Becoming a Firefighter: Making the Transition from the Military
Veterans planning for their end of active service, or EAS, have many options available to them, whether they are looking to try an entirely new career field, fully retire, or perhaps go back to school. Many veterans find fulfilling careers in paramilitary organizations – like law enforcement or firefighting – whose structure and culture closely resemble what they experienced in the military.
We recently covered tips for transitioning into law enforcement after military service and today we offer a guide on transitioning into work as a firefighter after military service. One of the best things about considering a career as a firefighter is the fact that most departments acknowledge and respect the skills acquired in military service – hard work, leadership, and service-specific experience – as valuable assets in potential candidates.
An important first step is to take a look at your military experience and see where it might naturally align with specializations in firefighting. For example, if you have experience in navigation, ecology, or cartography, you might consider wildland firefighting. If you have water rescue experience, take a look at departments in coastal cities that have maritime teams. A helpful exercise is to create a civilian resume for yourself, including all the additional training and MOS experience that you received. Consider obtaining your Verification of Military Experience and Training document, DD Form 2586, created from your automated records on file; this document lists all your training and includes equivalent civilian job titles.
You can take confidence in the fact that many of the skills and attitudes learned during your service can be incredibly valuable to you as you train to become a firefighter. You must be able to work well with a team in potentially life-threatening situations, and you must be willing to risk your life for that of another human. You must be able to follow orders and respect the chain of command (although you should keep in mind that as a rookie firefighter you may be taking orders from someone much younger than you, and this might be quite a change from your time in the service).
You must be in and maintain good physical fitness, and get along with others in a shared living space, being courteous and cleaning up after yourself. You may also find that your military training has taught you to overcome claustrophobia, which can be a deterrent for civilian applicants. Additionally, if you have the opportunity while still in active duty, consider putting yourself in a position to get fire service-related training such as Medic or Corpsman. Hazardous Materials and firefighter training is also be beneficial, as well as general education courses that move you closer to an Associates degree.
As with a transition into the law enforcement field, the sooner you can start your research and application process, the better (at least a year lead time is recommended). Some departments take a significant amount of time to hire, or only hire during certain times of the year. Try to keep an open mind and wide range of potential departments and check out their recruitment pages online to find out salary information, certification requirements, hiring schedules, and list qualifications for the positions, such as maximum age, educational requirements, and past military service.
You also should do your best to visit the potential city where you would be living in person, rather than just depend on a website to describe the environment and housing options. Take special note about the community’s ISO classification that ranks a community from 1 (the best) to 10 (the worst), based on how well they score on the ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule. This examines features like water distribution, fire department equipment and manpower, and fire alarm facilities.
While you’re working on your transition timeline, take some time to figure out your budget and save as you can in case there is a gap between your EAS and your first civilian paycheck. Consider joining some online firefighter groups to network with other firefighters and learn about job opportunities; firelink.com has an extensive network and also offers a helpful timeline for veterans transitioning into firefighting work. Firelink also includes extensive information on how to prepare for the application process including the written test, the background check, the oral interview, and the Candidate Physical Assessment Test (CPAT).
Written by Megan Hammons