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Becoming a Firefighter

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Obtaining a Career in the Fire Service

Are you interested in becoming a firefighter but unsure of the steps involved? I hope this document will help you along the way. This document is fairly specific to the Austin/ Central Texas area, but much of the information may be applied nation-wide. Dedication is perhaps the most important part of the journey to becoming a firefighter. Traditionally this has been a very competitive career resulting in hundreds of applicants per job opening available. It is very important to learn from the process and keep trying, always looking for a way to make yourself more marketable and become more effective at showing your qualifications throughout the testing process. NEVER GIVE UP!!! The number one thing you can do, and you can start now, is keep a clean record. Remember this is actually a small world and word gets around. Inevitably events through your life will catch up with you. That also goes for what you post on social media too. The fire service does not expect to find “Perfect People”, however they do seek to find those who try to be their best and are constantly trying to learn and improve themselves. Put 100% effort into all that you do by making it a habit, whether it is school, team sports or work then make it a point to do your best. When you get to the point of being considered for a job it will show. Get involved. You can begin preparing for a specific career in the fire service when you turn 14. There are many explorer posts similar to The City of Austin Fire Department's Explorer Post 370 offered depending on your area. Another option you have is a Regional Occupational Program (R.O.P.) which is available through a couple of local high schools, which will give you a good orientation into the fire service. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) is also available through some R.O.P. programs. A good physical fitness program is also a must with an emphasis on endurance. Once you are 18 years of age, Austin Fire department will allow you to start doing ride-outs at a fire station to see what a typical day is like as a firefighter.

Once you are 18 years of age, and have a high school diploma or GED you may test for some departments as they may put you through their own academy, however certain departments require having your EMT and TCFP (Texas Certification on Fire Protection) certification prior to being hired. To better increase your chances it is wiser to look into a college fire science program in order to open more windows of opportunity. It can’t hurt to place an interest card with any of these departments and try though. Below is a link for the local Fire Science Programs with Austin Community College, which is a great way to learn about fire science and start getting your certifications while waiting for our hiring process to start. Currently Austin Fire Department hires every two years, with our next process expecting to start in early 2023.

  • Link to Texas Fire Protection Certification site, where you can research jobs, how to obtain certifications and where to test.

  • Austin Fire Department does NOT require prior experience nor college credits.

  • Here in the above link you will find two programs that ACC offers;

1)Associate of Applied Science degree in Fire Protection Technology, which is a two year program. If you have questions; contact Nate Zaleski at 512-223-9764

2) ACC’s Fire Academy, which is a 17-week session, Monday-Friday 8am-5pm program. If you have questions or want to know more; contact Captain Ryan Grinnell at 512-223-9762

Once you have completed a fire academy or gained certifications, several more job opportunities will become available. You will want to utilize these job sites to find departments seeking entry level firefighters.

The Testing Process

Application - Do not be picky about where you test. Take every test you can, in order to learn the testing process and gain experience with different types of tests departments utilize. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS at all times during the application process. Many applicants never even make it through the application process. Make sure you fill out the application as completely and thoroughly as possible. Use black ink or blue ink only as instructed. It is preferable to take the time to type out your application especially if you do not have the neatest handwriting. Turn in the completed application ONLY with the materials asked for. Resume, Certificates, Current Driver License, EMT, and CPR all may be required upon application submittal. Written Examination - There are several different kinds of written exams that departments use to identify the type of candidates they want. These are generally multiple choices and range in content from psychological profiling, memory, to math, reading and grammar. Examples of these tests are:

Physical Fitness Examination - There are different variants of the physical fitness exams. Each has different events that mimic different firefighting tasks. Generally your success in an exam will be good for 6 months to 2 years, however sometimes various departments require that you take them specifically for their department which your score may be determined by your time. Some departments may have separate events specific to their department such as a swim, or taking a hydrant and connecting hose.

Interview - Remember, you are seeking a career as a professional firefighter. Show up to your interview dressed professionally. Suit and tie is the recommended attire at this stage of the testing process. Be confident, and courteous. Shake hands with your interviewers and have a resume ready unless specified otherwise. Austin’s Interview process is unique in the sense that the current interview process is video-taped and you’re not sitting in front of a panel of people asking you questions. Resume - One page, one sided. Use a good quality paper and include a solid outline of your experience and accomplishments. Avoid cramming as it is difficult to read and could bore the interviewer. Be creative and keep it simple but make it stand out from the crowd. Interviews are where most candidates experience trouble in the testing process. You will need to be ready for the proctors to ask you anything an entry level firefighter should know, plus anything they may find on your resume. Interview panels may have anywhere from 2 to 5 interviewers, including the ranks from firefighter through battalion chief, and sometimes even a Human Resources representative. Remember when answering scenarios human resource perspective can be different than fire department perspective so think about your answers. You should be prepared for all interviews by preparing for those questions you can be certain will come up.

Tell us about yourself? DO NOT focus only on your fire preparation. They want to know about you and who you are. What have you done to prepare for a career in the fire service? They want to know about your education and experience, focus on it but think outside the box. Almost everything you have learned from school or any job can reflect preparation. Is there anything else you would like to add? This is your biggest chance to let them know you want the job and go out with a bang. Be heartfelt and genuine, and let them feel your dedication to their department. There are many books out there on interviews and various questions. It will be in your best interest to do some mock interviews, with the department you are testing for, if possible. Answer questions with examples from your life experience, and then relate what you learned back to the fire service. NEVER let an answer come across as negative, always shed a positive outlook on everything. (E.g. I wasn’t very good at public speaking, so I took a speech class in order to get some practice and I now feel more comfortable.) Chief’s Interview - Congratulations! Now you only have to compete with just a few people per job opening...probably. Just like the first interview this one can have various scenarios. In general the chief’s interview is to get to know you and see if the chief feels you are right for his/her department. DO NOT lower your guard though; be just as ready as you were for the first interview. This interview may be with only the fire chief, a division chief, battalion chief, or a mix. Background Investigation - In general at this point you will have been given a conditional job offer. “Conditional” in that you must still pass the background investigation in order to get the job. The Background investigation is a very thorough process in which a background investigator from the city, county, state, or agency considering you will be assigned to your case. You will be given a background packet usually requesting your entire work history, educational documents, legal documents, and questionnaires.

Polygraph Examinations -Austin does not give polygraph examinations. These Examinations have become increasingly common in today’s background investigation. There will be a pre-polygraph questionnaire, which it is crucial that you be 100% honest (as you always should be). Rumors of being able to ‘Beat the Poly’, or ‘Trick the machine’, should not be attempted as with advances in technology the polygraph has become increasingly accurate. The Fire Department isn't looking for "Perfect" Candidates, rather we seek individuals who are hard workers, have integrity, and have learned from their mistakes.

  • The #1 reason for failure is lying.

  • Everyone makes mistakes, but now you know that if you want to be a firefighter, what is expected. Hold yourself to a higher standard from this point on.

Psychological Evaluations - These are also quite common in today’s fire service. There are many variations of this test ranging from psychological profile to problem solving, personality traits to general knowledge. You will be sent to talk to a psychologist and be evaluated for mental health. Medical Examinations - These are used to get a base line assessment of your health to determine if you will be an asset or a liability to the department. Blood work, doctor visit, sight, hearing, and a fitness/capability exam are some things to expect but as always can differ from department to department.

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