B.S., A.A.S.
FIS Program Coordinator


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