How Firefighter Training Works

To a typical kid, the only thing cooler than a fire truck is ­somebody who rides in one. Firefighters maneuver through the city at high­ speeds and climb ladders to sickening heights. These highly trained specialists risk their lives every day fighting fires. It's easy to see why so many people aspire to become firefighters: serving as one is heroic and adventurous. But becoming a firefighter takes more than brute strength and guts of steel.


In this article, we'll take a closer look at what it takes to become a municipal firefighter and examine different elements of their training.

Firefighter Training Image Gallery

Before you can become an active-duty firefighter, you need to spend about 600 hours in training, over the course of 12 to 14 weeks. That's somewhere between 40 to 48 hours per week, which makes firefighter training a full-time job. Training typically occurs at a fire academy, which is often run by the fire department, a division of the state government or a university.

  • 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

Firefighting is a highly competitive field. Thousands of applicants apply every year across the country, but most are rejected. Many departments hire every two years, and typically give staff positions to about 30 applicants at a time. While some fire departments only require applicants to hold a high school diploma, many look for applicants with two years of college credits from an accredited college or university. Firefighting is so competitive, in fact, that many applicants obtain EMT or paramedic certification before applying to become a firefighter, making them more desirable to hiring departments. Today, more applicants than ever before have four-year degrees in Fire Science or related fields, which has made the field even more competitive.

To enter a training program, applicants take three exams: a written test, a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) and an 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.

To pass the physical portion of the firefighter exam (CPAT), recruits must be able to quickly climb an extended ladder. To pass the physical portion of the firefighter exam (CPAT), recruits must be able to quickly climb an extended ladder.
To pass the physical portion of the firefighter exam (CPAT), recruits must be able to quickly climb an extended ladder.

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 14 weeks of training, and so is a strong indicator of future success.

Physical tests vary from academy to academy, but here are some common tasks:

­ Applicants train for the CPAT in some unusual ways. Often, applicants run up and down stairs or stadiums, lift heavy sacks of sand by rope, or jog in multi-level parking garages.

Next, we'll take a look at the most exciting and dangerous aspect of firefighter training.