Recently, I recieved a letter from a reader who asked some great questions, which led to some good Q&A between us.  I thought our exchange might be useful for others so here it is….



Great blog, first off. I am 28 and live in SF. I am taking the San Francisco Paramedic Association EMT-1 [Basic] class this spring. I understand that the first step into the SFFD is the written test. However, how does one best prepare for this test (when it does happen…which is in a few years, I imagine)? [Should I] take fire tech classes at a local college?

Can you go to the fire academy before gaining an appointment? What really strengthens an application and also what is a good step-by-step process?

Thanks again – and good luck!




Thanks for writing. If I understand correctly, you’ll be taking your EMT-Basic class during the coming spring semester and and then considering fire tech classes in the ultimate hope of joining the SFFD. Is that correct?

I may be misunderstanding your questions, but here are the answers to what I think you’re wondering:

1. Getting your EMT is definitely an excellent way to start. It’s what I did too, but I will tell you this – make sure to take a CPR/First aid class first. These are the two that are likely required before you can take the EMT class, though the SFPA may include it in their curriculum.
– CPR for the Professional Rescuer (American Red Cross)
– CPR Healthcare Provider (American Heart Association)

2. The SFFD is currently hiring and interviewing, but if you didn’t apply during the last application process you’ll have to wait until they do it again, which probably will be a few years from now (but who really knows). I just tested for SFFD two weeks ago, along with thousands of others. Competition is big for a department like SF.

Preparing for any fire fighter exam and interview process is the same for almost every department, big or small. You’ll want to do a couple things: Review any material they provide you, know the names of all major chiefs and fire officers in the department, know the history and as much as you can about that particular department, and the city/community which it protects. You’ll also want to practice interviewing with anybody who can help you. Practice in the mirror and learn what you can from the many online fire resources out there. You do not need to pay for interview coaching – just read, research, learn and practice.

3. Taking Fire Science classes and attending a fire academy are huge steps toward getting a job. Departments will see this and know you’re serious. You do not need to have any appointments or jobs lined up to go to an academy. For my academy, we had to have taken 3 fire technology classes, our EMT certification and have passed the CPAT.

4. To strengthen your application and enhance your image to hiring departments there are many things you can do. Here are a few good ones.
Volunteer somewhere (anywhere you would enjoy)
Get fire experience (work for CDF one summer or get involved in a reserve or volunteer fire department)
Become involved in the community (again, whatever you enjoy, but show that you’re a real part of the community you live in)
Work in a related field (the least money I’ve made in the past 10 years is right now working as an EMT. I’m not doing it for the money; I’m doing it for the experience)
Take classes, get your Firefighter 1 certificate and/or your Fire Technology degree (this shows longer term commitment to your goal)

5. You asked about a step-by-step process to go about this. That will vary for everybody, but ultimately you have to do what will work best for you. My approach was to do as much as I could at once. To illustrate this, I took my EMT, 4 fire science classes and a basic dysrythmias class in one semester. It was brutal and I lived in my books. It has been a real challenge and I’ve sacrificed a lot to do it, but I’m glad I did. I went farther faster. That won’t work for everybody. Again, do what’s good for you.

I hope this helps. Let me know what you decide to do, and if I fully answered your questions.

p.s. You may want to read this post I wrote on getting an education for the fire service.

– Josh



Thanks for the great information and also best of luck with the SFFD process!

In terms of the EMT, I see that CCSF (City College of SF) offers this course at around $280 and the SF Paramedics Association is 5x that. Is the SFPA regarded as more prestigious? What is the benefit of going there versus CCSF?

Also, what have you heard about the CCSF Fire Academy. It would be more convenient for me to go there as opposed to somewhere in the East Bay – what are your thoughts?

I understand that the application process for the SFFD is simply a written exam, and then you are sorted based on your score. With that being said, why does building your resume strengthen your chances (per your blog postings)? Theoretically, can’t someone off the street score 100% and then someone who has done 5 years of EMT, the First Academy, etc. score less and the individual with the better score advances?

How difficult is it to get into the Reserves here in the City, from what you have discovered?

Thanks, you’ve been helpful, and good luck again!




I’m glad to hear I’ve been helpful. That really means a lot to me!

When it comes to getting your EMT, forget about prestige. Most schools that offer the program are good; and employers, whether they be a fire department or an ambulance company just aren’t all that concerned with where you got certified. The fact that you are certified is what counts. The ultimate key is that you study hard and learn what they’re teaching. On that note, I’m personally not a fan of the very fast, and very expensive 1 month or 1 week programs. Having been through a full semester EMT program, I just don’t believe a person is going to truly soak up everything you’re supposed to learn in such a short time.

That’s not to eliminate those “quickie” options entirely…. If you have the money (they’re very costly) for such a fast-paced program, you will learn all the essential basics. Plus, what happens on the job is often different from what you learned in class, so if you can pass the national registry exam and get a job quickly, you might want to sharpen your skills on the job.
Like with most things, the best way to learn something is to do it for real.

I say go to city college where you save money and the location is convenient. CCSF has a good reputation anyway.

Your question regarding resumes is an excellent one, and you are right about the exam sorting candidates by score. They (and very many fire depts.) don’t want anything to do with resumes until you’ve passed a significant chunk of the hiring process. Nonetheless, if you make it to the oral interview they’re going to want to see a resume, and having a good one ready is going to be a great benefit.

The last thing you want to do when you should be practicing your interviewing, is struggling to write a decent resume. Your resume will be looked at, and having it decked out with volunteer experience, applicable jobs and community involvement is going to set you apart from competing candidates at this very significant stage in the hiring process. Don’t let your resume be your weak link; have it be the extra mile that puts you ahead of the competition.

You asked: “Theoretically, can’t someone off the street score 100% and then someone who has done 5 years of EMT, the First Academy, etc. score less, and the individual with the better score advances?” The answer of course is yes… theoretically. Realistically, no. I can go on and on about this, but I’ll spare the details and leave it at this: I believe anything is possible (You or I might win the lottery), but million to one chances aside, we have to work hard for what we want.

Getting into the San Francisco reserves is tough. There are long lines, but it’s definitely possible. Unfortunately, I don’t know quite enough about it to make any truly definitive statements on the topic, but I’ll learn what I can and let you know.

Keep in touch!

– Josh