How to Become a Firefighter in California? (Tips & Tutorial)


How to Become a Firefighter in California?

California, the Golden State, is one of the most happening places in the US.

Apart from the high number of tourists that come to this state, over 40 million people live here.

So, it’s no surprise that there will be a good number of fire departments – and many people want to be a part of them.

Many aspiring firefighters often ask us – how to become a firefighter in California?

The answer is simple. Like all the jobs, you’ll have to complete a few requirements like a high school diploma or GED, or degrees as such.

Fire departments accept candidates that are willing to risk their lives to save others- and if you have that mentality – you should start preparing for the exam.

We’ll take you through the whole process of becoming a firefighter in California in this article.

Basic Requirements to Apply in the Fire Departments

First things first – in order to be a professional firefighter, you’ll have to pass the minimum qualifications like being a legal adult or having a high school diploma or GED.

Most fire departments here accept people with a valid California driver’s license, and you’ll also have to possess a work permit to work in the US.

Apart from these, you’ll also need to show that you don’t have any recurring medical health conditions and that you’re fit enough to do the job.

The minimum qualifications to be a firefighter differs from one fire department to another in California, but we’ve jotted down a few common requirements for the application process:

  • 18 years or older
  • GED, High School Degree or High School Diploma
  • Valid driver’s license from California
  • Fully clean background
  • Eligibility to work in the US
  • Ability to pass the Fire Academy and CPAT
  • EMT certification (Not mandatory everywhere, but recommended)

How to Prepare Yourself for the Fire Service Department

How to Prepare Yourself for the Fire Service Department

The whole firefighter candidate assessment procedure is long and not easy, to say the least.

In order to prepare for the firefighter exam, you’ll have to get specific training education and set a personal goal to target.

Not just anyone can be a fire chief or a mere firefighter out of nowhere – it takes guts and courage to do these works.

If you’re adamant about being a firefighter, you can do a few things.

Many fire departments require an emergency medical technician (EMT), someone who can work in different departments and have a general knowledge about almost everything.

So, the first thing you can do is go through a candidate advancement program.

Programs as such will give you some technical and basic training to understand the physical demands and situational skills that firefighters require.

The exam is divided into three different parts, and the physical exam can be quite excruciating, so if you don’t have the physical ability to do chores like stair climb or sprint runs – you should stop pursuing this career.

Now, if you’re in excellent health and have the minimum requirements, you can go for different training to understand firefighter tools like ladder evolutions, hose handling, hose pack, knots and hitches, breathing apparatus, PPE, extinguishers, etc.

If you’re lucky to be a part of the Fire Academy, you’ll also be given mock interviews and written tests to keep a tab on your progress.

Apart from the training, if you’re sure about having a career in the fire department, you should work on your physical fitness, look for upcoming recruitments in the nearby fire station and practice a lot – the written test won’t be very easy; to say the least!

Why It Is Necessary for a Firefighter to Have an EMT Certification

EMT or an Emergency medical technician is a crucial part of the firefighting team these days. When we’re talking about firefighters, many people think that all they do is go into a building on fire like some superhero and rescue people – but that’s only one part of the job.

Interestingly enough, in most cases, there won’t be a fire at all; instead, you’ll have medical emergencies where you’ll have to assist a licensed paramedic.

This is where your EMT certification will come in handy.

Again, the certification isn’t mandatory in most fire departments, but you’ll have to get it at some point in your career in the fire service.

As a matter of fact, being EMT certified won’t just add an extra skill to your CV; it will actually help you land more jobs as a firefighter in all of California.

The procedure of EMT certification is relatively straightforward, but it’s quite time-consuming if we are, to be honest.

You’ll first have to enroll in a relevant program, complete at least 160 hours of coursework, get first-hand lab experience and finally pass the NREMT exam to be certified as an emergency medical technician.

Then again, if you’re sure to become a firefighter – this shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it?

Why You Should Try to Be a Volunteer Firefighter First

Why You Should Try to Be a Volunteer Firefighter First

Like we’ve said before, being a full-time firefighter isn’t the easiest job in the world.

Even if you fulfilled the minimum requirements and have successfully passed the recruitment exam, you might not like the stress that comes with it.

This is why many people want to gain some field experience by enrolling as a volunteer firefighter.

This is also an opportunity for you to learn basic firefighting skills, including swift water rescue, quick decision-making in separate events, etc. You’ll also get to know about different firefighting tools and apparatus.

These are facilities that only fire academy members get – so they’ll be enough for you to understand and finally decide if you should be a professional firefighter or not.

Moreover, after working for a certain time as a volunteer firefighter, if you decide to pursue your career in the fire department – your experience will surely come in handy in the recruitment process.

This is actually a more foolproof way to test and try if you have it in you to be a firefighter. If you want, you can also apply as a wildland firefighter or a reserve firefighter with the US Forest Service – the competition is scarce there, and you get to have an unforgettable experience in the woods!

How Are Firefighters Hired by the Fire Department?

Once you’ve collected all the necessary documents that Fire departments require, it’s time for you to start the application process. The recruitment process is quite lengthy, and you’ll have to prove your ability in every stage of the hiring process.

Types of Exams

The exams are divided into a few parts. First comes the written test, and if you pass it, then comes the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test).

Some fire departments also accept the Biddle Ability Test, while some require both the CPAT and the Biddle test.

Once that’s cleared, you’ll face the final test – panel interviews, including the chief’s interview. If you’ve successfully completed all of these, then you’ll be selected as a firefighter. The testing process for a firefighter position won’t be easy, but if you prepare accordingly – you should be able to ace it.

Written Exam

In general, the written tests are comprehensive exams where they will judge your cognitive and analytical abilities as a potential firefighter.

The firefighter candidate assessment system is quite detailed as you’ll have to answer around 100-150 MCQs in a span of 2-2.30 hours.

These questions will be regarding a wide range of different topics, and some of them might even be unrelated to firefighting.

There will be various maps, diagrams, quizzes, and math-based questions to test your ability and check your decision-making skills.

In order to prepare for this exam, you should buy a study guide or exam preparation book written by experts.

These books will give you a complete overview of the common question topics, patterns, and how to ace these exams.

The cut-mark for written exams varies, but usually, if you score around 70-80%, you should be eligible for the next round – the physical exam.

Physical Abilities Exam

Physical Abilities Exam

There was a time when fire departments held their own physical tests related to actual firefighting.

However, these tests are rare now, as most of the fire departments require you to pass the basic physical test, and that’s all. You’ll have to provide proof that you’re fit enough to work alongside other firefighters.

Most departments require the CPAT test for checking the physical abilities of a candidate, but some of the departments often prefer the Biddle ability test.

While both of them are quite similar, you’ll have to be physically prepared for doing specific tasks that are closely related to actual emergency situations.

The CPAT test is the most common physical fitness test for firefighters, and it lasts around 10.20 minutes.

There will be eight events in general, and you’ll have to pass every one of them in order to qualify.

There is no passing score; only pass/fail for each event.

Oral Interview

You won’t be able to sit for this part of the recruitment test if you don’t pass the written exam and the physical tests.

If you cleared the first couple of hurdles, next comes a detailed oral interview process where the examiners will evaluate your communications skills and decide if you’re eligible for a firefighter position.

If you’re naturally good at connecting people, it will come as an advantage for you.

The interviewer’s panel will look for your interpersonal abilities and check if you have the mental strength to work with firefighters.

You might be asked questions regarding your previous work history, your reason for picking the Fire Department and check your basic knowledge about firefighters.

The panel will also check how you respond in different circumstances and emergency situations.

If you have prior experience as a volunteer firefighter or have done paramedic/EMT work before, it might come in handy for you.

If you’d obtained the California State Fire Training certificate or know a bit about fire science – that would be very helpful as well.

Go through this video to know more about the oral interview process!

Medical Evaluation and Background Investigation

Even if you get a passing score on all the aforementioned tests, you might still not make it to be a firefighter. Because once everything is done, the Fire Departments will do a detailed background check on you.

They’ll look for any sort of criminal background, driving record, or credit score, and if they find anything – it might cost you the job. Because having a good character and morale is crucial for a firefighter.

The whole background investigation will take some time, and it varies from one department to another.

This is because the background check is done thoroughly.

Once your background investigation is done and you’ve come out clean – they’ll do a medical examination of you to check if you have any pre-existing health conditions that might affect your job performance.

Your medical exam will consist of a few regular checks. First, they’ll check your vision. Then you’ll have to give them blood and urine samples for further assessments.

These tests are done to make sure that you’re not a drug abuser and that your overall physical condition won’t bother you while doing the job of a firefighter.

You need to be in top shape all the time if you want to be a part of the brave firefighters!

Different Fire Academies in California

Different Fire Academies in California

There are a good lot of fire academies, college programs, and training schools all over California.

If you’re serious about pursuing a career in the fire department, you can enroll in any one of these and prepare for the recruitment exams.

However, it’s recommended that you consult the local fire department and then pick a suitable fire academy for you.

We’ve listed some of the best fire academies in California here:

  • Santa Ana College
  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • Rio Hondo College Fire Academy
  • Fresno City College
  • Lake Tahoe Community College
  • Long Beach City College
  • Los Angeles Harbor College
  • College of the Siskiyous
  • East Los Angeles College
  • College of the Canyons

Of these institutions, we believe that the Rio Honda Fire Academy is a fantastic option if you’re fully invested in pursuing a career as a firefighter. They have a wide range of facilities and courses to choose from.

You can also get your EMT certificate from here. From fire prevention to taking care of hazardous materials – they’ll teach you all!

Final Words

Let’s be honest – it’s no easy job being a firefighter. You’re constantly putting your life at stake, and your loved ones might not really prefer to lose you so early!

That being said, if you’re determined to serve mankind and do a thankless job like firefighting, you’re more than welcome to apply as a firefighter in the fire departments of California.

It’s a risky job, but totally worth it if you like a bit of a thrill in your life. We hope this article helped you learn how to become a firefighter in California.

Let us know in the comments if you need further help.

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