Becoming a firefighter in this day and age is becoming increasingly difficult. If you don’t know what they are looking for, it can be a daunting task for most candidates. This article will be a summary of what can be expected if you want to fulfill your dream of becoming a probationary firefighter.

Preparing For Fire School

Fire school, for those of us that have gone through it, is one of the hardest physical and mental undertakings that will be accomplished in our lives. If you do not prepare for the process you will be in for a rough ride, possibly not making it through, as many drop out in the first couple of weeks.
You need to be tough physically, of course, but some forget that mental toughness is the key to success! Go into this process knowing that you will need to devote your full attention to this once you have started. fire towerCredit: Englewood Fire Tower - Englewood FL Fire Department
You will be expected to endure physical “challenges" for your mistakes. Example: Johnny knows that his instructors do not want him to step over a ladder on the fire ground due to the tripping hazard. If Johnny is caught stepping over the ladder on the fire ground his instructor may ask Johnny to take the ladder and hold it over his head for 2 minutes or more. You also may be surprised that the written tests are very difficult and you will be expected to pass your tests with at least an 80% (most schools). If you do not and you fail 3 tests for the entire course you will be kicked out and must start again at a later date.
There are also the sweltering conditions that go along with wearing full bunker gear. It weighs 80lbs and must be worn while practicing most fire ground tasks. These include: Search and rescue, hose drills, rescue day, live burns, on-air drills, entanglement exercises, and much more.

Preparing Mentally

Here are some things that helped me to get “Top Dog” when I went through fire school:
a. When studying your chapters for the week, read through them first like a story. After reading through them you can start to highlight all of the important points you discover. Last you will study everything you have underlined.
 b. Be prepared to adjust how you address your instructors. Remember that fire school is semi-paramilitary. You will stand when your instructors or any uniform enters a room and you will address them as “Sir”.
 c. You will be pushed beyond what you are now comfortable with in every aspect, be prepared for the unexpected. Fires do not come in with warnings while you are working as a career firefighter, so expect to be surprised at fire school also. You could be sitting doing a test and you will hear “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!!” You will then be expected to be outside in full gear within 2 minutes. Believe me; you have to be on your game all the way through.

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Preparing Physically

Preparing physically will be done in one of two ways:
a. Show up in the shape you are without preparing and throw up until you are “whipped” into shape. This route will cause you to be always one step behind and will probably cause you to be unwilling to study, be mentally alert, etc. The instructors will push you harder and will break you. If you can be broken in school, then you cannot be trusted to react in real life situations.      b. Do one or a combination of these 6 months to a year prior to applying to fire school. ESPECIALLY if you are weaker or smaller. Do run, do not lift weights. Do CrossFit, do not lift weights. Do circuit training, do not lift weights. Do chin-ups, sit-ups, sprints, pushups, air-squats, do not lift weights! I think you get the picture.

What Is The CPAT?

The CPAT or Candidate Physical Ability Test measures the capabilities of firefighting recruits along eight job-specific areas. These include: equipment carries, stair climb, hose drag, ladder raises, forcible entry, search, rescue drags, and ceiling breach and pull. These tests are done while wearing a weighted vest.
The International standards of the CPAT states that each candidate will have the opportunity to attend at least two orientation sessions within 8 weeks prior to taking the test. Additionally, the pre-test program offers each candidate the opportunity to perform at least two timed practice runs prior to the test itself (costs extra). If you choose not to participate in this pre-test program, you will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging that you are aware of the pre-test program, and have declined to include it in your preparations to complete the CPAT.
Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and there is a dress code. Be sure to review your state requirements beforehand and REGISTER EARLY!


The interview process is something that will weigh in at about 85% of whether you get hired or not. The interview process will usually be after you get into the top 10-20 on the written test. The CPAT is a pass or fail. The interview becomes the one thing that the department can look at to determine whether or not you are a thinker, positive, likeable, will get along with fellow employees, etc.
Here is what I did to prepare for my interview of which I landed the #1 spot on the hiring list. I bombed 3 interviews prior to doing what I am going to tell you to do.
Prepare a “script” of questions to common interview questions. Answer these questions with answers that are your own. I will also stress that you will not put down typical answers to these questions. Example: What is one of your weaknesses? A typical answer would sound like “I don’t do well when taking a test, I get flustered. I am better in action.” A better answer would be: “When I volunteered for my home town fire department I found myself trying to do everything on medical scenes which wouldn’t allow the other volunteers to get any experience. I realized this and I now ask for help and even help the newer volunteers with their skills when we have down time.” See the difference? The first answer is boring and 90% of the other interviewees will be saying similar. The second one is tailored to your experiences and it isn’t even a weakness anymore! The answer is also not too short but not boringly long. They don’t need your life story on every answer.oral board Your interview will also be in front of Battalion Chiefs, Lieutenants, Senior Firefighters, Deputy Chiefs, Administration, and other top people. You will be nervous to say the least. It will go better for you if you are not nervous about the questions that they are going to ask. You need to practice, practice, practice!! You should be practicing your script in your car, at home, at work, with others, while sleeping, while running, etc. You should also record yourself and practice while looking in the mirror. It’s rough, but this might be the best advice you will ever receive. After all, it’s all about getting to ride “Big Red” for the rest of your career!

*Some departments require fire fighters to also become EMT’s prior to hiring.