A Day in the Life of a Probationary Firefighter: What to Expect on the Job

Embracing the Firefighter Lifestyle

Stepping into this new world can be quite the change. Everything is very new, fresh, exciting, and even nerve-wracking.

Being a firefighter offers you the ability to have a new day every shift, as long as you put in the work. 

But just like any job, there are expectations and tasks to be completed.

It's important to understand that your fire hall isn't just a workspace; this is your home.

You will spend 1/4 of your year at the fire hall.

Now, not every department is the same, and they all have different expectations, so I'm speaking from my experience with my department.

Understanding the daily duties expected from your crew, your station, and your department is extremely important.

I have noticed this helps maintain a positive balance in your station, ensuring everyone is caring for their house just like anyone else would.

emptyfirebay A Day in the Life of a Probationary Firefighter

Preparing for Your Shift

It's polite to show up 30 minutes before your shift.

This gives you time to get changed, check your SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus), bunker gear, and all the tools on the rig.

As a probationary firefighter, it's your responsibility to ensure the medical bags are checked, all appropriate tools are working, and check EACH compartment on the rig – you should be touching every single tool in every single compartment just for the sake of knowing where your tools are.

A little side note: some captains appreciate when you set up their gear and check their packs as well.

Usually, the night before, the previous crew will put your gear on the apparatus floor, and in the morning, you will put theirs back.

Once those duties are fulfilled, depending on your crew, it's okay to have a coffee and relax a bit before cleaning duties start.

Cleaning Duties and Maintenance

firefighter cleaning fire hall A Day in the Life of a Probationary Firefighter

Try to go with the flow for cleaning duties.

One lesson I learned was that sometimes cleaning starts at 8 am sharp…unless the guys are chatting away.

Just try to read the room…but also be the first one up and in the bathroom cleaning the toilets.

Generally speaking, you clean the toilets, mirrors, sinks, sweep and mop the floors, and take out the garbage every single shift.

Each station will have specific days to bring the garbage to the sidewalk and the garbage cans back in, cleaning out the fridge, cleaning out the rig (deep clean), and especially a deep clean of the whole station weekly.

Training and Continuous Learning

Once your cleaning duties are finished, some crews will do training from 9 am until they are done.

It could be anything from grabbing tools off the rig, using the rig (pumping or ladder operations), or just sitting around the table and talking through scenarios. But training doesn't just stop there.

Depending on your department's policy, you can utilize your time for exercise; generally, each station has a gym that can be utilized.

Each crew has different expectations of their probie; some encourage them to work out on shift, and others don't think they should until after probation is finished.

One thing for sure, in regards to training, is that nothing beats reading your IFSTA (International Fire Service Training Association) Essentials book or information from your academy.

Responding to Calls and Emergency Situations

During your time figuring out all the quirks and intricacies of your crew and the expectations in the hall, we get to the good stuff: responding to calls.

Depending on the station, if it's a multi-rig station or a single rig, you will have different tones.

There are three different tones at a multi-rig station, one for each separate rig, another for both rigs, and depending on the type of rig in the single-rig station, it will dictate which tone it uses.

The tones will drop, followed by your rig's number, the type of incident, address, and any additional information.

Now, this isn't like the movies where you see everyone sprinting to the rig; remember, slow is smooth, smooth is fast…just make sure you're the first one there and the first one with your gear on (I know it's contradicting).

No matter what the call is, as a new guy, your heart will be racing, and your mind will be going a hundred miles an hour.

Depending on the call, your next steps will depend on your captain's expectations.

Generally speaking, for medical calls, you grab the med bag and AED; for alarm bells, you grab your tools (irons and, if in a high-rise, the high-rise pack).

But the moment we have all been waiting for is a fire.

Most departments I've spoken with have the probie at the nozzle.

Don't just grab the nozzle right away; take a look around and assess how much hose you need, how much smoke there is, and what's the appropriate tool for the job.

There are plenty of intricacies we could get into, but I'll just leave it at that.

responding to fire calls A Day in the Life of a Probationary Firefighter

Equipment Maintenance and Post-Call Analysis

Generally speaking, after a serious emergency, it's imperative to ensure all equipment is restocked and in working order.

Medical calls mean restocking the bag and rechecking the AED; MVCs (Motor Vehicle Collisions) involve restocking the absorbent and cleaning any tools you used; fires (car or structure) require cleaning SCBA, bunker gear, hoses, nozzles, and pretty much every piece of equipment used.

After the call, your crew may sit down and go over what was done, what could be done better, and how you can adjust for the next call.

Sometimes people can be brash or hard, but don't take it personally; they just want you to be better and work with a high-performance team.

The Importance of Cooking and Mealtime Etiquette

firefighter cooking A Day in the Life of a Probationary Firefighter

One thing that was told to me during the academy was that you'll gain at least 10 lbs your first year on the job.

I didn't believe this, but it's true…at least it was for me.

Cooking is a huge part of life at the hall, and you will get to enjoy some of the best food you have ever eaten in your life.

If you can't cook, I'd suggest learning how to cook one meal very well before joining your crew.

There are some rules at the kitchen table that may seem strange, but they are clearly there for a reason…that reason?

I'm not sure.

You should be the last one to fill your plate but the first one to finish.

When the first person gets up to start cleaning, beat them to the sink to start scrubbing dishes, and for the first little bit, I'd suggest sitting with your back to the TV.

Staying Physically and Mentally Fit

Speaking of that extra 10 lbs, let's get into the physical fitness portion of being a firefighter.

Starting a new life as a career firefighter comes with a big responsibility.

You've trained and trained to pass all the testing, got to the academy, and kept training.

Now that you're on the floor, it's your responsibility to keep up with that training.

We all know that physical fitness also improves our mental health.

It's always been extremely tempting to be a looky-loo driving by car accidents and other emergencies; now, you have front-row seats.

It's imperative that you find healthy habits in place to manage the terrible things you're going to see over your career.

Speaking from experience before I got into the fire service, it's crucial to have these coping mechanisms in place before you get to a traumatic scene.

It all comes down to balancing your personal time, work time, and time with family and friends.

Balancing Family, Work, and Personal Time

Our schedules are unlike any other occupation.

We are blessed and cursed with the 24-hour shift in the 28-day cycle.

You're going to end up with so much time on your hands; it's important to stay busy.

Managing a family, work, and your personal time can be tricky, as people don't understand that just because you aren't at work doesn't mean you don't need to rest.

Sleep at the station isn't like sleep in your own bed.

Your family might think, "Well, you have the next seven days off" and try to fill it in with a "honey-do" list.

Although we all want to make our friends and family happy, don't forget to clear the schedule to include time for yourself.

Cheerful little boy with his mother firefighter playing with the safety helmet

The Rewarding Journey of a Firefighting Career

In conclusion, a career in the fire service can be very rewarding.

You're a problem solver, a tool in a toolbox, willing to do what it takes to help others.

There will be more challenges to face and unique situations to adapt to over the next 30 years, so take it one step at a time.

If you're still trying to get on a department, keep fighting and don't give up.

If you're already on, I hope you found what I've written useful.

Credit: Brock - Career Firefighter


  • Steve
  • Updated February 3, 2024