If you want to become a chef, you go to culinary school, and if you want to become a policeman, you go to a police academy. Becoming a firefighter requires you to join a fire academy and successfully complete your time there. If this will be your first foray into fire academies, what does this entail?
A fire academy is a training course for firefighters that teaches physical conditioning and firefighting techniques. The average time spent in fire academy is 10 to 24 weeks, which is about 600 hours. Upon successfully completing the fire academy, you can begin the search for work as a firefighter, in which you may have to do another fire academy.
This article will serve as your definitive guide to fire academy and what comes after. We’ll discuss how to find a fire academy near you, break down in detail what you’ll expect to learn at the academy, and provide tips for passing the fire academy.
What Is Fire Academy and How Do You Join?
If you’ve decided that you’d like to pursue a career as a firefighter, then the next step is to sign up for a fire academy. Depending on where you are in the world of academia, you might pursue fire academy on a collegiate level or outside of college.
Colleges all across the country offer fire academy training on different levels. They include both universities and community colleges. For example, if you live in New York, Mohawk Valley Community College, Jefferson County Community College, Jamestown Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, Erie Community College, Dutchess Community College, Corning Community College, and SUNY Broome Community College are some examples of state colleges with fire academies (click the link for our list of fire academies nationwide).
When in consideration of a fire department, before you’re hired, you may be asked to complete fire academy training through the fire department. You may notice overlaps between the training and skills from this fire academy to the one you enrolled in at school, but costs and course length can vary.
To enroll in a fire academy, please check the requirements first. Those requirements can vary based on where in the world you enroll, but some constants will remain. For example, you must be at least 18 years old to enter fire academy. Many academies have a cutoff age as well, which is around 45 or so.
This is for your safety. Firefighting is a physically and mentally intensive job, and it can be exhausting. Fire departments want younger bodies to fill their ranks because younger firefighters have razor-sharp reaction times, quick wits, and physical prowess, all of which are necessary to be a firefighter.
If you’re approaching your 40s and you’re thinking of applying to a firefighting academy, we’d say it’s probably better to pass. Within a few years, just when you’re hitting your stride as a firefighter, your physical abilities could begin degrading.
Educationally, a fire academy is expecting you to have at least a high school diploma. Higher education such an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is nice but not necessary, and you certainly needn’t have a master’s degree. Possessing any relevant certifications such as those to be a paramedic or EMT is helpful but again not mandated.
You don’t get into fire academy solely based on education and age. You must be mentally healthy and in peak physical shape. To determine if you’re ready for fire academy, the school or fire department in which you’re enrolling will request a mental health screening.
You’ll also have to undergo a physical exam as well as fitness tests and aptitude tests to see if you’re up to snuff. You can pass to this point, but there’s still a written test you have to get through, not to mention you must have a clean background check. If a fire department is looking to hire you, then outside of your time in fire academy, you’ll also be interviewed. Keep reading to learn more about how to ace the interview.
How Long Will You Spend at Fire Academy?
Woohoo! You got into a fire academy. Congratulations are in order, but do know that the real work is only just beginning. Your time at the fire academy will be anywhere from 10 weeks to 24 weeks, really however long it takes you to finish the 600 hours of schooling you must undergo.
You might go in with your fellow fire academy classmates all at the same time or have your entrances be staggered depending on the preferences of the academy. If it’s the latter and you don’t enter with everyone else, it’s usually nothing personal, but just how that fire academy operates.
Per week, you’ll need at least 40 hours of free time to spend at fire academy. At that rate, you’ll finish fire academy closer to the 24-week mark. If you can dedicate 48 hours of schooling to fire academy every week, then you may finish between 10 and 16 weeks later.
If you’re a college student with a busy course load or an adult with a full-time job, you may wonder how you can possibly make the time for fire academy. It’s not easy, which is why you always have the option to take a program with weekend and nightly firefighting training. Just don’t expect to graduate academy quickly, as you’ll be at this for quite a while.
Do keep in mind that if you complete fire academy on a collegiate level that you may then have to turn around and put in 600 more hours into another academy before being hired by a fire department.
What Do You Learn at Fire Academy?
Your time at fire academy is broken into skills training and physical training. Let’s explain both parts of your academic schedule in detail so you know what you’re walking into as you start fire academy.
Fire academies provide you the opportunity to earn your Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certifications. If that’s how the course is organized, then you’d split the 600 hours, with 300 hours being dedicated to each cert. For other academies, both certification training courses are rolled into one and still take 600 hours.
We have an article on this site on the difference between Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2, but here’s a quick rundown on the differences between both certifications.
- Firefighter 1 Certification
Fire academies start you off easy with the Firefighter 1 Certification, as this is all about mastering the basics. You’ll learn about the abilities firefighters must possess, what emergency medicine is and when to administer it, building construction awareness, and firefighting tactics such as using positive pressure ventilation or selecting the right hose stream.
You’ll also become acquainted with the National Incident Management System or NIMS as well as some of these NIMS courses:
- Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS-100)
- ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents (ICS-200)
- Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents (ICS-300)
- Advanced ICS for Command and General Staff (ICS-400)
- National Incident Management System, An Introduction (IS-700)
- NIMS Multiagency Coordination System (MACS) (IS-701)
- NIMS Publication Information Systems (IS-702)
- NIMS Resource Management (IS-703)
- NIMS Communication and Information Management (IS-704)
- NIMS Intrastate Mutual Aid – An Introduction (IS-706)
- Incident Command System/Emergency Operations Center Interface (G-191)
- Incident Command System (ICS) Overview for Executives/Senior Officials (G-402)
- Intermediate Emergency Operations Center Functions (E/L/G-2300)
You’re taught further concepts for your Firefighter 1 certification like water supply management, ventilation options, how to salvage, how to forcibly enter a building, how to rescue trapped victims, how to tie knots, how to raise a ladder, and how to pull a hose line. In some states, you may be trained on navigating wildlands, but that depends.
- Firefighter 2 Certification
Upon earning your Firefighter 1 Certification, you’ll move immediately on to the Firefighter 2 Certification. Since you’re familiar with basic firefighting concepts, it’s time to learn about more advanced ones. Also added to your coursework will be first aid and EMT first responder training.
If you haven’t already, you’ll be trained on how and when to wear a hazmat suit, how fire alarms work, how to suppress and control a fire, fire behavior, how and when to use personal protective equipment or PPE, and how to stay safe when combatting blazes.
To earn your Firefighter 2 Certification, you must be able to do the following:
- Do hazard inspections and hazard documentation
- Use extraction tools to rescue trapped victims
- Hold onto evidence in case of arson
- Add ventilation to a building
- Lead a team
- Fight different types of fires
- Use the incident management system
- Fill out incident reports
In between all the book learning is physical training in two areas, physical fitness and manipulative firefighting drills. You’ll be physically active almost every single day at fire academy, anywhere from four to five times per week. These physical sessions may last for two consecutive hours, so you really must be in peak physical condition to excel.
The physical training you’ll be asked to undergo may include many sets of burpees, lunges, and stair-climbs, not to mention plenty of running and core strength training.
Then there are the drills, which are a different monster entirely. Manipulative firefighting drills prepare you for what life as a firefighter will be like, so they’re often sudden and unexpected. Fire drills may be simulated, but at some point, you will have to combat a real fire.
You’ll be asked to put all your physical and mental skills to the test. You must observe the fire before charging in to determine which stage the fire is in. You’ll have to remember your command system rules as you decide how you’ll go about combatting the fire. Then you’ll have to act swiftly and responsibly, ventilating the area, reducing or eliminating the blaze, and rescuing any victims. (Yes, fire drills may have victims.)
All along, your skills are gauged by your instructors and the fire academy staff. They’re looking at how well you performed, how efficiently you followed instructions and protocol, how good your abilities are, and what skills you showcased.
What a Day in Fire Academy Is Like
Are you ready for the rigors of fire academy? Before you can answer that question with any conviction, you should know what a basic day looks like. As a caveat, fire academy training will vary from school to school. This section is for example purposes only so you can get a feel for what your training will entail.
Fire academy is not like other college courses that don’t start until 11 a.m. Training will begin between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on the dot. If you don’t live close to the college campus, then you might wake up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning to get to academy on time.
You’re expected to wear a uniform to fire academy. Your uniform should be clean, pressed, and presentable every day, so when you’re done with class, you’ll have to take the time to wash and dry your uniform. Also part of your evening will entail meal prep, as between the physical exercise and skills training, you will have little inclination or time to cook. You can’t eat fast food or frozen meals if you want to pass fire academy, so meal prep it is.
Don’t forget your studying, which will take up a lot of your time in the evening and on weekends. You want to absorb as much information as you can as well as take the time to run through what a firefighting drill will be like, at least mentally if not physically. Plan to dedicate at least two hours of your time to studying, assignments, and practice.
How Much Will Fire Academy Cost?
You’ve read to this point and decided that fire academy is still what you want to pursue. Now you’re wondering how much the education and firefighter certifications will cost. (Here’s a link to our complete guide on how much it costs to become a firefighter.) That depends on where you attend academy. Some schools in the country are costlier than others, but we’d tell you to expect to spend $5,000 to $10,000.
California’s Oxnard University lays out fire academy costs on their website, which we’ll use as an example here. According to the university, a unit costs $46, and you’ll need 20 units in all, which is $920. You have to pay a student fee, and that’s $10, as well as a student health fee of $21.
The State Fire Training Certifications materials are $675 and books cost about $400. Oxnard makes you pay for safety equipment and uniforms, including rentals. This is the most expensive part, costing $2,000.
Altogether, Oxnard says their for fire academy fees are $4,026.
Tips for Succeeding at Fire Academy
We won’t even ask if you want to succeed at fire academy, because of course you do. Here are some tips that will help you do just that.
While you’re in fire academy, your entire life must revolve around the academy. This is only for a few months, but still, you probably won’t see your friends, family, or partner much. You can’t go out and enjoy late nights at the bar or stay home and watch Netflix until hours after midnight anymore.
You need a strict schedule that you follow every day. On the weekends, you can let yourself relax a bit (unless you’re in school on the weekends), but for every day you have school, you must be disciplined. This discipline will take you far in fire academy and in your work as a firefighter.
Take the Time to Study
If you ever hope to pass fire academy, you must study. Even if you’re used to cramming all your studying into the night before a test for your other college courses, that behavior will not fly in fire academy. Take the requisite hour or two per night and go over what you learned for the day. If you can, prepare for tomorrow’s course material as well.
Keep Your Uniform Clean
Just don’t get so busy studying that you forget to wash and dry your uniform. As we said, you need a clean, pressed uniform to wear each day, and you might not get time to iron your uniform the morning of. Thus, you have to plan your schedule so you can wash and dry the uniform and then iron it all in the same night.
Eat Healthy Meals
Your physical ability is paramount to you getting a job as a firefighter. You should primarily follow a clean-eating regimen, nourishing your body with nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. A cheat meal or treat on occasion after your courses are done for the week is okay, just don’t make a habit out of them.
To reiterate what we said before, make sure you’re doing meal prep. You won’t have much time to cook when in academy, so healthy meals ready to go for you will make your days a lot easier.
Don’t Overexert Yourself
You will exercise almost daily in fire academy, but pushing yourself past your limits is no good to you. If you end up injured, you could jeopardize your chances of graduating from fire academy.
Get Enough Sleep
Adults should get at least eight hours of sleep per night. Since you have to be up so early in the morning, you’ll probably call it an early night often. This can be strange at first if you’re used to going to bed in the wee hours of the morning, but it’s necessary. Failing to get enough sleep will make it hard to concentrate during academy lessons. You’ll also underperform on drills.
Be on Your Best Behavior
Be respectful of everyone you come into contact with at fire academy. They are your superiors, so treat them like that. Even if you never see these people again after you finish academy and they have no bearing on you getting a job as a firefighter, it’s still important to be courteous and humble.
What Comes After Fire Academy?
You’ve graduated fire academy. You should be very proud of yourself, as passing certainly isn’t easy. Now that you have the necessary skills and certifications, you can begin applying for available firefighting jobs in your neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods.
Being hired to work at a fire department is not exactly like finding office work. It’s a multi-phased approach. Here’s what you should expect.
Taking a Civil Service Exam
If you thought your days of book learning were over when you passed fire academy, think again! The Firefighter Candidate Testing Center or FCTC formulated a civil service exam that all new firefighters must pass. This test is a long one, with up to 150 questions split into two parts. Some questions are true or false and others are multiple-choice.
The questions run the gamut from personality assessments to tests on your memory and observation as well as situational judgment, spatial orientation, reading comprehension, mechanical reasoning, and math skills.
Plan at least two and a half hours for the test. If you fail the first part of the test, you don’t get to take the second part. The first half of the test focuses more on reading and math and the second part personality.
Since you became so good at studying in fire academy, you should have no problem readying yourself for this test. Join a study group, take as many practice tests as you need, and buy or borrow studying materials.
The Firefighter Interview
If you get a passing grade on both parts of the civil service exam, you may be brought in to interview at the fire department. Dress nicely as you would for any job interview, as your appearance is judged. So too is your personality, so be polite and courteous but also show some glimpses into the true you.
FYI, we also have the most comprehensive guide to the firefighter interview here on our website as well.
The interview might last 20 minutes and delve a lot into your personality, background, and overall sense of self. Avoid blurting out answers. Like in any job interview, don’t spend too much time talking about the money. Consider a practice interview with family and friends ahead of the real one so you can be ready for the types of questions you might encounter during the real interview.
Just make sure that when interview day arrives that your answers don’t come across as rehearsed. This could cost you the job!
Undergoing Further Training
Some fire departments may ask that you pass their version of fire academy before you start work at the fire station. The information throughout this guide will serve you well as you repeat the academy training process.
Fire academy will prepare you for what life is truly like as a firefighter. It’s rigorous, strict, and difficult yet not impossible to complete if you’re disciplined and willing to put in the work. Good luck!