Why Do You Want To Become A Firefighter?
You may have some good answers. However, there are more guys and gals who want to become firefighters than there are jobs. That’s not meant to deter you from your goal; it’s intended to serve as a reality check.
In fact, the purpose of this message is to introduce you to a few realities of a career in firefighting so that you may be better informed about what you are getting into.
Fire of all, firefighters do not work 8-hour days, nor do they have routine weekends and holidays off.
Firefighters’ Work Schedules
In some cities (at least in the United States) firefighters work for periods as long as 48 hours. As a more specific example, the Los Angeles County fire shifts are as follows: 24 hours on, 24 hours off; 24 hours on, 48 hours off; 24 hours on, 24 hours off; 24 hours on, 96 hours off.
Then the sequence starts all over again.
Some departments are scheduled for two days on, one day off, two days on, six days off and then the sequence starts over again.
The LA County fire department work schedule represent a 56 hour work week.
If a firefighter works three or four days in a row, that would be due to mandatory overtimes or he is volunteering to work overtimes for those dates.
However, LA County firefighters are not allowed to work more than five days straight.
There are three shifts A, B and C. All having the same schedule but different days, which would fill the month.
Here in the United States, 8-12 hour schedules are usually fulfilled by volunteers, Explorers and Cadets, but some European departments may have such schedules. (Explorers and Cadets are usually teenagers).
It’s worth restating that this includes working on weekends and holidays, as well.
If such scheduling is workable for your vision of a job, then you’re in a better position for a successful career than someone who wants to be home every evening and for the weekends.
Physical Condition of Firefighters
Let’s also talk about your physical condition. If you’re going to be a firefighter for 30 years, that’s going to exert a lot of wear and tear on your body. If you’re not physically fit for your routine exams, you can be terminated, although you will likely be given an opportunity to get back in shape within a certain deadline.
Have you had major injuries in the past? In large fire departments in particular, they’re not going to hire you if you have had serious injuries. You may not see that written on any official documents, but it’s a reality. Past injuries can disqualify you from being hired, even if that may not be stated as an actual cause. The reason is that those past injuries can come back to haunt you later on in life, which can impact your duties as a firefighter.
By the way, not all injuries will disqualify you. Serious injuries, such as knee replacement, back injuries/problems, major shoulder injuries, heart problems and respiratory problems are some examples. If you have experienced such injuries they must be cleared by a qualified doctor.
Speaking of injuries, that’s one of the greatest risks to becoming a firefighter: getting hurt on the job.
We’re not even talking about getting burned, which can happen. However, more commonly injuries result from lifting and falling incidents, as well as chemical exposure.
Let’s also confront the harsh reality that a small percentage of firefighters get killed every year in the line of duty. Fire departments are exceptionally safety conscious, but injuries and death do occur.
Again, the point here is not to diminish your enthusiasm for this endeavor, it’s simply to introduce you to the real world of firefighting. With that in mind, you should ask yourself a few more questions:
- What else do you know about being a firefighter?
- Have you visited fire stations?
- Have you talked to firefighters?
- And more importantly, what have you done to prepare yourself to become a firefighter?
We’ll visit some additional information about question 1 and 4 in upcoming articles. However, just like it’s mentioned in the “5 Guidelines To Becoming a Firefighter,” you are urged to visit your local fire station and ask for a tour to find out more.