How To Become a Firefighter

Updated 14 August 2023

If you want a job that offers diversity in daily tasks and allows you to positively impact people's lives, becoming a firefighter may be a consideration worth exploring. To work in this field, you will need specialised training and education to develop the necessary knowledge base. Additionally, you'll need to demonstrate the required skills, experience, and personality traits for the position. In this article, we outline the steps involved in how to become a firefighter and highlight the essential skills needed for this role.

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How to Become a Firefighter

There are various avenues to becoming a firefighter in the UK, giving people the option to select the path that aligns with their situation and goals:

1. Start with a college course or apprenticeship

You could start by taking a college course or apprenticeship to begin learning the skills you will need in your work as a firefighter.

You could take a Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma in Public Service before applying to become a firefighter. Although this is not a requirement, it may make your application stand out from other candidates. The entry requirements for these courses are usually:

  • 2 or more GCSEs at A*-D grade or equivalent for a Level 2 course

  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at A*-D grade or equivalent for a Level 3 course

If you're interested in becoming a firefighter, you may also consider an operational firefighter advanced apprenticeship. However, you must first be employed by your local fire service to qualify. Check their website for potential job openings. Entry requirements for this type of apprenticeship are usually:

  • GCSEs at A*-C grade or equivalent in English and maths

Related: Higher Apprenticeships: Everything You Need to Know

2. Gain relevant work experience

If you opt for an apprenticeship, you will receive hands-on training and classroom education in a specialist school, which will assist you in developing your practical abilities. If you decide on a college program, you may be able to participate in a work placement or internship. Alternatively, you can search for volunteer opportunities as a means of acquiring work experience.

3. Highlight your skills on your CV

When applying for a job with a fire service, you will need to write a CV that showcases the skills you have which are relevant to the position. This could include transferable skills you have developed through other work, volunteering or placements. For example, you may have developed skills such as communication or the ability to work under pressure from a previous job.

Related:How to write a firefighter CV in 6 steps (plus sample)

4. Apply to local fire services

Look for opportunities to join your local fire service by keeping an eye on their website. Each fire service sets its own entry requirements and application/selection process, but they will all likely require a combination of written and practical elements. There will also be an interview to determine whether you are well-suited to the role.

Related: A Guide on Careers That Make a Difference in People's Lives

Other ways to become a firefighter

Even without an apprenticeship or college course, here are some other ways you may be able to become a firefighter:

Becoming a firefighter through volunteering

If you're interested in becoming a firefighter, you could consider volunteering or taking on support roles, like emergency call handling. While this isn't a direct path to becoming a firefighter, it can give you valuable insight into the job and help you determine if it's the right fit. Additionally, you may have the opportunity to apply for internal vacancies within the department.

Becoming a firefighter by directly applying

You can apply directly for a job with your local fire service. Each one sets its own entry requirements, but they usually include GCSEs at A*-C grade in English and maths, or equivalent. You will usually need to:

  • Pass an online test designed to test your reaction to certain situations

  • Pass a medical examination and a physical fitness test

  • Be Interviewed

Becoming a firefighter through a training course run by local fire authorities

You could prepare for your career as a firefighter by taking a Level 2 certificate in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community. This type of qualification is run by local fire authorities and is designed for people whose job includes some responsibility for fire safety, such as housing wardens. Although this is not a requirement to become a firefighter, it will show potential employers that you are interested in fire safety and may give you an edge over other candidates if you apply directly for a role.

Skills required to be a firefighter

Firefighting is a job where every day is different so that you will need a wide range of skills. These may include:

  • Physical strength and stamina for standing for long periods, carrying heavy equipment and other activities which require peak physical fitness

  • Customer service skills for interacting with the public, either in emergencies or when delivering training or presentations

  • The ability to remain calm under pressure when responding to emergencies

  • Knowledge of public safety and security, which you may learn through a college course, apprenticeship or on the job

  • Sensitivity and understanding to deal with people in stressful, frightening situations

  • Knowledge of training methods and confidence to deliver presentations on fire safety

  • Interpersonal and teamwork skills to coordinate effectively with your crew

  • Basic IT skills to perform basic tasks on a computer or handheld device

  • Problem-solving skills for figuring out the safest way to proceed in an emergency

  • First aid skills for assisting members of the public before ambulance services arrive

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition, Types and Tips for Improvement

Firefighter FAQs

Here are the answers to some common questions about working as a firefighter:

What are the daily tasks performed by a firefighter?

Firefighters protect people and property from fires and other dangerous situations by controlling and putting out fires, responding to other emergencies and delivering training on fire prevention. Since firefighting includes responding to emergency calls in the community, every day is different. However, tasks you may perform on a daily basis include:

  • Inspecting and maintaining safety equipment

  • Responding to emergency call-outs, including fires and floods

  • Responding to other threats, such as bomb alerts and chemical or hazardous substance spills

  • Carrying out practice drills and taking part in training

  • Rescuing people and animals from burning buildings and other dangerous situations

  • Controlling and putting out fires

  • Inspecting buildings to ensure they meet fire safety requirements

  • Giving presentations and training sessions on fire safety to schools and community groups

Related: Role of a firefighter (plus skills and qualifications)

What salary can I earn as a firefighter?

The average salary for a firefighter is around £37,577 per annum. As an entry-level firefighter, you can expect to earn a starting salary of around £23,800 per annum, whereas experienced firefighters can earn upwards of £50,000 per annum.

Related: Average Salaries for Firefighters (and How To Earn More)

What hours do firefighters work?

Firefighters will usually work an average of 40-48 hours a week on a shift pattern. All fire services set their own shift patterns, but typically a firefighter might work two-day shifts followed by two-night shifts, then four days off. Shifts are generally long and include sleeping and eating at the fire station while remaining available for emergency call-outs.

Are there any restrictions on who can work as a firefighter?

To work as a firefighter, you will need to:

  • Be at least 18 years old

  • Pass a physical fitness test

  • Pass a medical check

  • Pass enhanced background tests

  • Hold a full driving license

Some fire services only accept applications from people living in the local area, so depending on your location, you may need to move to be considered for a position.

What is a firefighter's working environment like?

The working environment for a firefighter may change daily and can be challenging. If you choose a career as a firefighter, you can expect the following:

  • Standing for long periods at a time

  • Wearing and carrying heavy safety equipment, which can be hot and uncomfortable

  • Working long shifts, which can include eating and sleeping at the fire station while remaining on call in case of an emergency

  • Exposure to flames, smoke and other dangerous situations

  • Having to spend hours extinguishing a single fire

Related: How to Become a Paramedic

What career progression is available to a firefighter?

All fire services have a career programme that allows you to track, manage and plan your career development. You could work your way up to crew manager, watch manager or station manager.

You could also move between stations and eventually become an area manager, brigade manager or chief fire officer.

What are retained, firefighters?

Along with whole-time firefighters, who work as firefighters as their full-time job, fire services also employ retained firefighters. These people usually work in rural areas and are not full-time team members. Instead, they are on-call responders who live close to the fire station and respond to pagers when an emergency call is received. As they are required to drop everything if there is an emergency, retained firefighters are usually self-employed or work for employers who understand that this is a possibility.

Although all fire services have their own application requirements and recruitment processes, requirements to become a retained firefighter are similar to those for whole-time firefighters and usually include physical fitness tests, medical tests, interviews and qualifications that show a basic level of numeracy and literacy.

Is firefighting right for you?

To determine if firefighting is the right career for you, it's important to consider your personal attributes, interests, and values. Start by evaluating your physical fitness and stamina, as firefighting requires strength, endurance, and the ability to work in challenging environments. Assess your problem-solving skills since firefighters often face complex situations that demand quick thinking and decision-making. Additionally, consider your comfort level with risk and stress since firefighting can involve high-pressure situations and exposure to hazardous conditions. It's also essential to evaluate your passion for helping others and serving the community, as firefighting is a noble profession that focuses on saving lives and protecting property. You can gain valuable insights and firsthand experiences by connecting with current or former firefighters, volunteering with fire service organisations, or participating in ride-along programs to help you determine if this demanding yet rewarding career is right for you.

How long does it take to become a firefighter?

Becoming a firefighter can take varying amounts of time depending on the region and specific requirements. Generally, the process can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. It involves meeting certain qualifications, such as passing physical fitness tests, medical evaluations, and educational requirements. Once accepted, aspiring firefighters will undergo extensive training programs that cover a range of firefighting skills, such as fire suppression techniques, rescue operations, hazardous materials handling, and emergency medical training. The duration of these training programs can vary from several weeks to several months, depending on the intensity and depth of the curriculum. Ultimately, aspiring firefighters should be prepared to commit to ongoing professional development throughout their careers, as it requires dedication and perseverance.

Related: How to write an effective fire marshal CV (with example)

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