There are two general types of fire academies:
1) College Fire Academy for students interested in a career in the fire services.
2) Fire Academy for hired firefighters.
Both may cover similar theory and skill-development but a hired firefighter does not pay for their education and training. However, many fire departments require or give preference to prospects who have completed fire academy training on their own.
Generally speaking, a Fire Academy is a basic firefighter training program designed to provide a potential firefighter (or hired firefighter) with the essential knowledge and basic skills necessary to perform their job safely, effectively, efficiently, and as part of a firefighting team. A typical training program provides instruction in a classroom setting as well as practical skills training.
WHY PAY FOR TRAINING?
Firefighting is a highly competitive field. While some fire departments may formally state they only require applicants to hold a high school diploma, the reality is that since they have so many applicants, they often only consider prospects with two years of college credits, in addition to Fire Academy. In fact, the fire service is so highly competitive that many applicants obtain more than basic fire academy and also get EMT training or paramedic certification to make themselves more desirable to hiring departments. A number of applicants even obtain four-year degrees in Fire Science or related fields to further enhance their chances for getting hired. In other words, it’s simply stacking the odds more in your favor by getting yourself basic Fire Academy training.
BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR FIRE ACADEMY
Most U.S. fire academies have the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old (sometimes 21)
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent, though many career fire departments now require a college education
- Be physically fit
- Have a clean criminal record
- Have corrected 20/20 vision
To enter a training program, applicants take three exams:
- Written test
- Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)
- Aptitude test
The written exam typically consists of around 100 multiple choice questions and covers spatial awareness, reading comprehension, mechanical reasoning, logic, observation and memory.
The primary focus of the physical ability test is agility, upper body strength and endurance. Each task is timed and tests the applicant’s capacity to endure sustained physical activity. These tasks are reflective of what students do in the fire academy throughout their training day in and out. It’s unlikely that an applicant who strains to complete the tasks will survive the full course of training, so it’s a strong indicator of future success.
HOW LONG IS THE TRAINING?
The length of the fire academy varies.
If you are a newly hired firefighter, usually you will be on a full-time training schedule, which means 40+ hours per week. But college firefighter academies allow students to attend part-time.
Students who attend an academy full time will most often complete the program in 10 to 16 weeks. Students that attend part-time will take longer – often from 16 to 24 weeks.
Whether you are in a part-time or full-time Fire Academy, expect to complete at least 600 hours of training total.
WHAT IS A FIRE ACADEMY CURRICULUM?
A typical curriculum may be divided into these basic courses:
- Basic firefighter skills like pulling hose-lines, raising ladders, tying knots, rescue, ventilation, forcible entry, salvage, and water supply
- Basic firefighter knowledge like fire behavior, firefighting tactics, incident command, building construction, and emergency medicine
- Introduction to the National Incident Management System
- Wildland firefighter training (in certain states and programs only)
- EMS First Responder (basic First Aid) skills
- EMT skills and assessments
- Advanced firefighting knowledge and skills
Some states (such as California) break up the training into two separate certifications, instead of one.
HANDS-ON “LIVE FIRE” TRAINING
In order to help fire academy students develop necessary skills, training instructors will purposely set up drills to mimic live fires.
Fire Academies use computers and structures with built-in fire suppression to ensure student safety during these fire training experiences. These controlled fires burn via propane and natural gas and have systems to create real smoke. However, if there’s an emergency, the controlled fire and smoke in a burn building can be shut down with the push of a button.
Instructors also use computers to select how the fire will burn and at what temperature. The computers are capable of simulating fire scenarios for different occupancies in the building, residential or otherwise. They can even simulate inflamed furniture, such as burning sofas or tables.
Engineers design these burn buildings with a variety of materials, including masonry, concrete and metal. The walls and ceilings of the building are covered with heat-resistant tiles with built-in sensors to keep track of the fire’s intensity. The roof contains “chop-out panels” made of wood, which gives students the opportunity to learn how to properly ventilate a burning house and deal with major burns to the building’s structure. When the training crew applies extinguishing agents, the building has sensors that can tell which one the crew is in operation and whether or not it has been appropriately applied.
The sensors communicate to the main computer how to respond to the crew’s method. If a crew inappropriately applies an agent, it will simulate a real-world response, such as increasing a fire.
Fire Academy students will learn an array of information during these live fire training sessions, such as:
- Observing the development and stages of a fire
- Complying with an established command system
- The physical changes solid fuel undergoes because of increased heat
- How fire gases ignite and expand
- How various nozzle patterns work and affect fire
- Complying with an accountability system
- Adhering to emergency evacuation systems
- How to enter structures
- How to ventilate and extinguish live fires
Fire Academy is important for the overall development of any fire services professional.
Fire Academy students can expect to do a lot of physical activity throughout the training process and will need to be physically and medically fit.
Each firefighter must complete both an in-class and a practical course and pass a written exam at the conclusion of the academy. After graduation, each student will receive a Certificate of Completion.