How to become a firefighter
Whether you're looking to find out how to become a firefighter in Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba or anywhere in Canada for that matter, it can prove to be difficult, expensive and time consuming. It requires education, community involvement, many hours of training and dedication, peak physical fitness and most of all a strong desire to help others.
To make matters worse, it's a hyper-competitive career. Often times competing against 1000's of other candidates.
The question becomes...
- How do I stand out from the rest?
- What type of schooling and courses do I need?
- What are the minimum requirements to apply to a fire department?
- How can I give myself the best chances to succeed?
- What does the interview panel look for in new recruits?
- How do I prepare myself to succeed in this challenging career?
This page will cover all these topics and more. Let's get right to it!
how to become a firefighter (minimum requirements)
Minimum requirements to become a firefighter vary slightly from one province to the next BUT here are the most common requirements you need to have before you can apply to any Canadian department:
- Proof of age - You must be 18 years of age or older at the time of the application
- Can legally work for any employers in Canada
- Provide a Valid Standard First Aid Certificate, CPR Level HCP
(Must remain valid throughout the recruitment process)
- Have no criminal convictions for which a pardon has not been granted
- Pleasure Craft Operator Card (This is an easy one to aquire to pad your resume)
- Grade 12 Diploma or equivalent (OSSD in Ontario)
- Valid, Unrestricted Ontario "G" class license (or equivalent for other provinces) * Must have no more than two (2) infractions
- 20/30 uncorrected vision
- Valid Physical Fitness Assessment (Varies from province to province)
- Normal colour vision
- Normal unaided hearing
- Ability to work rotating shifts, including nights, weekends and holidays
- Work well under high-pressure situations
What other requirements might I find for a firefighter recruitment?
Again, these qualifications vary from one department to the next. Listed below are some common ones you might find during your standard firefighter recruitment in Canada.
- Pre-Service Fire Fighter Education & Training Program Certificate OR
- NFPA 1001 Firefighter Levels I & II from a recognized institution OR
- OFM curriculum components 1,2 and 3 with examination certificate OR
- Minimum of two (2) years experience as a full-time firefighter in a municipal fire department OR
- Minimum of five (5) years experience as a part-time firefighter in a municipal fire department
- Some departments might ask you to acquire a class "D" license with "Z" air brake endorsement (or equivalent in other provinces)
- Ontario Fire Administration INC. (OFAI) Testing Stages 1,2 and 3 with Swim Test
- Firefighter Services of Ontario Testing
What other qualifications can I get beyond the minimum requirements?
So you'd like to improve your chances to become a firefighter in Canada. There are a couple of things you can do to greatly improve your odds. In this section, we will cover the courses and career paths that can prove to be beneficial.
* Please note that these are just suggestions. You don't need to obtain them all BUT for the ones you do get, remember to spread these out over time. Departments look for consistency so getting them over a couple of years is more beneficial than getting them all at once.
A higher level of Medical Training.
Structural incidents have greatly decreased over the years and medical assistance calls are becoming more and more common; especially in highly dense and populated areas.
Therefore, getting a higher level of medical training such as EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) or even becoming a paramedic can prove to be a big plus when applying to departments.
Becoming a volunteer or military firefighter.
I know this is not possible for everyone. Some people live in areas that don't have volunteer fire department but if you get to opportunity to get onto a volunteer department, DO IT! Another great option is to become a military firefighter.
Becoming a volunteer or military firefighter allows you to practice the skills full-time departments use every day. You get a little taste of the day-to-day life of a firefighter.
Really get involved in the department. Clean the trucks, maintain the equipment, make every call you possibly can. This looks great for you, you get the experience you need and you might even get a good reference from your superiors.
This goes a long way in the fire service.
Learn a Skilled Trade.
As you can imagine, becoming proficient as a firefighter requires you to be a "jack of all trades". You need to be able to think on your feet and sometimes react with little to no time to think.
Fire departments are made up of firefighters with diverse backgrounds. Having a skilled trade allows you to compliment your crew and provide them with some good hands-on experience in your skilled trade.
It's often highly regarded when selecting potential recruits.
Acquire Specialized Training.
Specialized training includes:
- Ice Water Rescue (NFPA 1006)
- Swift Water Rescue (NFPA 1006)
- Hazardous Materials Training (HAZMAT)
- Rope Rescue (NFPA 1006)
- Fire and Life Safety Educator (NFPA 1035)
- Driver Operator (NFPA 1002)
- Fire Inspector (NFPA 1031)
- Rapid Intervention Training (RIT)
- Pumper Operations (Pump OPS)
- Auto Extrication (Auto-X) (NFPA 1006)
- Confined Space Rescue (NFPA 1006)
- Fire Inspector (NFPA 1031)
- Fire Instructor (NFPA 1041)
- Tech Level Hazardous Materials (NFPA 1072)
These are only a few of the many options out there. You should note that there are varying levels of each technical skill. There is the basic "Awareness" level and can go as high as "Technician" level.
What I recommend to those looking at these type of courses is to make a list of the courses that interested you.
You find out what courses interests you when taking a program like pre-service firefighter or NFPA 1001 Firefighter Levels I & II. From there pursue a higher level of training in those selected areas.
In my opinion, achieving a higher level of training in a single area is more valuable than getting only the basic level of training in all areas.
A University Degree or College Diploma.
A higher level of post-secondary education can also prove to be beneficial.
These include (but not limited to):
- Fire Science
- Fire Systems Engineer Technician
- Fire Protection Engineering Technician
- Any type of engineering program (Electrician, Mechanical, etc.)
Outside the box training
Sometimes it can be beneficial to think outside the box. It might make a difference when comparing two very similar firefighter resumes.
These include (but not limited to):
- Scuba Certifications
- Culinary Training
- Chainsaw Certification
- Radio Operator Certification
- Small Engine Repair
- Leadership Training
- Mental Health Training
- Conflict Resolution Training
What day-to-day activities can I perform to improve my chances to become a firefighter?
Not everything has to do with acquiring certifications and training. There are things you can do every day to help you improve your chances of becoming a firefighter.
Listed below are some very important ones you should not overlook.
Get involved in the community
Yes, I put this first for a reason, because it's important! Get involved and STAY INVOLVED. Many candidates have told me personally that in almost all their interviews, the department wanted to know if they were involved in their communities.
Departments want to know if you care about the community you live in. So go out and volunteer.
Now I know you might be asking.... but Steve, I'm a volunteer firefighter. Is that enough?
The quick answer to this is NO.
Yes, being a volunteer firefighter is important but departments want to know what else you do for your community and more importantly are you consistently volunteering.
So go out, find some great causes and volunteer! How can I find these places you might ask?
Some staples include:
- Big Brother/Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada
- Medical First Responder (St. John Ambulance)
- Coach A Sports Team
- Municipal Volunteer Position
- Volunteer Crisis Hotline Responder
Here are some other good places to start your search:
- Your Cities Official Website
- Kijiji (Community Section)
- Facebook Groups
There are always people looking for some good athletic volunteers to help their cause. Pick one you believe in and get some satisfaction from helping others.
Constantly push your fitness limits
I know I don't have to tell you but superior fitness is a big part of becoming a firefighter. It's very important to be in top shape should you get a call to take a fitness test (OFAI fitness test, CPAT, etc.) or more importantly when you are called out to a scene.
In firefighting, fitness should not be something you do just because (although it can be I guess...) but it should be a way of life, a lifestyle.
There are many gyms, workout programs and personal trainers out there that will help you reach your fitness goals.
Achieving high levels of fitness is not only important for you but for your crew. They depend on you just like you depend on them. Don't let poor fitness hurt you or a member of your crew.
Be aware of what you put on social media
Social media has revolutionized the world but it has also caused some big issues when it comes to getting hired. Be mindful of what you put on social media, it can cost you your dream job.
With that in mind, make sure you remove anything you deem inappropriate. That includes anything embarrassing, immature or otherwise inappropriate posts.
I would go as far as asking your friends to take down anything that includes you that you find meets the criteria above.
Worst case scenario - close your accounts. (Except for the FireRecruitment Facebook Page of course)
Keep your nose clean
Yes, keeping your nose clean is important. It improves physical endurance, increases air circula...... just kidding. That's not what I mean.
By keeping your nose clean I mean make sure you stay out of trouble. As I mentioned in the minimum requirements section not having a criminal record is very important.
It's common sense really....put yourself in the shoes of your local fire chief, do you think you would want a firefighter with a criminal record representing your department? Especially since a large majority of the time, this firefighter will be dealing with the public.
I'm ready to start sending my application. What now?
HOLD UP! Are you sure you're ready? Let's cover a couple of things before you send in that application. At this point, we might have spent thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars on getting ready to apply.
Let's make sure we cover a couple more areas before we proceed.
The Firefighter Resume and Cover Letter
The firefighter resume is arguably one of the most important steps in becoming a firefighter. It highlights and describes a career worth's of work and volunteer experience, education, and certifications.
You need to make sure that all that money you spent on your journey to becoming a firefighter is properly represented in your documents.
Another wrench in this situation is many of today's fire departments have specialized software made specifically for screening the candidates.
The scary part of all this is even if you have the certification or qualification they are looking for, you might not get picked up if you don't have the keyword(s) they input in their search criteria.
For this reason, I highly recommend that before you send in your first application that you have a professional look over and fix your documents.
They will make sure you have the right keywords and therefore not wasting the money you spend to apply to your department of choice.
FireRecruitment.ca does provide this service and it can be found here: Firefighter Resume and Cover Letter Service
The Firefighter Aptitude Test
Alright! The firefighter aptitude test. You sent in your resume and got invited to take part in their testing process OR in Ontario, you want to pre-qualify with a service such as OFAI or FireOntario what do I need to know?
Well here's a break down of the categories you might find during the recruitment process:
- Reading Ability
- Mathematical Reasoning
- Map Reading
- Writing Ability
- Human Relations (interpersonal skills, teamwork, commitment, honesty, integrity, emotional stability)
- Reasoning Skills (reasoning, vocabulary, mechanical aptitude, and spatial rotation)
To prepare for a test of this nature, I'd recommend an online practice test that you can practice at your own pace. If you're looking for something of this nature, I usually recommend this service: Practice Firefighter Aptitude Test
Make sure you're constantly scoring over 80% before challenging the firefighter aptitude test.
The Firefighter Mock Interview
The Firefighter Mock Interview often gets overlooked when trying to become a firefighter. If you don't speak well or are uncomfortable speaking, you need to spend more time preparing.
There are many "techniques" that help you answer a question completely (see the S-T-A-R technique) but if you're already unsure of what to say then these techniques will do you no good.
I recommend you make the investment in yourself and hire a tutor. They will help you prepare for situations that might usually catch you off guard.
They might also catch some nervous ticks your not aware you have and walk you through the whole process. From the first handshake to the last handshake.
You can find more information on mock interviews and FireRecruitment's Mock Interview Service here.
**BONUS** - 20 Sample Firefighter Interview Questions
What Canadian Fire Departments are currently hiring?
Once you've read everything mentioned above and feel confident in yourself and your qualifications, feel free to visit the firefighter recruitments below and send in your applications!
How will I know when new Firefighter Recruitments become available?
Here at FireRecruitment.ca, we like to keep things simple. If you use the form below to sign up, you will be instantly notified on any new firefighter recruitments in Canada.
It's really that simple!