Fire Service Management—Career
So You Want
to be a Firefighter?
EMT/Emergency Medical Technician?
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.
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.
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.
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
Andy Hufnagl, M.S.,
FIS Program Coordinator