Everybody hates homework.   Firefighting is a job where you don’t take the work home with you (though I get the impression, it’s always with you), nonetheless, if you’re going to get the job in the first place you’re going to need to do your homework.  First this means finding out how to make yourself the most desirable candidate in the market, and one of the things this means is getting a degree in Fire Technology.

Before I explain what I’ve learned about this process, I want to first say that school is not for everybody and that doesn’t mean you’re out of the game.  Many of the worlds most influential people never got a college degree and sometimes have very little formal education.  Take a look at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Even George Washington never had a formal education.

Of course the times are changing and we’re not all computer geniuses.  For those who know that school is the last thing they want to do, know this – Too Bad.  You will have to do some, but it can be minimalized.   Here’s the breakdown:

CPR – The very first step and probably the easiest (though hugely important!) is becoming certified in CPR and use of an AED (Automated external defibrillator).  This should be done through one of two programs/organizations:

  • CPR for the Professional Rescuer (American Red Cross)
  • CPR Healthcare Provider (American Heart Association)

These courses are usually offered through local adult schools, community colleges and through the organizations themselves.  They are relatively cheap, and can be accomplished usually in a single day class.

EMT-B – You can be assured that without certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, you’re almost guaranteed not to be hired.  This is an absolute must!  Plus, it is a very difficult class.  I began studying 4 months ahead of time and it paid off with me graduating 2nd in my class just barely behind a nursing student.  Don’t get freaked out though – you don’t need to begin that early.  Just be prepared for a challenging course, and again – this one also meansa lot!  Not only will you use the skills you learn here through out your entire career (80% of calls firefighters go on are medical related), but what you learn may likely be the difference between you saving a life or not someday.

Many of my fellow classmates took this class on it’s own or only one or two other classes at the same time.  It is challenging and time consuming and should not be taken lightly.  If you can get through this class, and you will have to in order to become a firefighter, the rest of your classes should be cake.

Fire Academy & Firefighter 1 Certificate – Here’s where the minimum schooling comes to it’s end.  The firefighter 1 certificate can usually be attained by passing your EMT class, taking only a few fire classes and getting through the very hands-on fire academy.  This highly regarded certificate does not even require taking prerequisite courses which saves you tons of time, money and “formal schooling”.  If you’re the homework-hater I mentioned earlier, this is the route for you.  It will take work, but the EMT class will likely be the worst of it.  Between two school semesters and maybe a summer session, you can have this certificate for under $2000, within 1 year.

Associates of Science – Fire Technology – Some of us nerds just aren’t satisfied without the full monty.   For others who already have their prerequisites out of the way, it just makes sense.  Getting the actual college degree in fire technology shows hiring departments that you’re dedicated and educated; and for those like myself who already have a degree, getting this degree may mean taking two or three more classes than the FF1 cert would take.

To clarify, I went to school 10 years ago and got a degree in business.  To do that I had to take all my prerequisites which transferred to my current school.  With those out of the way, getting my A.S. Fire Technology meant taking 5 fire classes, the EMT course, and completing the fire academy.

Fire classes – Every school is different, but here’s a quick breakdown of the classes I took at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, CA.

  • Fire 101 – Fire Protection Organization – Taught by Ret. Captain Edward Macumber, this class is your basic introduction to firefighting and fire technology.  It gives you a well rounded, broad perspective look at everything you’ll learn in the other fire classes and is a great way for somebody unsure about a career in fire to decide whether or not they want to contiue the pursuit.   Capt. Macumber was an absolutely fantastic instructor and quite possibly the best and most well-rounded of all the instructors I’ve taken class with.
  • Fire 102 – Fire Behavior – Formerly titled ‘Fire Chemistry’, I took with Captain and fire academy instructor Mike Grillo, who explained the name of the class was changed because the word “chemistry” seemed to be scaring students away from the class.  This class focuses on the nature of fire as predictable and manageable phenomenon.  How fires start, grow, and proliferate are explored in depth and detail as Mr. Grillo lends his version of humor and expertise to the matter.
  • Fire 103 – Fire Detection and Suppression Systems – This is an interesting class made even more interesting by the highly entertaining, and very down to earth, Captain John Kelleher.  Captain of the El Cerrito Fire Department, Kelleher’s frank and honest anecdotes and storytelling ability made learning about sprinklers, standpipes and extinguishers an incredible experience.  He draws from real life experiences and connects with students in a way that makes it easy to relate.  If you’re fortunate enough to be a part of one of his classes, don’t miss it!
  • Fire 104 – Building Construction for Fire Protection – Another down to earth instructor is San Jose Captain Don Torres.  His class is one of the more challenging for those of us who haven’t grown up doing capentry projects with dad.  While fascinating and educational, Fire 104 is a technically oriented class which will require learning about the different types of both residential and commercial construction and how they affect fire behavior.  This class is very interesting and highly applicable to the real life fire situations in which your life will be at risk.
  • Fire 105 – Fire Prevention – This class taught by the highly accomplished retired Fire Chief, Joe Robinson covers fire prevention in both theory and application.  Beginning with the invention of Rome’s Vigiles up to todays fire service and the industries that plays roles in affecting it, Chief Robinson covers all aspects of of the prevention topic with accuracy and depth.  He provides real life stories and discussion in a straight forward objective manner.

I’ll talk more about my EMT class in a future post and will also share my experience with the CPAT and it’s requirements.  In the meantime, test your knowledge of the fire sciences in my fire quiz section and let me know how you do!